5 Detox Facts Your Gut Expert Wants You To Know
If you begin a detox WITHOUT first knowing the fundamental detoxing facts, you’re not going to get the most from your program.
I make this promise to you as a Gut Expert and Naturopath (Melbourne is my beautiful home) who’s spent years curating effective gut health programs. After spending way too much time counseling clients who have jumped into crazy crash detox plans (please, please don't!), I feel the call to share with you the realities about detoxing, debunk some common myths, and ultimately provide facts so that you can begin your detox plan in a safe, healthy and fad-free way.
#1: FACT – What is Detoxification?
There is no universally accepted definition of ‘detoxification’. However, as a Gut Expert, I find The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry defines detoxification best:
“The process of removing a poison or toxin or the effect of either from an area or individual.”
There are also some great toxicology books that define detoxification clearly:
“Conversion of toxic parent compounds to nontoxic metabolites,” or “all reactions, enzyme-catalyzed or not, that consume toxic metabolites without producing injury”. (1)
Notice that both definitions apply inherent functions to the human body.
Yes, this means that your body is already carrying out detoxification processes to remove wastes and toxins – without your conscious thought and before you decide to embark on a detox plan. Your liver plays a major role in this process and is largely responsible for transforming toxic compounds into less harmful products, so that your body can eliminate them safely.
#2: FACT – Toxins, A reality check
A universal definition of ‘toxin’ is also hard to come by. After years of working as a gut-focused Naturopath in Melbourne and building hundreds (or more) of gut health programs, I’ve unearthed a few definitions and understandings that describe the word ‘toxin’ quite well:
- A toxin is a chemical substance that damages an organism
- The effects of toxins vary widely in different organisms, and with different toxins
- The end result of the strongest toxins is death, due to the widespread cellular damage they cause
- Every toxin acts in a different way to affect the cells they damage
- Toxins are everywhere in nature and inside our cells
- Everything has the potential to be toxic, it is the dose that makes it so. Even oxygen and water can be toxic at the wrong 'dose'.
- Evolutionary toxins, such as plant poisons and biotoxins
- Industrial toxins
- Chemical poisons including metals, persistent organic pollutants (such as pesticides and DDT) solvents and drugs
- Biotoxins like mould, bacteria, and metabolites (this applies to external and internal sources)
- Electro-magnetic radiation such as ionising and newer EMF “smog” response
#3: MYTH – Detoxing only happens when you start eating 'clean' foods or taking special supplements
The walls inside my office have heard this myth too many times.
The TRUTH is your body is constantly detoxing.
Given the ubiquitous nature of toxins, your intelligent body has detoxification systems in place that are always ready to deal with anything and everything you encounter, including the toxins your body naturally creates.
Here are some interesting examples that might surprise you:
Cellular level: Intestinal epithelial (gut lining) cells have a detoxification system, which serves as a chemical barrier in the gut. Toxic compounds you consume are metabolised by specific detoxification enzymes, creating less-harmful compounds that are efficiently excreted from the cells to the intestinal lumen (2).
Organ level: The liver protects us from potentially toxic chemical insults via its capacity to convert fat-based compounds into more water-soluble metabolites that can be efficiently eliminated from the body. It has two complex detoxification phases called Phase 1 (Cytochrome P450 enzymes) and Phase 2 (conjugation of functional groups) (3).
System level: The gastrointestinal system is where the body first makes contact with the majority of consumed toxins. Over the course of a lifetime, the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) processes more than 25 tons of food, which is full of immune-triggering compounds and potential toxins. Additionally, since most drugs are consumed orally, the GIT also has first contact with many drugs. To cope with this, the GIT has developed a complex set of physical and biochemical systems to manage this large load (4).
#4: MYTH – All foods and supplements that support detox are safe for everyone
This is another myth that I need to bust all the time, which is why I’m passionate about creating individualized gut health programs for my clients.
The TRUTH is that all foods and supplements have the potential to be problematic.
As you already know, everything has the potential to be toxic – it’s the dose that makes it so. In addition to this dose-specific consideration, when taking supplements all interactions and/or contraindications with conditions and medications must be accounted for if they’re to be used safely.
Here are just 2 common foods/drinks that people assume to be safe for everyone:
- Grapefruit: Remember the grapefruit diet? Bad idea!
More than 85 drugs are known or predicted to interact with grapefruit, of which 43 can result in serious adverse effects. These medications include many antibiotics, cardiovascular medications (such as Warfarin) and central nervous system agents. This grapefruit interaction enhances systemic drug concentration by impairing the drug's metabolism via the cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme superfamily – specifically cytochrome P3A4 (part of CYP450 family), which is found in the liver, small intestine and large intestine and is involved in the metabolism of 50% of all drugs (5).
Green Tea as a tea and extract, such as EGCG
The humble and healthy green tea is one of my favourites; however, it’s shown to interact with or be cautioned against some statins (Simvastatin), anti-coagulants (Warfarin), antipsychotic agents (Clozapine) and beta-adrenergic blocking agents (Nadolol) (6,7).
#5: MYTH – Detoxing is safe for everyone at anytime
My Naturopathic brain freaks out a little when I hear this myth, as it’s so far from the reality.
The TRUTH is that detoxification is not safe for everyone at any time.
There are numerous situations in which enhancing detoxification should be cautioned or contraindicated. The nature of these circumstances tends to be when a person is vulnerable, such as:
Those who are undernourished, fatigued or nutrient deficient
Sick, dealing with infection or in convalescence
Pregnant, planning to fall pregnant or breastfeeding
Anyone who is still in an environment that is of toxic burden (e.g. mouldy house if you are suffering from Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS))
Have a compromised gut and/or digestive system, such as leaky gut (which can contribute to toxin reabsorption), dysbiosis (an unhealthy profile of gut flora), Inflammatory Bowel Disease, gallstones or liver conditions. You must address and optimise your gastrointestinal system, one of the biggest systems involved with detoxification, prior to any detox.
Multiple medications involved
At this point you may be wondering, ‘Can I go on a detox?’.
It’s one that I wish more clients asked before they made the plunge.
When I merge my clinical brain, Gut Expert knowledge and Naturopathic principles, I can tell you with certainty that detoxification is not BS. But, if you view it as a thing to 'go on' in Spring or as a process that happens only when you take liver pills, yes - this is a BS understanding of detoxification. You know that your body's detoxification processes are running 24/7, so the idea of 'going on a detox' isn't technically correct.
Another interpretation of 'going on a detox' involves providing the body with additional nutrients or herbs that support these natural processes, which, in theory, is a bit more correct. However, I do caution the oversimplification of this concept and suggest teaming up with a practitioner in this instance. You’ll work together to refine this process and execute all the steps in a way that is safe for YOU and your individual needs.