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To Detox or Not to Detox

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

It won’t take you very long to find two conflicting opinions on whether or not detoxing is necessary. Here’s a simple explanation of your body’s built-in detoxification process, why it’s important for health, and how to naturally support detoxification.

What is Detoxification?

Detoxification is a naturally occurring process that happens in the liver, wherein toxins, hormones, and drugs are altered in a way that allows the body to eliminate them.

The liver divides this job into two phases. In Phase 1 of detoxification, the liver breaks down toxins into smaller pieces called metabolites, which are less harmful to the body. These metabolites are altered so that they’re water-soluble, meaning they won’t get stuck in fat cells. In Phase 2, these water-soluble metabolites are eliminated from the body via urine, bile and stool.

Sweating and exhalation can also help rid the body of accumulated toxins. Under perfect conditions, the body has no issues with detoxification and can do it like a pro. But our fast-paced lifestyle and reliance on convenience foods makes it difficult to get enough of the nutrients that the liver needs to perform detoxification, leading to a sub-par performance. Our underperforming livers are then further overworked with the toll of environmental toxins, which find their way into our bodies via pesticides, household cleaners, and plastics, to name a few!

Why is Detoxication Important?

HORMONES – Our hormones go through detoxification in the liver, so that healthy levels can be maintained. A prime example is estrogen balance, which is important in conditions like endometriosis, wherein excess estrogen is associated with the development of endometriomas. Eating sulfur-containing foods like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower is particularly helpful for detoxifying estrogen.

OSTEOPOROSIS – Typically thought of as a musculoskeletal condition of weakened bones, osteoporosis is also impacted by hormone levels, including parathyroid hormone, estrogen, and testosterone. Optimizing liver detoxification to encourage healthy hormone balance may be indirectly beneficial for osteoporosis. Liver disease has been associated with an increased risk of bone loss and osteoporotic fracture (Nakchbandi, 2014).

Detoxification isn’t the cure-all for osteoporosis, however! It’s still important to achieve nutritional adequacy of bone-building minerals like calcium, magnesium, boron, and silica, vitamins like D3 and K2, and a focus on an alkaline diet rich in veggies!

CHRONIC DISEASE – Evidence suggests that exposure to environmental toxins and endocrine disrupting chemicals is associated with myriad chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s (Ferrati, et al. 2019) and myalgic encephalomyelitis (Brewer, et al. 2013), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Reproductive diseases including endometriosis (Wei, et al. 2016) and polycystic ovarian syndrome (Rutkowska, et al. 2016) are also associated with exposure to environmental toxins. Swapping plastic food containers for glass, eschewing name brand household cleaners for clean and eco-friendly options, and choosing organic produce when budget allows are three simple swaps to minimize your environmental toxic burden.

Optimize Detoxification

FOODS – Before you rev up detoxification, ensure elimination of metabolites from your body through regular bowel movements. Ensure you’re getting enough fibre (about 14 grams for every 1000 calories consumed) and drinking enough water every day. Once your elimination is regular, you can move on to the next step!

The liver requires key nutrients to perform both phases of detoxification. To support Phase 1, ensure eating enough foods rich in vitamin C. Enjoy plenty of blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, as well as veggies like kale and broccoli. B vitamins are also important for Phase 1, so ensure you’re getting enough through whole grains, leafy greens, eggs, legumes, beef and nutritional yeast. When it comes to Phase 2, sulphur is required for a reaction called sulfation. Broccoli, along with its crucifer friends cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, are rich in liver-loving sulphur. Protein from meat sources also comes in handy for Phase 2 detoxification.

SUPPLEMENTS – If you’re one of the many who struggle to get their 5-10 servings of veggies a day, consider blending up a mix of veggies and fruit in a smoothie, or just mix a greens powder into some water or juice for your busy mornings. Look for a greens powder with a variety of greens to assist detoxification. The algae spirulina is particularly well-loved for its high chlorophyll content, which is thought to be beneficial for supporting detoxification.

LIFESTYLE – Exercise promotes lymph circulation, sweating and deep exhalation, all of which can contribute to the elimination of toxins. After your workout, relax with a rejuvenating sauna, which will further encourage the skin to eliminate toxins through sweating. Before you hop in the shower to rinse off, try dry brushing in circles on your skin to enhance your body’s natural elimination systems.

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor

Naturopathic medicine is poised to be able to support the body's natural detoxification process. By removing environmental allergens, chemical exposure, and optimizing diet, elimination and lifestyle practices, you'll be able to support your liver health and thereby improve myriad diseases and overall wellbeing. Dr. Irwin offers comprehensive lab testing to assess liver function and hormone panels.

Originally written for Healthy Directions magazine.

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References: Brewer, J., et al. Detection of mycotoxins in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Toxins (Basel). 2013 Apr 11;5(4):605-17.

Ferrati, G., et al. Protective and reversal actions of a novel peptidomimetic against a pivotal toxin implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Biomed Pharmacother. 2019 Jan;109:1052-1061.

Nakchbandi, I. Osteoporosis and fractures in liver disease: Relevance, pathogenesis and therapeutic implications. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Jul 28; 20(28): 9427–9438.

Rutkowska, A., et al. Polycystic ovary syndrome and environmental toxins. Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep 15;106(4):948-58.

Wei, M., et al. Effects of Prenatal Environmental Environmental Exposures on the Development of Endometriosis in Female Offspring. Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep;23(9):1129-38.

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