Detoxification is a biochemical process that happens 24/7 thanks to our wonderful human physiology. The liver is the main detoxification organ, but the full process involves the assistance of multiple organs including the gut, skin, kidneys, pancreas, lymph and lungs. While lifestyle, diet, and genetics all play a major role in an individual’s health, many symptoms associated with chronic disease often begin with toxic overload.
The body is designed to break down the chemicals that it naturally produces, such as used hormones and brain chemicals. However, it also has to cope with additional heavy metals and chemicals we are constantly exposed to in our environment, like the foods we eat, the water we drink, the substances we touch or that we put onto our bodies. Health and wellbeing depends on how effectively the body can break down or expel toxins that are invisible primary drivers of countless health issues.
In today’s world the body accumulates more toxins than the detoxification organs can eliminate. During the last 50 years, more than 100,000 toxic chemicals including heavy metals and pesticides have been released into the environment. To manage this exposure the body is constantly breaking down and processing potentially harmful toxins. Many products we come into contact with on a daily basis may be untested and unregulated chemicals with the potential to disrupt the healthy balance of hormones, impact sperm quality and fertility, reduce immune health, and trigger chronic illness.
Examples of where those toxins are coming from:
- HYGIENE & COSMETIC PRODUCTS: On a daily basis the average female uses 12 different hygiene and cosmetic products. This means applying approximately 165 chemicals. Men use an average of 6 products, or 85 chemicals. Our skin is like a sponge, and it only takes seconds for products we apply to get to the blood stream. Switch to natural cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. www.thinkdirtyapp.com OR www.safecosmetics.org
- ANTI FOODS: Foods not in their natural state have undergone some kind of processing to ensure a longer lasting shelf life or enhanced flavour. Ø HOUSEHOLD CLEANING PRODUCTS: Cleaning products have chemicals added to them to improve their performance and durability. Dry-cleaning also leaves chemicals in clothes.
- PLASTIC DRINKING BOTTLES: Only use glass or stainless steel bottles. Plastic bottles are not only terrible for the environment, as they take so long to decompose; they also leach potential hormone disruptive chemicals into the water you drink.
- COOKING ITEMS & STORAGE OF FOOD: Avoid Teflon and Copper pans, and choose glass and ceramic storage pots, and beeswax or cotton bags for keeping food.
Alcohol, sodas, lots of coffee, processed foods, take-aways, chargrilled or artificially smoked foods can create more acid in the body. This causes toxic build up, and if certain nutrients are lacking, there may be an overload of damaging free radicals and an inability to properly clear the toxins.
The liver is our unsung hero responsible for 2,000 critical functions – it is a storehouse, filter, garbage service, processing centre, and internal factory that tries to deal with all toxins. They are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Those that dissolve in water tend not to be stored in the body and are normally not problematic, but may cause short-term skin rashes or digestive complaints. However, many environmental toxins and metals get stored in fatty tissue and body organs. The liver works hard to try and convert fat loving toxins to water-soluble compounds that can be eliminated in urine or stool.
The liver has several pathways dependent upon the type of toxin in order to break them down to a more water-soluble substance. There are essentially 3 phases of liver detoxification. Phase I changes the form of the toxin and the resulting “intermediate” compound may be more toxic and damaging than in its original state (see below). This means that protective support from antioxidants is required to prevent damage to the body. From Phase I the “intermediate” chemical moves to Phase II, where a molecule is added to make it water soluble for safe removal from the body. There are effectively 6 different pathways that the liver can push the chemical towards, dependent upon the type of “toxin”. Phase III is the removal of the toxin via stool or urine. Those that cannot be broken down are stored away in organs like the brain.
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5 Tips to optimise detoxification:
- Exercise daily and sweat out the toxins!
- Dry skin brushing towards the heart to stimulate the lymphatic system!
- Use Epsom salt baths.
- Start the day with warm water and ½ fresh squeezed lemon!
- Wash all fruit and vegetables well with 4 parts warm water, 1 part white vinegar, and soak for 20 minutes. Rinse well and dry.
Just as the right materials are needed to build a house, or the correct tools to repair a car, the body depends upon certain nutrients to effectively carry out detoxification.
