Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Contrary to popular belief, detoxification is not a pill, a specific food or a juice fasting diet. It is an ongoing, vital process that your body performs in order to remove toxic substances. It happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For a healthy person, the body’s detoxing system is like a well-oiled machine that functions at its best when it gets premium fuel. And just like cars, our body naturally detox more efficiently in the presence of essential nutrients.
What Detoxification Really Is
Detoxification occurs predominantly in the liver in two major phases and in the antiporter system which is mainly concentrated in the small intestine. Since WWII, more than 85,000 new synthetic chemicals have been released into the environment and nowadays an estimated 400 synthetic chemicals can be found in the average human body. From drugs and alcohol to known and unknown foreign substances, our detoxing organs help filter and detoxify an unprecedented number of toxins each single day!
The first step of detoxification, known as Phase 1, is made up of the cytochrome P450 supergene family of enzymes. You can think of these enzymes as the first line of defence. In this phase, oxygen and NADH are needed to modify toxic compounds. However, in order to stabilise these compounds, one significant side effect is the production of free radicals. If these reactive substances are not further neutralised in Phase II by antioxidants and essential nutrients, damage to proteins, RNA, and DNA within the cell might occur. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function. Therefore, before you undergo any detox programme or go on a 'cleansing' holiday, you should seek advised from a nutritionist in order to evaluate if the detox programme/holiday is suitable to you to ensure no further damage takes place.
The second step of detoxification is known as Phase II. Here reactive molecules, made volatil via Phase I, are deactivated in Phase II and made water-soluble. This is a crucial process that prepares them for excretion via the bile into the small intestine or via the kidneys to urine.
Compromised Phase I and/or Phase II activity may result in increased risk of disease, such as cancer, therefore, a detox diet should supply all the necessary nutrients in sufficient amounts to support your liver to perform at its best. Fasting diets can compromise your nutrient intake and health if not already eating a healthy diet, or if liver or kidney problems are present, as well as a compromised immune system. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of seeking professional care to monitor your detox journey so to minimise risk of disease in the long term.
Behaviour of Fat-soluble Toxic Substances
When the human body was designed, it was not planned to flush out plastic and other man-made industrial chemicals manufactured a century ago from the organism. For instance, plastic doesn't biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, down to the nanometer scale. Nanoparticles from man-made chemicals can easily penetrate the skin, access the lungs and the intestinal wall through the foods we eat, the air we breath and the cosmetic products we use. Once in the bloodstream, toxicants can travel to other parts of the body, initially the liver for detoxification. However, when the liver is overwhelmed or malnourished, toxic metabolites may not be bio-transformed into water-soluble substances for further excretion. Instead, they might be kept in the liver's deposits or sent back to the bloodstream, where eventually, they will be stored in fat deposit tissues such as the belly and the brain, increasing the occurrence of adverse health effects.
Why Fat Loss Diets Can Be Dangerous
During periods of fasting and fast weight loss, toxins stored in fat cell tissues are released back to the bloodstream in response to increased metabolism of fats. When people fast without a toxin binder protocol, health problems may occur as reabsorption and storage in new fat deposit tissues such as the brain or vital organs may take place. Supervision from a qualified practitioner and a blood test analysis SHOULD BE A MUST before attempting any type of fast due to the significant release of heavy metals and other toxicants into the bloodstream.
Laboratory testing is often recommended as it can be particularly helpful in determining your capacity to process and excrete toxicants, and whether or not a substance can be harmful or beneficial to your health.
In the context of nutrigenomics, we can conclude that nutrition plays a crucial role in promoting or inhibiting the body’s detoxification pathways. By understanding your biochemical individuality, your risk factors and by evaluating your nutritional status, we can determine your toxic load and formulate a detox plan with the foods and supplements that best interact with your genes and current health status to enhance your detoxification pathways and promote a healthier version of yourself.
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Reference and notes
1. Yao X, Zhong L. Genotoxic risk and oxidative DNA damage in HepG2 cells exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid. Mutat Res 2005; 587: 38–44.
2. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 118–126. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902