Detoxification focuses on cleansing, resting and nourishing the body from the inside out. Detoxing can help protect your body from disease and renew optimum health. Supplementation with nutrients may assist in the process of removing and eliminating toxins that build up in the body. The liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, skin and the lymphatic system are responsible for detoxification.
Detoxification may involve a single approach or a variety of processes. These include fasting, drinking only juices, eating only certain foods, using a dietary supplement, cleansing the colon (laxatives or hydrotherapy) and reducing environmental exposure.
We evolved to maintain constant detoxification, clearing out the wide variety of toxins that we are exposed to daily. Unfortunately, changes in our environment, including the wide use of toxicants in our skin and hair care, agriculture and food production place a much larger burden onto our detoxification systems than ever before. Not everyone is efficient in the detoxification process and requires further assistance to help the body remove toxins.
Nutrigenomics panels help give input about the body's ability to detoxify efficiently or not. It tests various genes that give great insight to Phase I and II detoxification pathways in the body.
These are a few indications to look out for to identify if you need to detoxify:
Unexplained fatigue, low immune system, acidy, bloating, allergies, poor gastrointestinal elimination, blemishes and skin rashes, puffy eyes and frequent mood upsets.
- A detoxification should not be used to treat serious medical conditions.
- Drinking juices frequently made with spinach and beetroot can increase the risk for kidney problems due to the high oxalate content of these vegetables. Raw kale on a daily basis contains goitrogens that can interfere with thyroid function. Steaming kale destroys the goitrogens and is recommended for use in daily smoothies.
- Diabetics should consult with a dietitian before making major changes in their eating habits as it could affect their blood sugar levels.
- Severe restriction of food groups can place the individual at risk of not meeting their nutritional requirements which may lead to serious health conditions.
- Colon cleanses may have harmful effects especially in people with a history of gastrointestinal disease, previous colon surgery, severe hemorrhoids, kidney and heart disease.
- Detoxes may include the use of laxatives or drinking large quantities of herbal teas or water without consuming food. This can be harmful as it may lead to severe diarrhea and electrolyte imbalances.
Insulin resistance, elevated inflammatory markers and estrogen dominance are all signs of hormone imbalances. A poor diet high in processed foods and low in fiber and micronutrients, stress, poor liver function, inadequate sleep and lack of physical exercise can all contribute to estrogen dominance. Hormone detox is a process that starts in your liver and digestive system and is key to supporting estrogen metabolism that influences estrogen dominance and other hormonal imbalances. Four steps for hormone detoxification to promote healthy estrogen levels and optimize hormone metabolism include eating foods which promote hormone detoxification, getting adequate sleep every night, drinking plenty of water each day and using the right supplements to reduce estrogen excess and hormone imbalance.
Medical foods are formulated to provide enhanced, specialized support for balanced metabolic detoxification, including macro- and micronutrients to address liver function. Some also feature glycine and L-cysteine to help support Phase II liver detoxification and potassium citrate and sesame oil to promote alkalisation. Green tea catechins and beta-carotene may also be included and provide protection against potentially harmful compounds generated during the natural liver detoxification process.
Common symptoms often experienced with detoxes include headaches, lethargy, temporary muscle aches, mucus or other discharge, a coated, pasty tongue, flu-like symptoms, irritability, difficulty sleeping, weakness, cravings, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas, rashes, low energy levels and frequent urination.
Manifesting two or more of these symptoms for an extended period is indicative of withdrawal syndrome. The following methods can help you to cope with symptoms experienced from a detox: drinking plenty of fresh water, drinking herbal teas and adding fresh herbs to your food, taking hot showers and practicing meditation and relaxation.
It has been found that environmental factors including tobacco smoke, nutrition, physical activity, and exposure to environmental carcinogens may be responsible for cancer diagnosis and death. Certain plastics contain BPA (bisphenol A) which is a chemical known to cause possible brain and behavioral issues. Some individuals are even sensitive to cleaning or personal hygiene products which contain oxybenzone (a hormone disruptor). These are a few examples of toxins that are included in our daily life.
