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August 10, 2022
By: Olivia Peláez, MS, FMCHC

Often, when people hear the word “detox,” images of green juice cleanses or supplements touting remarkable results likely come to mind. However, what should come to mind is our body’s second largest organ and powerhouse detox center: the liver. 

Detoxification, in the biological sense, describes the body’s physiological process of rendering chemicals, compounds, hormones, and toxicants less harmful. While the liver is the star of the show, organs that support detox in the body include the kidneys, large intestine, lymphatic system, lungs, and sweat glands. Together, these organs work efficiently and synergistically as a whole to reduce the burden or toxic load of chemicals. There are distinct metabolic pathways in the body that are responsible for converting harmful toxicants, either from the environment or internally produced, into compounds that are easier for the body to eliminate, primarily via urine or stool.

An individual’s toxic burden is attributed to by 3 factors:

  • Exposure: This doesn’t only include exposure from environmental sources, but internal toxicants produced as a result of metabolic activity.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetics influence the ability to produce detoxification enzymes for biotransformation of toxicants.
  • Nutritional status: Optimal detoxification is highly dependent on numerous nutrients and phytonutrients.

There is emerging research that recognizes the role toxic overload plays in a whole slew of various medical conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, fatigue, infertility, allergies, and even neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Detox and the Liver

The process of detoxification, especially in the liver, is a highly nutrient-dependent process. Most toxic substances are fat-soluble and in order to be excreted need to be converted to water-soluble forms. This happens via a two-step process in the liver: Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification. Each phase has a unique role and requires specific nutrients in order to efficiently convert toxins into excretable substances. Phase 1 is the first line of defense against toxins and consists primarily of a family of enzymes known as cytochrome P450. Important nutrients for this phase of detoxification include numerous B vitamins, folic acid, glutathione, vitamins A, C and D, iron, magnesium, and branch-chain amino acids.

Phase 2 detoxification is responsible for conjugating phase 1 metabolites into more water-soluble compounds, rendering them excretable. This phase is heavily dependent on the presence of transferase enzymes. Nutrients or substances that support this phase include amino acids from protein sources, sulfur, N-acetylcysteine, and glutathione.

The final step of detoxification is elimination. Supporting healthy digestion through probiotics and fiber-rich foods is an excellent way to support this final phase. Adequate hydration is also important for facilitating elimination through urine and stool.

Tips for optimizing detoxification

braised greens

Eat a diet rich in detox-supporting foods 

The liver requires a broad array of nutrients to optimally function. Luckily, by eating a diet rich in fiber-containing, plant-based foods and high-quality protein, you can support both phases as well as elimination. What are the best foods? Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower), high-quality protein (like grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, peas, beans, nuts, and seeds), sources of folic acid (like collard greens, asparagus, and lentils), and glutathione-supporting foods (like eggs, spinach, garlic, and grapefruit). When possible, organic is always best. 

Reduce your toxic exposure 

Prevention is your best line of defense and offense. Pollutants are ubiquitous and can be found permeating everything from our air, food, water, personal care products and even the clothes we wear. It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, there are over 80,000 chemicals presently used in commerce. Simple strategies for reducing toxin exposure include avoiding plastics, choosing clean personal care products, drinking plenty of purified water, eating organic foods, and supporting clean-label clothing brands.

Sweat it out

Sweating is not only essential for body temperature regulation, but it is another route for toxin elimination. Research even shows that sweating can effectively remove heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and mercury which are known carcinogenic substances. The most effective way to get your daily sweat in? Exercise. Another great reason to move with Tracy and her world-renowned training team.

Adequate sleep

If you needed another reason to catch more zzz’s, this is it. Not only is poor sleep associated with both short- and long-term health consequences like stress, anxiety, high-blood pressure, and heart disease, but it can also hinder the ability of your brain to eliminate toxins that build up throughout the day. Aim for ideally 7-9 hours of sleep a night.