Spring detox, detox juices… it is tempting to think that we could use a quick-fix to ‘wash’ all of our toxins away, while we continue to indulge on our fast-foods and alcohol. Beyond the hype and catchy headlines, detoxification is real, tangible, and involves many different biochemical processes. Your body is detoxifying at every second of your life, helping you adapt to the foods and toxins which you are exposed to. Sometimes, this exposure can overwhelm your body, especially when it’s crippled by poor diet and lifestyle. This is why the best way to protect yourself in this toxic modern world is to support your whole body detoxification, with simple, everyday actions.
What is a ‘toxin’?
Toxins are any substances present within the body which must be neutralised and eliminated to avoid causing imbalances if left to accumulate. There are two sorts:
•Xenobiotics (xeno- = different). These are foreign substances which are not naturally expected inside your body and not involved in your normal metabolism. In the last 50 years, an estimated 5 million new chemicals have been created, 75,000 of which are used daily. These substances can enter your body via ingestion, inhalation or through our skin.
•Endobiotics (endo- = internal). These are substances produced within your body, and must also be tightly regulated. They include hormones (e.g. oestrogen), which have completed their roles and are ready to be eliminated, and metabolic waste products from physiological processes (e.g. urea from protein breakdown).
Toxins can accumulate in fat tissue - termed bioaccumulation - and alter cell activity, causing inflammation and oxidative damage. However, ours bodies have evolved to recognise and eliminate them, and that is what detoxification is all about.
What is detoxification?
It is commonly thought that detoxification is all about the liver, but the whole body is involved and healthy detoxification relies on each body system functioning well and synergistically. The gut, skin and lungs act as physical barriers to prevent toxins from entering the body. The gut and kidneys are also involved in excreting neutralised toxins out of the body. Various enzymes and processes are involved in neutralising toxins, and although this occurs mainly in the liver, it also takes place throughout the entire body. Detoxification of both external and internal toxins is done through three stages:
•Phase I - Biotransformation: enzymes convert fat-soluble toxins into intermediates, which can be processed by the following phase. , These intermediates are often more toxic than before, so it’s important that the next phase works efficiently to prevent a backlog of toxic compounds.
•Phase II - Conjugation: specific molecules are attached to toxins to neutralise them further and prepare them for elimination. There are six different ‘pathways’ and they overlap in terms of the toxins they act upon, so if one pathway is less efficient, the other pathways can take over, just like a waterfall in which the water will always find a route down.
For example, toxins from car exhausts and cigarette smoke go through acetylation. Glucuronidation is the main pathway used for oestrogen, and so is sulphation, which also deals with BPA from plastic. Glutathione conjugation is involved in the detoxification of pesticides, while methylation detoxifies histamine, and heavy metals.
•Phase III - Elimination: neutralised toxins are ‘pumped’ out of cells to enable their excretion, through the kidneys via urine, or into bile and eliminated via bowel movements.
How do you know if your detoxification needs support?
Although our bodies are able to perform these various processes on their own, some conditions or symptoms might indicate a slow activity of certain pathways, in which case further support will be needed.
•Endometriosis, fibroids and infertility are often linked to high oestrogen levels, therefore supporting glucuronidation and sulphation might be useful.
•Skin problems such as psoriasis, eczema and urticaria can be due to poor clearance of histamine, so support methylation and acetylation in priority.
•Halitosis (bad breath), body odour, brain fog and poor memory can indicate high levels of heavy metals, so increasing glutathione levels may be helpful.
What can you do?
Recognising the toxic load which we face in our modern world can leave us feeling slightly overwhelmed and concerned, but there's no reason to. Instead, we should focus on those factors that we can control, rather than those which we cannot. Look around you and identify the sources of toxins you are exposed to daily and which can easily be avoided. Maybe you can buy more organic foods to reduce exposure to pesticides, and reduce intake of alcohol, caffeine and smoking. If you drink tap water, consider using a filter, and avoid plastic bottles, containers and cling film, which you can swap for stainless steel and glass containers.
As well as reducing toxic exposure, it is important to improve your innate ability to detoxify by getting the basics right. Optimise digestion and regular bowel movements by increasing your fibre intake, and support detoxification via the skin, through adequate hydration and skin brushing. Saunas and physical exercise can further promote detoxification of heavy metals in sweat.
Vegetables, fruits and spices provide useful molecules that can directly support detoxification pathways, they are the true ‘superfoods’ we should really care about. This is the case of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, which provide indole-3-carbinol, glucaric acid and sulphoraphane, supporting phase II glucuronidation and hormone detoxification. You can also use artichoke and turmeric to increase your bile production and the effective elimination of neutralised toxins. , , Beetroot is a great source of dietary betaine, needed for methylation, while coriander has been shown to aid the detoxification of lead, , and mercury, and can increase the levels of our main antioxidant glutathione.
You can also support your detoxification further by supplementing with the following botanicals:
•Spirulina belongs to the phyto-plankton group and can induce phase II liver detoxification and protect your cells against oxidative stress and damage.
•Chlorella is a green algae, which binds to heavy metals (e.g. mercury and dioxins ) in the gut, inhibiting intestinal reabsorption.
•Milk thistle has been used traditionally for centuries to support liver disease and can maintain glutathione level, needed for healthy detoxification.
Whatever your condition or symptom, anyone can benefit from supporting detoxification as part of daily life. If you want to use a more sustainable approach to improve your health, ditch the spring detox, and go for a 24/7 detox instead.