Reduce exposure to toxins by following these tips:
- Avoid reuse of plastic bottles and rather use glass bottles for frequently.
- Use glass bowls to store leftovers instead of plastic containers.
- Avoid processed foods and avoid heating these foods in a plastic container in the microwave.
- Visit farmers and fresh produce markets and buy organic vegetables.
- Check cleaning products for harmful ingredients such as fragrance, 2-butoxyethanol, ammonia, ethanolamines, chlorine bleach, phenols and phthalates and research companies before buying products.
- Drink purified water and use a glass water bottle.
- Include enough fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet to support your system’s own detoxification channels.
- Walk outside regularly to avoid stagnant air inside.
- Take supplements to boost and support your detox system.
Follow these tips for plastic wrap and food safety:
- Do not let the plastic wrap come into contact with food when microwaving.
- Leave a corner of the dish uncovered when microwaving to allow steam to escape. This reduces the risk of the plastic wrap settling on the food.
- Use an unprinted paper towel or a microwave-safe container with a removable lid covering (not sealing) the food as an alternative.
- When storing food in the fridge, minimize contact with the plastic wrap.
- Use containers or bags designed specifically for the purpose of storing food in the freezer rather than using plastic wrap.
According to research, there has only been a small amount of studies on detoxification programs in individuals. Somes studies noted positive results on weight loss, insulin resistance and blood pressure, but these studies were not of high quality so the results are not 100% reliable. There have been no studies on long-term effects of “detoxification” programs. Detoxes should never be done for long term weight loss as the weight loss results from losing water, carbohydrate stores and stool, which all return after you resume a regular diet. It is important to remember that the body is designed to detox itself and fueling it with the right types of food and nutrients will help to achieve results. Further evidence based research needs to be completed to confirm the long term benefits of detoxes.
In this Phase, lipid-based toxins that have accumulated in the cells, are transformed into water soluble toxins. Cytochrome-P450 is the enzyme group responsible for this process. This enzyme group is also responsible for transforming toxins to be bound with other molecules in Phase II to make them even more water soluble for easier excretion.
Cytochrome-P450 enzymes speed of metabolism is affected by genetics, exercise and the presence or absence of certain substances/supplements in the diet that can either speed up or slow down the enzyme function.
Toxins become free radicals after being activated by the Cytochrome-P450 enzymes. If not enough Phase II enzyme function, these free radicals can do secondary cellular damage to the body.
Many substances can inhibit the action of Cytochrome-P450 enzymes including antacids, antihistamine, NSAIDs and have the potential to block the liver’s Phase I and II detox pathways.
If there are not enough Phase II enzymes to process the products of Phase I, the risk of increasing free radical damage and having your body become more toxic is higher.
The following nutrients can enhance Phase I detoxification:
- High quality protein sources enhance Cytochrome-P450 enzyme activity
- Adequate amounts of magnesium, selenium, zinc and B vitamins
- Antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C as well as various carotenoids
This Phase is known as the conjugation pathway because it takes the products from Phase I and binds (conjugates) them with Phase II substances to make them less harmful and more water soluble for easier excretion. Phase II conjugates include amino acids, sugars, glutathione (stimulated by N-Acetyl-Cystine), methionine, sulfur (found in garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage) and acetyl Co-A. Evidence has found that certain diseases (Parkinson's disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus, and immune dysfunction) are the direct result of damage to the body from poor Phase II detoxification. Through the process of conjugation, the liver can turn drugs, hormones and various toxins into water-soluble compounds making them more excretable.
The following nutrients can enhance Phase II detoxification:
The liver cells require sulfur-containing amino acids such as taurine and cysteine for Phase II detoxification to be effective. The nutrients glycine, glutamine, choline and inositol are also required for this step. Food sources of natural sulfur compounds to enhance Phase 2 detoxification include eggs and cruciferous vegetables (eg. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), raw garlic, onions, leeks and shallots. Sometimes it isn't possible to get enough of these nutrients when considering the optimal amount that the body requires to detoxify. This is why supplementation is ideal, especially if the individual is experiencing a toxic overload.
