Detoxification is the body’s natural ability to first neutralize (Phase 1) and then eliminate (Phase 2) toxins through our many organ systems (colon, kidneys, lungs, lymph, skin). Many people, depending on their toxin exposure, accumulate these toxins at a faster rate than their detoxification systems can handle. And this is where the problems start! Accumulation of toxins leads to inflammation, this in turn leads to intestinal permeability, wrongful activation of the immune system to attack our own organs, and thus development of chronic degenerative inflammatory diseases, with huge impact on our own health, quality of life, increasing costs of healthcare with band-aid approach of treating symptoms but never addressing and eliminating the causative factors that led to the development of very debilitating symptoms.
Detoxification has 2 phases which occur in the liver, followed by elimination outside of the body via the colon.
During Phase 1, the liver breaks down fat soluble toxins into water soluble intermediates. This is a process that can temporarily make compounds more harmful, and it also produces free radicals (raising the oxidative stress). Supplementing with antioxidants or making sure that your diet supplies plenty of them, can address the potential oxidative load affecting the body during this phase. An antioxidant is a substance that has the ability to give an electron to a free radical to balance out the unpaired electron and neutralize the free radical. Our body produces three main antioxidant defense systems: glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase. We get most of our antioxidants from fruits and vegetables: Vitamin C, Alpha Lipoic Acid, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), Zinc, Green Tea (EGCG), Curcumin, Resveratrol, Garlic, Fish Oils. Cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.) are a great source of antioxidants.
During Phase 2, after toxins have gone through the process of becoming water-soluble through phase 1 of detoxification, the liver eliminates the toxins through the bile (which dumps into your gut) and urine. Many natural supplements can help this process called “conjugation:” milk thistle, curcumin, glutathione and SAMe. Adequate protein, alliums such as onions & scallions, and cruciferous vegetables naturally help support this process.
How much and which ones to use when? This is where a Functional Medicine physician can help you hone in on what’s necessary, at what dosage and when.
Properly detoxifying the toxins you are exposed to requires optimum functioning of your gut and your liver, plus several other elimination channels such as kidneys, lymph and skin. While you hear mostly about the liver when it comes to detox, gut function must be addressed first. Why? Because the gut excretes most of what the liver packages for elimination. The gut is arguably the most important organ of detoxification. If adequate detoxification is pursued, the first step should be to heal the gut, reduce inflammation, and make sure that you have a daily bowel movement.
To know if you’re ready to undergo a detox, you should have:
- Effortless bowel movements at least once daily to reduce the potential for toxins to be reabsorbed rather than eliminated.
- 25-30 grams of fiber per day in your diet, to bind toxins and pull them out.
- Maintain adequate hydration: half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
Here are some of the benefits you will enjoy from detoxification:
- Improve the metabolism of your hormones
- Eliminate endocrine disruptors that affect your hormones
- Weight loss benefits
- Improved digestion
- Relieve constipation
- Reduce or eliminate bloating
- Improve acid reflux
- Eliminate parasites if any
- Eliminate toxins and heavy metals
- Treat candida overgrowth
- Improve blood sugars
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve and reduce muscle and arthritis pain
- Improve sleep
- Better concentration
- Reduce mental fog and improve mental clarity
- Improve skin condition
- Reduce cholesterol levels
- Eliminate food cravings
- Learn to eat when you’re truly hungry and not reach for food for emotional support or validation
- Boost your mitochondrial function
- Reduce oxidative stress that leads to accelerated aging
Aim for a good detox at least twice per year or for 7-14 days every season. Not every detox program is the same. Starving yourself or consuming juice products for 7-14 days is not an adequate way of detoxification. Seek professional medical help and let Functional Medicine show you the path toward self-healing.