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Chances are with the arrival of the new year, many of our minds turned to health, and perhaps even the need to detoxify.  As a nutritionist, I can tell you that many people’s idea of detoxification are a bit off the mark.  I remember one friend who was extolling the virtues of a product he called ‘Colon Blow’.  If this is a real product I’m not sure, but there are parodies of this product when you search the internet.  Others extol the virtue of water/juice fasting for many days and use feeling horrible as the badge of honor that they are detoxifying.  

Do you really need to detoxify?  Here is a quiz you can take to see your detox score along with some more complete information about a gentler way to cleanse the body. 

Do You Really Need to Detoxify?

The good news is that our body does have a self-cleaning system – sort of like having a Roomba constantly sweeping the floor.  But, with more than 6 billion pounds of chemical pollutants being released into the environment in 2001 alone, that cleaning system can get overloaded.  The liver, kidneys, intestines, lung, lymphatics, and skin are charged with the task of getting rid of what is harmful.  

The liver is so important to keeping us safe from harmful substances, that anything absorbed in the small intestine immediately goes to the liver to make sure there is nothing in what we have eaten that will hurt us.  Again the liver is so important that up to 70% of the liver can be destroyed and it will grow back.  When it comes to detoxifying the liver is our hero and its main job is to make toxic substances, which are generally stored as fatty molecules, water soluble so that they can be removed from the body.  The liver does this in 3 phases:

  1. Transformation – Phase 1:  Fat soluble toxins are transformed into intermediate compounds.  The bad news is that these compounds are often more toxic/reactive until they are further converted in Phase 2.   This is not a problem unless a person has a genetic propensity toward a rapid Phase 1 function and a slow Phase 2 function – think about gathering up all your garbage, but not having a bag to put it in (flies, smell – you get the picture).  
  2. Convert to Water Soluble –  Phase 2:  This makes the intermediate compound from Phase 1 harmless, water-soluble, and ready to be removed from the body.  As mentioned before, there can be an imbalance between phase 1 and 2 as a result of:
  • genetics 
  • diet (some foods and supplements make phase 1 enzyme activity so fast that phase 2 can’t keep up), 
  • smoking and alcohol consumption
  • aging (worse for premenopausal women).                                        

This imbalance can cause problems and one example is the pain killer acetaminophen – the active ingredient in Tylenol®. Acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause of liver failure in the US. when the phase 2 enzymes (especially glutathione) are depleted.

3. Transporters for Excretion – Phase 3:  The now harmless compounds are transported out of tissues to be removed from the body.  Dietary  factors may help (apple, sulforaphane from broccoli), or hinder (curcumin, milk thistle)  phase III transporters. An important part of the excretion process is to have good bile flow from the liver/gallbladder and regular stools as the garbage truck carries away the trash.  Drinking water and eating more quality fiber are important here and may be more gentle than something like Colon Blow.  

Each of these phases require vitamins, minerals, amino acids from protein, etc.  This is why prolonged fasting with water or juice may do more harm than good as the detoxification process needs a lot of energy.   You can look at the products under the “Detoxification” tab at to see what kind of nutrients are generally used by professional grade supplement manufacturers to support the detoxification process. 

Another aspect of detoxification now being recognized is autophagy.  In autophagy, the cell has its own recycling system, where Pac Man like organs (lysosomes, autosomes) chew up waste products and what is no longer needed by the cell.  This process is especially important for cells that need to live a long time like the brain, liver, kidney, and pancreas cells, and it is felt improving this process has future impact on diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disease.  There are several ways you can turn up your body’s autophagy process:

  1. Have a period of at least 12 hours without eating.  An overnight fast should be sufficient for most people and will avoid any problems for those with blood sugar issues, etc.  This is a short-term fast.  
  2. Exercise
  3. Higher fats (the healthy fats), lower carbohydrates (vegetables contain many nutrients that help detoxification so make those your carbohydrate source) and low protein
  4. Curcumin, green tea and resveratrol from sources such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, blueberries, cranberries, cocoa and dark chocolate are helpful as well.

If your detoxification score was high, you might need supplemental help,  but in general here are some things you can do to improve detoxification.

1.  Diet:  A varied, complex, and whole food diet is beneficial for detoxification and every other process your body needs to complete.  Research has found some foods that are detoxification superheroes:

  • Allium vegetables (garlic, onion, shallot, leek, chive)
  • Apiaceous vegetables (may slow down phase 1 detox) (anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, parsley, parsnip)
  • Black raspberry, blueberry
  • Black tea, Green tea, Chamomile tea, Dandelion tea
  • Chicory root
  • Citrus
  • Coffee
  • Cruciferous vegetables (results may vary with different vegetables) (cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
  • Ghee
  • Ginger
  • Curcumin
  • Daidzein, genistein (isoflavones found in fava beans, soybeans, kudzu
  • Fish oil
  • Luteolin (found in oregano, peppermint, sage, thyme)

2.  Reduce Your Risk for Toxicity

Listed below are some practical suggestions to help lower your exposure to toxins.

To minimize toxins in the diet:

  • Avoid foods high in fat, additives and preservatives
  • Eat organically grown vegetables, fruits, meats and grains
  • Drink plenty of clean source water

To minimize toxins in the environment:

  • Use an effective air purification system
  • Wear protective clothing and/or apparatus when working with toxic   materials
  • Replace furnace and air conditional filters regularly

If you are loving your liver and want to know more about how to help, here are some additional resources.  

Your Body’s Detoxification Pathways — The Great Plains Laboratory, Inc.…/6/…/your-bodys-detoxification-pathways

Metabolic Detoxification | Life Extension…detoxification/Page-01

Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and …

Dr. Kendal Stewart on Autophagy –