It is important for note that Phase II detoxification requires these conjugates (amino acids, nutrients like glycine, glutamine, choline, and inositol) to transform Phase I products into products that can be easily excreted.
Phase III is known as the removal of waste or excretion Phase. During this Phase the less toxic and water soluble conjugates from Phase 2 are now ready to be removed from the body. They are transported into bile and the intestinal lumen to be processed and eliminated. The liver, intestines, kidney and brain are responsible for this process. A healthy gut is important for this process as when there is an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria versus bad bacteria, the body produces enzymes such as beta-glucuronidase that deconjugate (unbind) the Phase II compounds, making them impossible to eliminate. These deconjugated compounds are then sent back to the liver to be processed again which increases the toxic load in the body. This negative feedback loop can trigger diseases which is why proper detoxification in all three Phases is essential.
The following nutrients can enhance Phase III detoxification:
Calcium-D-glucarate and glucaric acid (found in oranges, apples, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables) inhibit beta-glucuronidase, therefore supporting detoxification. Silymarin, a constituent of milk thistle, also inhibits the enzyme beta-glucuronidase.
Activated charcoal is commonly used to treat certain types of drug overdose and poisoning. This nutrient works by binding to the drug or toxin in the stomach so that the body cannot absorb it. If you are taking any medicine, do not take within 2 hours of the activated charcoal supplement. Always consult your practitioner before using this nutrient as long term use can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Calcium D-glucarate is a supplement that is made by combining calcium and d-glucaric acid, produced naturally in small amounts by the body. Glucaric acid is also found in many fruits and vegetables with high concentrations in oranges, apples, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables. Supplementation with calcium D-glucarate has been shown to inhibit beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme produced by colonic microflora and involved in Phase II liver detoxification. Increased levels of beta-glucuronidase activity is associated with a high risk for various cancers, including breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
Chlorella is a freshwater algae superfood with a blue/green colour due to its high concentration of chlorophyll. There are 30 different species of chlorella but the most researched is chlorella vulgaris. Chlorella detoxes the body by removing heavy metals (e.g. mercury, lead and cadmium), dioxins (persistent organic pollutants) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls are highly carcinogenic chemical compounds). This nutrient bonds to metal ions and incapacitates their harmful chemical effects in the body.
Cucumis melo, also known as cantaloupe juice, is a good source of carotenoids and vitamin C. This nutrient helps to promote health and wellbeing by boosting circulating levels of antioxidant defenses and helping reduce oxidative damage, therefore aiding in the detoxification process.
Dandelion root is a flowering plant high in antioxidants which is involved in liver detoxification. Dandelion root extract increases Phase 1 and 2 detoxification enzymes in the liver. Research has shown that the inulin content of dandelion root may reduce congestion of the liver and enhance liver function, therefore assisting in alleviating jaundice and hepatitis.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) is a phytonutrient and plant indole found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. The body creates DIM when breaking down indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C is believed to assist with estrogen metabolism and cancer prevention. DIM has potent effects on estrogen metabolism by preventing either drastic increases or decreases in estrogen and maintaining a balance. It also supports Phase II detoxification enzyme activity and enhances healthy hormone detoxification through the glucuronidation pathway. Before taking this supplement, please consult with your healthcare practitioner.
Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant which assists with the detoxification and rebuilding process in the body. This water soluble nutrient plays an important role in protecting the body against oxidative stress and supports the liver in Phase I and II detoxification processes. Glutathione is also beneficial for those with genetic changes that inhibit their own production or have a greater need for glutathione to support detoxification in the body. The liposomal form of glutathione is preferred for optimal absorption.
Glycine is an amino acid that your body uses to produce proteins. It is not considered an essential amino acid as the body can produce it from other chemicals. Food sources of glycine include proteins such as meat, fish, dairy and legumes. Glycine conjugation (binding) has been assumed to be a detoxification mechanism, increasing the water solubility (Phase II detoxification) of organic acids in order to facilitate urinary excretion.
