What is Detox?
What does Detox mean? In mainstream news this has become synonymous with a fancy juice cleanse or strict diet but there is so much more to it than that. Simply put, detoxification is our bodies ability to get rid of toxins and waste.
How do we accumulate toxins?
In conventional medicine, the focus is primarily on acute toxin exposures such as a Tylenol (or acetaminophen) overdose, lead toxicity, or toxin spills such as the recent train derailments across the country. In Functional medicine, we consider the “Total Toxic Load” which is our cumulative toxic exposure minus our ability to transform and eliminate toxins.
Toxins are ubiquitous. They are everywhere. Not to sound all doom in gloom but they are found in the air, in our water, and in our homes. Yes, we are worried about big things like lead exposure but all of our daily exposures can add up over time such as exposure to:
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Plasticizers like BPA
- Industrial pollutants
- Petrochemical fuels and solvents
- Pigments, paints, dyes and perfumes
- PFAS or Forever chemicals
- Heavy metals
In the Functional Medicine lens, detox is much more involved. We need to make sure that all areas of detoxification are being addressed otherwise it can make a person’s health much worse. Not to get into too many nerdy details but it is important to note that detox has 3 distinct phases and we need ALL of these to be active in order to properly eliminate toxins.
Let’s dive in…
Phase I Detoxification: The liver is the first line of defense when exposure to a toxin takes place. When the body is exposed to a particular toxin, the liver helps to turn these into less harmful chemicals with the help of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. But first in Phase I, our liver actually converts these toxins to more reactive products. This is why Phase II detoxification must be addressed before pushing on Phase I too hard. We don’t want to free up the more reactive intermediates and their byproducts in Phase I because they need a way to be excreted or taken out of the body which brings us to phase II…
Phase II Detoxification: This process, known as conjugation, occurs when the liver turns the fat soluble chemicals and toxins into water soluble forms which can then be excreted out of the body (Phase III) by the gut (via bowel movement), the kidneys (via urination) and the skin (via sweat). One of the most important conjugation processes requires glutathione, which is the body’s master antioxidant. Glutathione helps turn the fat soluble chemicals and toxins into water soluble forms so they can be exported out of the body. Glutathione also helps to prevent free radical damage from these chemicals. Glutathione is produced by the body and can be enhanced by consuming foods such as: broccoli, watercress, kale, pomegranate, green tea, garlic, curcumin/turmeric, artichoke, milk thistle, rosemary, cherries, citrus peel and more. It can also be taken in supplement form. Phase II detoxification also requires adequate protein intake to allow these processes to occur (hence why a juice only cleanse without protein may do more harm than good).
Phase III Detoxification: As mentioned above, Phase III of detoxification occurs when these water soluble toxins are able to leave the body through bile and via the gut (bowel movement), kidneys (urination) and skin (sweating). If someone is constipated, then the toxins sitting in the bowel are recirculated, which is not good. Exercise can be a key component to detoxification in that it keeps the bowels moving better AND produces sweat so that toxins (like heavy metals) can be excreted via the skin. Ensuring adequate hydration is key for bowel regularity, sweating and urination, all parts of Phase III.
Why are some people more sensitive to toxins than others?
- Overwhelming total toxic load
- Poor elimination
- Intestinal dysbiosis
- Nutrient deficiencies
- High sugar, low protein diets
- Oxidative Stress
- Chronic inflammation
- Stress and emotional trauma
- Genetic susceptibility that can affect phase I and II detoxification
General Approach to Detoxification:
- Minimize exposures to exogenous toxins from the environment (more coming up on this!)
- Ensure adequate hydration and oxygenation
- Optimize bowel health and excretion (at least one bowel movement per day to eliminate toxins)
- Remove toxins by sweating (exercise, sauna)
- Consume antioxidant rich diet to build up antioxidant reserves (more on this coming on next weeks blog!)
- Choose safe cooking techniques (try to limit frequent consumption of charred or charbroiled foods)
- Incorporate essential fatty acids like fish oil/Omega 3s into the diet
- Support Phase I and Phase II detoxification (as noted above)
- Consider Detox supplementation (only when working with experienced Functional Medicine Practitioner, like Alison here at Wild Rice Wellness:))
Coming up we will talk about more about Detox and using Food in the Detoxification process as well as how to Reduce Toxin Exposure in our daily lives.
If you or someone you know is worried about toxin exposure and looking to work with an experienced practitioner, book a free 15 minute consultation now!