By Richard Firshein, published on January 1, 1998 - last reviewed on May 2, 2013
Q: Until recently, I was a perfectly healthy 29-year-old. Then I moved into a new apartment that's over a dry cleaner. The smell makes me nauseous, and I've started to suffer from an assortment of health problems. I feel sluggish, tired, and anxious, and I get frequent headaches. Even my muscles ache. How can the mere smell of the dry cleaners affect me so much?
A: The chemical used in dry cleaning, perchlorethylene, is extremely toxic, and I've had more than one patient whose health problems cleared up after they moved out of a home that was on top of, or next to, a dry-cleaner. It's not the smell that is harming you, it is the actual chemical, which your body is having trouble detoxifying. A school in New York City was recently closed down because it had formerly been used for dry-cleaning and was still contaminated. Traces of dry cleaning fluid have been found as far as 10 floors above a cleaner.
If you can't move immediately, I suggest buying a high-quality HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, such as those made by Austin Air. You might also benefit from beginning a nutrient program to support your liver, the single most important organ for detoxification, clearing 99 percent of the toxins from your blood. A wide range of chronic illnesses improve markedly when my patients adopt a liver-friendly diet.
If too many toxic substances storm your liver's castle keep, the organ telegraphs its stress in rashes, itching, headaches, fatigue, pains, and even changes in mood. It's important to listen to these cries for help before you suffer significant liver damage.
Perhaps the best herb for the liver is milk thistle, a member of the daisy family that contains silymarin marianum, a substance that protects and even helps regenerate the liver. According to Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., founding president of Bastyr University, "Milk thistle is possibly the most potent liver protective agent known." This potent herb has a long history: folklorists know its lore and it has also been used medicinally for thousands of years.
I also recommend a morning drink of hot water with lemon to help jump-start the liver, and increase its ability to detoxify And I prescribe the amino acid supplement N-acetylcysteine, which aids the liver as well. In addition, try to eat a diet rich in liver-friendly foods like dark leafy greens, fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, and grains. Stay away from junk foods full of fat and sugar. Because we live in a world so saturated with toxins, I recommend a liver-cleansing program to many of my patients.
PHOTO (COLOR): Milk thistle is of the most powerful liver cleansing and protective herbs in nature, and has actually been shown to help reverse hepatitis.