Green tea extract has been shown to have many beneficial effects against many diseases and Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is a major component of green tea. A clinical study found proof that chemicals in green tea can increase detoxification enzymes in humans.
Humic acid is a chemical produced by decaying plants. It is a mixture of acids that bind with charged ions making them good antioxidants and free radical scavengers. The ability of humic acid to bind toxins has led to the commercial use of this nutrient for both animals and humans. It has been found that glutathione frees mercury so humic acid can bind it giving glutathione the ability to bind more mercury and remove it from organs such as the brain, safely purging toxins from the body.
Kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata), known for its high isoflavonoid content, assists with lowering blood alcohol levels and decreasing voluntary alcohol ingestion by controlling areas in the central nervous system that influence alcohol desire. This nutrient also facilitates the elimination of acetaldehyde (a chemical formed when alcohol breaks down) from the body, therefore alleviating symptoms of over alcohol consumption.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is an organic form of sulfur which can improve various metabolic diseases when used as a dietary supplement. MSM can assist detoxification by donating sulfur groups needed for formation of important sulfur detoxifying agents. Sulfur is essential in restoring healthy body tissues and detoxifying heavy metals from the body.
Milk thistle is a flowering plant that gets its name from the milky white sap that comes from the leaves when they are crushed. Silymarin is an active ingredient found in milk thistle and is believed to have antioxidant properties by reducing free radical production. This is thought to create a detoxifying effect which has beneficial effects of protecting and detoxing the liver.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a precursor of L-cysteine and a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that supplementation with NAC increases glutathione levels in the body. This in turn increases the production of specialized antioxidant enzymes (glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase) and detoxification enzymes (glutathione S-transferases). Through the activity of these enzymes NAC protects the body from oxidative stress, increases Phase II detoxification and enhances the breakdown of toxins and metabolic by-products in the body.
Selenium is a trace mineral and is an essential component of various enzymes and proteins, called selenoproteins. These proteins assist to make DNA and protect against cell damage and infections. Seafood, organ meats and brazil nuts contain the highest concentrations of selenium. Other foods that contain selenium include beef, chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice, sunflower seeds, baked beans, mushrooms, oatmeal, spinach, milk, yoghurt, lentils, cashew nuts and bananas. Selenium has been found to help protect against the toxic effects of heavy metal exposure. Heavy metal exposure can occur through the water we drink, foods we eat, air we breathe and substances that contact our skin. Heavy metals include mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead.
Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found naturally in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts and kale). This phytochemical enhances the natural detoxification process of the body. Sulforaphane is yielded when a chemical reaction occurs between Glucoraphanin (essential precursor compound) and Myrosinase (essential enzyme). It must be noted that not all supplements have the ability to yield enough sulforaphane using this chemical reaction. The bioavailability of sulforaphane is low in cruciferous plants, therefore supplementation with this phytochemical is important to optimize maximum yield. Sulforaphane has been identified as the most potent activator of Phase II detoxification enzymes.
Taurine is a sulfur containing amino acid mainly found in the central nervous system, that can be produced from methionine and cysteine but at a very slow rate. Therefore, it is important to consume foods rich in taurine such as meat, dairy and fish or take taurine supplementation if your dietary intake is low from these food groups. This nutrient has been found to enhance the metabolism and detoxification of ethanol (alcohol) and prevents hepatic fibrosis shown in animal testing studies.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is a water soluble vitamin and plays an important role in conversion of carbohydrates to energy, muscle contraction and conduction of nerve signals. Thiamine deficiency is common amongst alcoholics. Thiamine supplementation is required for alcohol dependent individuals requiring detoxification.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and plays a role in the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It is an essential vitamin found in food sources such as citrus fruit, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussel sprouts and potatoes. This nutrient provides antioxidant protection and neutralizes toxins known as free radicals that can damage cell membranes and DNA.