Is it really necessary to detox? In a word: Yes. Why? Well, more than 80,000 industrial chemicals have been developed over the last 75 years, including heavy metals, solvents, phthalates, polychlorinated bisphenols, and organophosphates. I find this number mind-blowing. Surely the knowledge of this statistic makes the gentle support of our kidneys, liver, and digestive system – the three main organs that support the removal of these harmful compounds from the body – a very good idea.
Our thyroid gland, the master of our metabolism, is particularly sensitive to these chemicals and others including chlorine, fluoride, mercury, and pesticides. These types of chemicals have also been shown to disrupt communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid – the pathway that closely controls our metabolic rate. In fact, researchers have looked at the effects of synthetic chemicals such as DDT, phenol derivatives, phthlates, polyhalogenated hydrocarbons, amitrole, and thiocarbamates on the thyroid, and have noticed mild thyroid suppression.
PCBs and organochlorinated pesticides were also found to decrease thyroid function in a Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study from 2003. While their long names may make them sound complex and foreign, these thyroid-threatening chemical agents are all around us in everyday life – in our food, water, and even household items including toys, cosmetics, and perhaps even your shower curtain.
Your fat cells are also a haven for toxins, and they’re constantly creating, sending, and receiving hormonal signals that change the complex chemical soup present within you. Besides housing a host of hormonal and inflammatory messages, your fat cells tend to be a major storage facility for toxins in the body. Most of the toxins I have just discussed here are fat soluble, meaning that the inside of a fat cell offers the perfect environment for them to set up shop. Once we begin to metabolize fat cells through weight loss, fasting, exercise, or stress, those stored toxins are released. So, just when the liver is already busy handling all the day-to-day toxins that come our way, it gets hit with an extra-heavy toxic load to process along with them. If we lack sufficient nutrients to aid optimal liver function, we’re definitely setting up the body for extra stress. As a case in point, studies have found an increased risk of cancer in individuals who lost as little as 20 pounds. Some health professionals, myself included, suspect this elevated risk could be related to the release of stored toxins and hormones from the fat cells.
As you would expect, this toxic buildup leads to a dramatic increase in long-term health risks. And it certainly doesn’t leave us feeling our best in the short-term, either. Complaints including headaches, weight gain, acne, PMS, infertility, and poor memory are common. Not surprising, given that the brain and the glands responsible for releasing the hormones are affected most by toxin exposure.
The Metabolic Detox Pathways In Your Liver
Regardless of their source, all toxins must be processed through the body via the detoxification pathways in our liver. Liver detoxification consists of two phases designed to allow potentially toxic compounds to be converted into water-soluble forms that can be easily excreted into the bile for passage through the digestive tract as waste, or filtered through the kidneys.
At the risk of sounding like a science class lesson, Phase I (a.k.a. the cytochrome P450 system), is the phase that turns toxic compounds into water-soluble products. Phase II focuses on neutralizing the products from Phase I by adding another substance that makes elimination through the kidneys or bile easier. Here’s the catch: These two phases are intimately related and should ideally take place at the same rate. But sometimes Phase I becomes accelerated, which leads to increased re-absorption of the toxic by-products before they can be properly processed by phase II. Otherwise known as “pathological detoxification,” it’s something we want to avoid because of the potential for additional health risks.
Tips to Balance Your Detoxification Pathways In the Liver:
With a few simple dietary and supplement suggestions, you can re-activate and re-balance your liver’s natural detoxification pathways. In my clinical practice I typically prescribe one or more of these recommendations for a minimum of two to six weeks; though most of the suggestions are safe for long-term use. The exception is Indole-3-Carbinol, which I recommend using only for three to four months at a time.
To slow down Phase I:
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and coffee, including decaffeinated coffee.
- Eat grapefruit and wheatgrass. (Note: If you’re taking medications, be sure to first check whether or not grapefruit leads to increased drug action.)
- Add the spice curcumin (turmeric) to your diet, or take it in supplement form because it inhibits Phase I action while increasing Phase II activity.
- Consider supplementing with the nutrients required to protect the liver during Phase I, including copper, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C. A good-quality, high-potency daily multivitamin with an additional 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg buffered vitamin C could suffice.
To speed up Phase II:
- Avoid processed foods, white sugars, and simple carbohydrates.
- Increase sources of sulfur. Your supplement choices include N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC) (typical dose is 500 mg one to three times daily), taurine (500 to 1,000 mg daily), cysteine, or Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) (500 to 8,000 mg daily).
- Supplements of Indole-3-Carbinol help to support with this detox phase, particularly the breakdown of harmful excess steroid hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Normal dose is 200 to 400 mg daily.
- Increase cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, all of which are high in sulfur. Eggs are also a good source of sulfur.
- Supplement antioxidants necessary for Phase II, including a blend of vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, vitamin A, proanthrocyanidines, bioflavinoids, and/or selenium.
If you currently experience lethargy, difficulty concentrating, joint pains or stiffness, headaches, bad breath, strong body odor, acne, psoriasis, water retention, abdominal bloating, excess body fat, difficulty losing weight, PMS, indigestion, or constipation, these simple detox tips could be just the needed boost to help turn your health around. But don’t be surprised if you feel headaches, fatigue, irritability, and general malaise for the first day or two of your detox diet, as your body is doing a whole lot of house cleaning. And remember this general rule of detoxification: The worse you feel, the more you really need to do it.
Finally, allow yourself time to rest if you feel sluggish. Drink lots of water and take extra vitamin C to reduce detox symptoms. By the third or fourth day, you should feel your energy increasing and mental focus improving. If you typically drink a lot of coffee, decrease the amounts you consume slowly throughout the first few days to minimize the effects of caffeine withdrawal. Also, drink at least two liters of water per day. Reverse osmosis water is best; spring water should be your second choice. Distilled water should be avoided because it may leach minerals out of our body.
We guide our patients through a process to help them get back in balance at Clear Medicine, but you can begin this same progression on your own right away with the simple process outlined the international bestselling book, The Hormone Diet.
Dr. Natasha Turner is one of Canada’s leading naturopathic doctors and natural health consultants. Bright, energetic, and practicing what she preaches, her goal is to inspire others to make positive lifestyle choices in order to enjoy healthier lives. Her passion for promoting wellness, fitness, and integrated medicine makes her a sought-after speaker for corporations, the public and the education of other medical professionals.