If I could get a dollar for every time someone asked me if detoxes were a real thing, I'd be one wealthy practitioner. There is a lot of controversy about detoxes on the internet these days. And with the new year coming, I'm sure you are seeing this flood your feed a lot more.
So, what is a "detox"? Do we need to detox? How does our body detox? Don't our "detox" organs already take care of our natural detoxing ability?
These are all great questions, and I am here to help break it all down. Buckle up for one of the most controversial subjects. Do we really need to detox?
What is Toxic Overload
Let's start with the basics. If someone needed to detox this obviously means there is a toxic overload right? But how does this happen?
Well, the answer is slightly complicated. Our modern world has greatly benefited us in many ways, but it has also led to toxins being around us at all times. Detox is not something our body switches on or off, our body is constantly working to clear pathogen and chemicals from our bodies.
In a healthy person our detoxification organs filter and eliminate these potentially harmful substances from our body easily, but when our body becomes overburdened by these toxins, the detox pathways slow down and this is where toxic overload can become a problem.
Chronic constipation, lack of nutrients, genetics, the Standard American Diet, pharmaceuticals, recreational drugs, alcohol, and smoking all can slow down our detoxification pathways.
Toxic Overload Signs & Symptoms
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Mood Swings
- Lack of Energy
- Trouble Sleeping
- Feel Bloated
- Live or Work Around Environmental Pollutants
- Occasional Digestive Discomfort
- Skin Conditions
What is Detoxification?
When most people think of detoxification, they think of the liver, but other organs are involved as well, including the GI tract, kidneys, skin, and lymphatic system.
Liver's Role in Detoxification
The liver is an integral component of our body's detoxification system. Liver detoxification is divided into phases that convert toxins from lipophiles (fat-soluble) to hydrophiles (water-soluble) metabolites through a series of reactions.
Phase I reduces fat, glucose, carbohydrates, proteins, and toxins absorbed through the digestive tract into intermediary substances. It uses enzymes (known as P450 enzymes) to convert toxic chemicals into less harmful chemicals.
Phase II converts these substances into water-soluble waste products that can be eliminated from the body.
Phase III uses detoxification organs to eliminate waste from the body via the kidneys and GI tract.
The GI Tract's Role in Detoxification
Healthy bowel movements and nutrient absorption are needed for efficient toxin elimination. The small intestine is where most nutrients are absorbed, and a healthy colon helps us eliminate toxins that have been filtered through the liver via bowel movements.
The Kidney's Role in Detoxification
The kidneys help us eliminate toxins that have been filtered through the liver via and urination.
The Skins Role in Detoxification
Our skin helps eliminate toxins through sweating, while our lungs do the same through respiration.
Lymphatic systems Role in Detoxification
The primary function of our lymphatic system is to cleanse toxins from our body and protect against invaders by carrying waste from our tissue to the bloodstream.
Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Toxic Load
Testing is my favorite way to "prove" that detoxes are not just a fad. Specialty lab testing can show your exact toxin load and the body's ability to eliminate toxins during phases I and II of detoxification. These tests can be done every few months to monitor the patient's progress.
There are many different types of tests to measure detox, and it really depends on your preference or the patient's possible exposure to specific toxins.
Most Common Functional Medicine Toxic Load Test
Vibrant Wellness's Total Tox Burden Profile measures a patient's exposure to environmental toxins, mycotoxins, and heavy metals. In contrast, the DetoxiGenomic Profile by Genova shows chemical sensitivities, oxidative stress, and the body's ability to process various medications.
If you don't want to test for toxins specifically but do want to see how well a patient can eliminate toxins during phases I and phase II of detoxification, then the Hepatic Detox Profile would be a helpful marker to use before and after a science-based medical detoxification program.
Functional Medicine Approach to Detox
Ultimately a detox should be done as a lifestyle change. It can start aggressively but eventually tapers off to a lifestyle change patients can maintain.
Nutrition for Detox
In Functional Medicine, diet is often used as the first line of therapy for immune and gastrointestinal issues since it can help with reducing toxic load and any immune reactivity to foods. Many practitioners follow a whole food, low inflammatory, elimination diet, which is a simplified list of foods to eat and foods to exclude as part of a detox program.
Supplements for Detox
Increasing specific nutrients and supplements can help clear unwanted compounds out of your body by supporting the body's natural detoxification pathways.
We can't talk about detox without discussing Glutathione (The Master Antioxidant). Glutathione plays a role in phase II of liver detox. It functions as an antioxidant, which helps reduce oxidative stress and remove free radicals generated during the detoxification process.
NAC stimulates glutathione biosynthesis, promotes detoxification, and acts directly as a scavenger of free radicals
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that plays an essential role in detoxification, including the metabolism and elimination of heavy metals.
Similar to Vitamin C, milk thistle contributes to overall liver health, preventing damage to the liver due to the antioxidant effects of silymarin and silybin, which are the active constituents found primarily in milk thistle seed.
Silymarin has been shown to restore glutathione levels in humans and protect liver cells' membrane by preventing toxins from entering into the cells.
After toxins have been processed in the liver, it's important to ensure your body effectively eliminates the waste. Fiber is an essential component to proper elimination as it binds to toxins and helps usher them out of the body through the gastrointestinal tract.
Medical-Based Detox Programs
Medical-Based Detox Programs usually combine a combination of nutrition and supplements that supports all levels of detox.
Detox programs should always be done under the care of a healthcare practitioner to ensure proper guidance and support. Skip the teas and focus on reducing your toxic load through a scientifically-backed protocol.
Most Common Medical Detox Programs
Functional Medicine Approach Post Detoxification
After a successful detox, adapting to a healthy lifestyle is the simplest thing you can do to help keep your body and detoxification system healthy. Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins, minimizing stress, maintaining daily hydration status, and consuming a balanced diet will help you ensure that your body is getting the essential nutrients it needs to detoxify optimally.
Why Do Some People Believe Detoxing Is a Fad?
With all of the information out there, many people still don't believe that toxic overload is an actual diagnosis.
This can be a valid argument. We have detox organs, and they do what they are meant to do in a healthy person. But considering that over 133 million Americans have at least one chronic disease, one could assume that many people's detox organs are not working efficiently.
Another reason many people and practitioners alike are against detoxes is there is not good regulation on what can be sold or marketed as a "detox."
Detox is a highly profitable market phrase. The global detox product market size is valued at over 50 billion USD, which has opened the door to many "detox" products landing on the shelves. The quick fix, detox teas, and pills have tarnished the reputation of proper detoxification methods.
A detox should be considered a lifestyle change and never a quick fix. A proper detox program will provide you with the food guidance, nutrients, and herbs that can support your body's natural detoxification system.
Always consult with your integrative healthcare practitioner for recommendations and an appropriate treatment plan that is specific to your needs.