Without getting all doom and gloom, the unavoidable truth is that our environment is way more toxic than it was when our great-grandparents grew up. And that’s changing what we need to do to keep our bodies unburdened.
Our food is sprayed with pesticides, some of which disrupt thyroid function; our municipal water is chlorinated, which is associated with male and female infertility; and our air and soil are marred by persistent organic pollutants, which may contribute to the development of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer.
Many of these compounds are fat soluble, meaning they accumulate in fat cells over time in a process called bioaccumulation. Since we’re all exposed to environmental toxicants, supporting natural detoxification is key for reducing our toxic burden and improving overall well-being.
Live the lifestyle
- Replace all conventional personal care and cleaning products in your home with toxin-free products.
- Trash nonstick pans and plastic food containers; opt for cast iron, stainless steel, and ceramic pans, and store food in glass.
- Drink filtered water from systems such as reverse osmosis.
- Breathe clean air with HEPA filters.
- Passively sweat with sauna sessions.
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is the body’s built-in system for minimizing the harmful effect of toxicants, toxins, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and supplements, by transforming them into stable, water-soluble compounds that can be excreted from the body. While intestinal bacteria and body tissues including the skin and kidneys perform local detoxification, most detoxification reactions take place in the liver.
The liver performs detoxification in three parts.
Phase I of liver detoxification relies on activity from the cytochrome p450 family of enzymes, which modifies chemicals via oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis.
Phase I yields reactive oxidative intermediates, which need to be neutralized and rendered water soluble via phase II conjugation.
Phase III of detoxification involves the removal of these compounds from the liver through bile, so that they can then be excreted from the body in our stool, urine, and sweat.
Myths and missteps
We have many myths about detoxification, and sometimes make missteps when “doing a detox” to influence this process.
Juice cleanse or fasts
While it’s true that our food and lifestyle choices can enhance detoxification, we don’t need to do a juice cleanse or embark upon a rigorous fast to do so.
On the other hand, it’s a misconception that we don’t need to do anything to support the body; many detoxification pathways require essential nutrients we can only get from the diet.
Doing a detox
There’s also a perception that “doing a detox” will make you feel unwell. This one is partly true! Self-directed liver detox protocols that upregulate phase I without adequate support of phase II can cause harm by increasing your exposure to reactive oxidative intermediates.
You may also feel unwell if your protocol doesn’t take into account your pharmaceutical prescriptions, drug-nutrient interactions, your genetic variation in liver enzyme expression, kidney function, and bowel movement regularity.
Support the important routes of elimination
When the bowels aren’t emptying regularly, we reabsorb our toxins and estrogen through a process called enterohepatic recirculation. Once you’ve ensured your routes of elimination are working well (starting with plenty of fiber, water, and exercise), then you can incorporate targeted food, vitamins, and herbs to enhance natural liver detoxification.
What we eat consistently has a more profound impact on detoxification than an annual week-long “detox.” Regularly eating pesticide-free foods rich in antioxidants and nutrients that support detoxification is key for supporting your body’s ability to naturally detoxify.
Glutathione is considered the master antioxidant of the liver and is involved in both phase I and phase II of detoxification. Foods rich in vitamin B6, magnesium, selenium (Brazil nuts), and folate have been shown to restore depleted glutathione levels.
Foods high in resveratrol (grapes, cacao) enhance phase I liver enzyme CYP1A1 activity. You can get more bang for your body’s detoxification with foods that support both phase I and phase II detoxification: cruciferous vegetables, rooibos tea, garlic, and fish oil. Further support phase II by incorporating black soybean, purple sweet potato, turmeric, green tea, rosemary, and ghee into your diet.
B vitamins and magnesium
Methylation reactions are important components of phase II detoxification, and they depend upon adequate vitamin B12, vitamin B6 (animal protein), betaine (beets), folate (leafy greens), and magnesium (seeds).
Phase II detoxification also involves the conjugation of toxins with amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Supplement diet gaps with protein powder or specific amino acids including taurine, glycine, arginine, and glutamine.
Support phase III bile excretion by ensuring you’re getting enough water and eating bitter foods such as dandelion greens.
It’s in the genes
Some foods can inhibit liver enzymes. Green tea, grapefruit, and kale have been shown to inhibit phase I CYP3A4 activity. Berries rich in ellagic acid (raspberries) reduce overactivity of phase I liver enzyme CYP1A1, and apiaceae vegetables (carrots, celery) attenuate excessive CYP1A2 activity.
People with genetic expressions that impair or slow down phase II enzymes may want to incorporate food and herbs that inhibit phase I activity and minimize their exposure to its reactive oxidative byproducts.
There are also different genetic expressions for the phase I enzyme CYP1A2, which can further aggravate this imbalance if an individual is a “fast CYP1A2 metabolizer.” This genetic variation is a big reason why coffee consumption and turmeric supplementation improve detoxification in some individuals, but hinder detoxification in others.
Speak with your health care practitioner about integrating your genetic data to create a detox plan that plays to your strengths.
- Spirulina may help reduce and prevent against heavy metal toxicity.
- Chlorella may reduce mercury toxicity in those with long-term amalgam fillings.
- Licorice may assist with detoxification by reducing absorption of toxicants in the intestines.
- Probiotic strains from the genera of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus have been shown in experimental research to modulate the expression of detoxification enzymes.
- Dandelion may enhance UGT enzyme activity, which plays a role in the elimination of toxins via urine and feces.
- Milk thistle enhances hepatic glutathione and inhibits the free radicals produced from metabolizing alcohol and acetaminophen.
- Curcumin supplementation upregulates phase I liver enzyme CYP3A4, indicating a possible role in detoxification.