1) PROTEIN is made up of amino acids, which support or modulate pathways of detoxification. This means adequate protein consumption is essential. Fortunately, protein will also help you feel fuller for longer and can support healthy weight management and promote a leaner you. Good news when the temperatures are rising! Protein is abundant in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, whilst good vegan sources of protein include tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Ensuring adequate daily protein intake could look something like:
> NON VEGAN EXAMPLE VEGAN EXAMPLE:
- Breakfast: Omelette filled with mixed veggies
- Lunch: Quinoa salad, mixed with salmon pieces and more veggies
- Dinner: Grilled chicken breast with mixed veggies
> VEGAN EXAMPLE:
- Breakfast: Protein pancakes or quinoa flake porridge with nut milk
- Lunch: Quinoa salad with more veggies and hummus
- Dinner: veggie burger with mixed salad
Some may find they require additional snacks depending upon their level of activity. There are some great clean, vegan, and organic protein powders on the market containing approximately 22g protein per scoop that can easily be added to smoothies, homemade baking, ice creams etc.
2) FIBRE: The good news for plant-based eaters is that protein sources are often rich in other nutrients that support detoxification, like fibre. Fibrous foods support movement of waste through the body’s colon. Meat and/or fish eaters must consume a mixed variety of vegetables to ensure additional vitamins, minerals and fibre that support detoxification.
Dark green leafy vegetables are the best way of keeping you lean whilst simultaneously supporting detoxification processes. Collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, and spinach are some examples of nutrient-rich veggies providing the micronutrients vital for detoxification organs. Easy ways to incorporate them into your daily diet are:
1. Add a handful of spinach to a smoothie
2. Add kale, Swiss chard, or spinach by wilting them on top of other veggies under a lid for 1-2 minutes before serving.
3. Add cleansing herbs to salads such as basil, coriander and parsley.
Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, bok choy, and again, kale, are not just a fabulous source of fibre for your bowels. They are also rich in sulphur, another important detox nutrient for expelling used hormones, medications, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Try to include a portion everyday.
If you consume 80% of your foods in their natural state, meaning whole, clean plant-based foods, you will naturally support detoxification. However, it is important to keep variety in the diet. The useful phrase, “eat the rainbow”, should be remembered when incorporating colours on your plate, to ensure nutrient potential is achieved. The more natural colours, the more nutritious!
3) GLUTATHIONE is the body’s most potent antioxidant for neutralizing toxins, and toxic overload contributes to glutathione depletion.
Food sources known to actively support liver detoxification are:
FOODS THAT SUPPORT LIVER FUNCTION HOW THEY WORK:
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, collards, kale, spinach etc): rich in glucosinolates, which activates a plant nutrient, indole-5-carbinol for assistance with effective clearance of toxins. Also rich in chlorophyll known to neutralise heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides.
- Apples: high in pectin and natural fibres assist in bowel motility to help eliminate toxins in faeces.
- Dark berries (blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries): rich in anthocyanins, a plant chemical that protects the liver from oxidative damage.
- Lemon: contains D-limonene which protects against glutathione depletion.
- Artichokes: rich in compounds that help simulate the liver and gallbladder, and also a mild diuretic for the kidneys. The fibre also encourages elimination of toxins via faeces.
- Beetroot: rich in betalain, giving beets its deep red colour, and is a potent anti-oxidant. Beetroot, like apples, contains a fibre called pectin to support elimination.
- Garlic, chives, leeks, onions, scallions and shallots: contain sulphur compounds, which potentially activate liver enzymes, and promote the elimination of toxins. The sulfides increase the important antioxidant known as glutathione.
- Avocados, broccoli, carrots, asparagus: rich in glutathione.
- Flax seeds: rich in fibre that help excrete used and potentially harmful oestrogen from the body
- Rosemary: contains compounds which have the potential to stimulate a number of phase II detoxification enzymes
- Turmeric: a powerful antioxidant containing curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow colour. It increases glutathione production, and balances activity between phase I and II in liver detoxification
- Green tea: rich in plant chemicals that help balance liver detoxification pathways.
Plenty of clean, filtered water is needed to support the body’s filtering process via the kidneys. With a rise in temperature we naturally perspire more and increasing consumption of filtered water is a priority. Additionally, daily exercise is incredibly important to help rid the body of toxins via skin pores through sweating.
Although age and genetic alterations may also impact capability to detoxify effectively, they can be supported using targeted nutritional interventions. We can all enhance detoxification by eating a well balanced diet and making changes to avoid exposure to as many toxic substances as possible.
Article written by Christine KJELDBJERG, Msc Personalised Nutrion, BSC (HONS) Nutritional Therapy, CNHC, MBant