I’m sure you’ve heard the term detox before, and I’m also sure that many of you have tried some type of detox in the past. There are all kinds of products and diets that “guarantee” cleaner skin, better focus, less digestive issues, less toxins- just juice a bazillion pounds of fruit per day or eat this special clay only for 21 days. Can we talk about that? Most of them are GARBAGE and honestly do more harm than good.
Did you know that your body is capable of detoxing all on its own without a crazy number of supplements or fad diets? Yup, we don’t need crazy crash diets or expensive supplements! The powerhouse when we talk about detoxifying is our liver which is responsible for converting toxins into compounds that the body can eliminate (primarily through the urine or stool).
There are four important components to the liver’s detox capacity (figure 1).
- Phase 1- This phase requires several vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Increasing your intake of produce helps to support your phase 1. Ideally, I recommend a minimum of 4 cups of non-starchy veggies per day and around 1-2 cups of fruit. Look for variety and make sure you are getting lots of colors when choosing your produce (sorry, 4 cups of iceberg lettuce just isn’t going to cut it). This phase uses an enzyme called cytochrome P450 to help metabolize toxins. Roundup, alcohol, and several medications can down regulate the cytochrome P450 enzyme and decrease your ability to metabolize toxins1.
- Intermediate phase- during this phase, the toxins are MORE harmful for the body. Doing a lot of “detoxes” your body ramps up phase 1- but doesn’t increase phase 2. This means more dangerous components are in your system and can’t get through the entire system. Antioxidants and phytonutrients are key here to protect your body from damage from the excessive production of phase 1 byproducts.
- Phase 2- This stage needs protein. If you’re severely low in protein (I’m looking at you juice fast), you’re missing the key components to make this phase happen.
- Elimination- get the toxins out of your body. This is either through the stool or urine. If you’re constipated, you’re still not getting rid of those toxins. Ideally you should be having 1-2 complete bowel movements daily to ensure adequate toxin elimination. If you’re not, potentially toxins are going to be reabsorbed from the colon.
Another big component of detoxification is the lymphatic systems (figure 2). This system is filled with fluid that is a pre-filter for the liver. Think about your lymphatics as a garbage truck. They pick-up toxins throughout the body and deliver them to the waste management facility for processing and elimination. An important note about the lymphatic systems is that there are no pumps to drive they system (unlike the cardiovascular system). It is circulated by movement only and it is imperative to focus on movement and exercise to keep these fluids moving.
While I do believe that our bodies can detox on their own- there are over 80,000 chemicals used in the US and many of these chemicals haven’t been tested to determine their safety for humans3. This is a lot of exposure to things that we haven’t always had in our natural environment. Consider, we also have toxins from stress chemicals, heavy metals, imbalanced gut bacteria, poor food quality, natural cellular waste, and air & water pollution. We are exposed to more toxins today than previous generations. So, while our bodies can detoxify themselves, sometimes giving them a little extra support is beneficial.
I like to focus on a food-first approach to detox, using whole foods to help support all component of detox. This helps to ensure that all phases of detox are running efficiently, as deficiencies and excessive exposure to toxins can slow these pathways down.
Some of our detox supportive power foods:
Sprouts (specifically broccoli sprouts)- There is a lot of research supporting broccoli sprouts and up-regulating detox pathways. Broccoli sprouts are rich in glucoraphanin which upregulate glutathione and other protective enzymes by up to and enhanced secretion of toxins by up to 61%4. One of my favorite ways to enjoy sprouts is on top of salads or soups. Most local farmers markets have sprouts available!
Garlic- Garlic is rich in aliphatic sulfides which help to increase phase 2 enzymes5. Interestingly enough, garlic has been shown to be just as effective as certain medications at removing toxic levels of lead from the body, with less side effects.6
Green tea- Green tea is rich in antioxidants that help to prevent damage from free radicals (think intermediate phase). Green tea has also been shown to help decrease the toxic affects of lead in mice and prevent fertility abnormalities7. Keep in mind, green tea does have some caffeine, so it wouldn’t be the best bedtime drink. I like brewing my green tea with a mint tea, so yummy!
Keep in mind, one specific food isn’t going to cure everything. You need to look a including a variety of produce based items into your diet to ensure you are getting adequate vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients to support your body. You should also look at ways to decrease your toxin exposure on a day to day basis. To fully support your body’s detox abilities, check out our 2019 Spring Clean.