What Everybody Ought to Know About Detoxification for Health
by Heidi Toy
Toxins are everywhere; they are a fact of our modern life. They can come from external sources like environmental toxins or pesticides and internal sources like cellular waste. Most drugs (including prescription), food additives, alcohol, and allergens can create a toxic element in the body. Scientists estimate that the average person hosts close to 500 various chemicals in the body.
If the detoxification pathways are impaired, severe health issues will be seen. In my practice it is not uncommon for my clients to have health issues due to the fact that their body is not detoxifying; therefore, their body’s toxic burden is too great. These health issues include; hormone imbalances, blood-sugar-handling issues, skin breakouts and rashes, decreased energy, depression, mood disorders, brain fog, and cognitive decline.
You may already be aware that the organs and systems involved in our detoxification and cleansing process are the cardiovascular system, digestive and intestinal tract, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin. Today we are going to focus on the primary organ in detoxification, the liver. As pointed out above, we live in a toxic world and our livers have not evolved fast enough to keep up with the toxic burden that comes from our environment.
There are three phases in which the liver carries out the detoxification process.
Phase I: In this phase of detoxification the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins and convert toxins such as hormones, bacteria, neurotransmitters, endotoxins, medications, etc., into water-soluble toxins. This phase also creates free radicals, which under normal circumstances are cleared during Phase II detoxification.
Phase II: In this phase the liver neutralizes free radicals and works to rid itself of toxins produced during Phase I. It also processes some of the toxins that cannot be addressed by Phase I.
Phase III: In this phase the toxins and waste that were generated by Phases I and II are excreted in both feces and urine.
Here is a summation of author and trainer Charles Poliquin’s analogy on how the three phases of detoxification work together. Phase I is removal of all the garbage in your house to the large bin used to collect all the trash. Phase II is taking that big trash bin out to the curb, and Phase III is when the garbage hauler comes and removes the trash from that bin. If any one of these steps does not happen, we will have a backup and a trash (toxin) overload in our home (body).
You may be thinking at this point that you will simply go on a commercial detoxification program. While these programs have their place, there are several issues when it comes to these types of detoxification programs, one big one being that most of them only address Phase I of liver detoxification, which produces free radicals, and the body depends on an adequate working Phase II detoxification pathway in order to clear these damaging elements. It is also one of the reasons that detoxification programs make us feel sick and tired whilst going through them. Simply put, “the junk” gets backed up.
Another issue with the occasional detox program is that detoxification is not a part-time gig, nor is it an annual or bi-annual ritual. It is a full-time process that the body systematically performs every minute of every day. Without it we would soon succumb to a build-up of toxins and waste material with severe impacts to our overall health and well-being.
So what can you do today to support the liver in its ability to detoxify on a minute by minute basis? It is a two step approach; decrease toxic burden and optimize the detoxification capacity.
Decrease Toxic Burden
Eat a whole foods properly prepared diet. When we eat processed, lifeless foods, the body sees this as a toxin. Eliminate industrial oils, improperly prepared grains, refined sugar foods, and alcohol. Additionally, too much food (volume) is also seen as toxic as the body will be sapped of the energy required for “housekeeping” by placing digestion before cellular detoxification.
Remove environmental toxins and chemical toxins from your life. Choose non-toxic cleaning supplies and health and beauty products. Not sure which ones to remove? Go to Environmental Working Group’s website and check out their consumer guides section.
Optimize Detoxification Capacity
One of the most important principles of detoxification is the integrity of our intestinal tract. A healthy gut ecology plays a crucial role in detoxification. The phrase: “You need to clean downstream before you can clean upstream” implied that you should clean your bowels first, otherwise you will be sending dirty water from the gut to a clean chemical plant at the liver. This is another common cause for so-called detoxification illness. Holistic practitioners who understand the healing of the gut refer to the process as weed (remove offending foods and pathogens), seed (take appropriate pro-biotics), and feed (eat the correct foods for your body).
Again, eating a whole foods nutrient-dense properly prepared diet is crucial; however, some people require added support from supplementation to get the detoxification pathways optimized.
Nutrients that Support Phase I Detoxification
Vitamins B1, B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Minerals: Magnesium & Iron. Antioxidants: Flavonoids (such as catechins found in green tea). Herbs: caraway, dill seeds, Milk Thistle, sassafras tea .
Nutrients that Support Phase II Detoxification
Aspartic acid, blue green algae, bee pollen, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), molybdenum, glutamine, sulfur-containing amino acids like cysteine (or NAC), taurine or methionine. Sulfur-containing amino acid foods: meat protein, eggs. Sulphur-containing phytonutrients available from foods such as garlic, shallots, and onions. Vitamin B12.
Another crucial component to detoxification is the master antioxidant glutathione. It is produced in the body (it cannot be taken as a supplement) by three amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. This is the mother of all antioxidants because it recycles antioxidants like Vitamins C, E, and A. Glutathione production can be enhanced by eating dairy from grass-fed cows, eating sulfur-rich vegetables like garlic, onions, and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.). Exercise also increases glutathione production.
Drink pure water. Dehydration is the number one nutritional deficiency in America. We must keep properly hydrated in order for detoxification to be successful. Our intestinal and urinary tracts need water to properly eliminate waste products.
The body heals and repairs itself via detoxification; however, if the very organs that are responsible for these processes are compromised by toxic overload due to chemical exposure and inadequate nutrition then poor health will ensue. The human body is the best detoxifier that we know of; however, sometimes it needs to be naturally supported in its efforts to do so.
Heidi Toy is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and the owner of “Educated Nutrition”, located in Altoona, WI. Her focus is helping people heal holistically, with an emphasis on autoimmune disorders.
References Haas, E. (2012). Staying healthy with nutrition, rev: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. (21st ed.). New York,: Random House.
Hedaya, R. (2010, November 22). Nutrition and depression: Nutrition, methylation, and depression, part 2. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/blog/health-matters/201011/nutrition-and-depression-nutrition-methylation-and-depression-part-2.
Pesticide induced disease. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.beyondpesticides.org/health/bodyburden.php.
Poliquin, C. (2011, July 21). The three step approach to detoxification. www.ewg.org/consumer-guides.