Detoxification is an extremely popular topic in the health space today. Everyone wants to detox! From green powders and protein shakes to supplements and green juices, it seems every company touts that their product will help your body “detox”. This is especially prevalent after the holiday season! But what is a toxin? And what does detox actually mean? Let's explore why these popular products often just don’t work and how our bodies are designed to detox naturally when we treat them right.
What is a toxin?
A toxin is any substance that creates harmful effects in the body. A toxin can come from both external sources (think pollution, harmful chemicals, etc.) and internal sources (think waste products of cellular metabolism). Common toxins include components of pharmaceutical and illegal drugs, food additives, and allergens. Typically the higher the concentration, the more problematic the toxin will be for one’s health.
What is detoxification?
Overt bodily detoxification occurs in the liver, which basically breaks up toxins and prepares them for elimination. This occurs in two phases, simply known as phase 1 and phase 2. The process For the sake of brevity, I’ll just include a link here to an awesome 1-minute long video on phase 1 and phase 2 detox.
Much of our body is involved in detoxification processes:
- BLOOD: The fluid that delivers oxygen and critical nutrients to each cell while carrying away metabolic debris. Good health depends on the ability of the blood to perform all its functions; including facilitating cellular communication, eliminating waste, and providing a conduit through which immune cells travel.
- LYMPH: Lymph is an interstitial fluid, fluid that surrounds and bathes the tissue cells, that flows through the lymph nodes, where bacteria, viruses, and organic material are filtered out. Because the lymph system filters out many pathogens before they reach the liver, it reduces the toxic burden on the liver.
- DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: The human gastrointestinal tract filters food and intestinal bacteria, and eliminates toxins and other unusable substances from the body. Intestinal dysbiosis and/or “leaky gut” or increased intestinal permeability interfere with detox functions of GI tract.
- KIDNEYS: Filter the blood and remove cellular wastes, such as some water and bile pigments. Many toxins that are properly bound and ready for elimination exit the body through the kidneys as urine.
- RESPIRATORY SYSTEM: The lungs eliminate carbon dioxide and a variety of other waste products. Respiratory rate is a major mechanism of body pH control.
- ADIPOSE TISSUE (body fat): Fat tissue helps the body to store difficult to remove toxic waste like heavy metals, petroleum, and other chemicals. If you’re struggling with stubborn weight gain, know that your body is trying to protect you from the circulation of these harmful substances. Proper detoxification, as I’ll outline below, can be extremely helpful for weight gain, BUT it must be done after some initial prep-work. Or you may make your problem much worse!
Why do I feel worse when trying to detoxify?
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, one of my core beliefs is that the body must be ready for detoxification. Trying to release toxins into a body that is already overburdened with other stresses is just a recipe for disaster and will often leave you feeling even more sick!
Common reasons why you feel worse when detoxing include…
Reason #1: Impaired Digestion
If you aren’t completely digesting and assimilating your foods, even the most perfect diet will have little to no benefit! In fact they may even further clog your detoxification pathways. Incomplete fat digestion can lead to stagnation of the lymph. Additionally, you need proper protein breakdown, as these amino acids are necessary for liver detoxification.
Reason #2: Fatty Acid Imbalance
Sufficient healthy fat consumption is critical for healthy bile. Bile is a fluid produced by the liver and stored/released by the gallbladder, which helps us to emulsify/break-down fats. Bile is the conduit by which toxins are removed from the body through the GI tract. A proper balance of dietary fats helps to create a properly permeable cell membrane, so cellular wastes will be removed from inside the cell more efficiently.
Reason #3: Dehydration
Proper hydration is essential! It helps us to flush out toxins that our body has already done the hard work of breaking down and binding for removal. The final step is moving bowels and passing urine regularly. Hydration keeps the blood fluid for quicker removal of toxic material and also allows us to perspire.
Before committing to an intense detox regimen consider dialing in these 3 key area for several months first. Not only will you be more successful in the long run, but it will make a true "detox" more effective and far easier on the body as well.
In part II, coming Friday to the blog, I will be chatting about natural ways to support your detoxification systems, and how to know if doing a “detox” is right for you.
- Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Course Material
- Phase I & Phase II Liver Detox - Dr. Mary Shackleton, MPH, ND