Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes phrases like "I feel like I need a cleanse" or "I need a good detox". But before you jump into a crazy crash detox plan (please, please don't!), I want to share with you some realities about detoxification, debunk some common myths and ultimately provide some information so you can view detoxification in a safe, healthy and fad-free way.
1. Detoxification. What does it mean?
There is no one universal definition of detoxification, but rather definitions that explain its function:
The process of removing a poison or toxin or the effect of either from an area or individual.
Conversion of toxic parent compounds to nontoxic metabolites (1).
Both of these definitions apply functions to the human body. Without your conscious thought or embarking on a detox plan, your body is already carrying out continuous processes that remove waste and toxicity. We also have processes in place, such as that that happens in the liver, that transform toxic compounds into less harmful products so our body can eliminate these safely.
Experiencing skin issues? Perhaps this is a sign your detoxification system needs a bit of TLC. Learn more about the gut-detox-skin connection here.
2. What is meant by 'toxins' in the body?
A universal definition of toxin is also hard to come by, but it is understood that:
A toxin is a chemical substance which 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 damage they cause across the different cells of an organism
Different toxins act in different ways to affect the cells they damage
The truth is...
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'
Some example of toxins include:
Evolutionary toxins such as plant poisons and biotoxins
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
1. Myth: Detoxing only happens when you start eating 'clean' or taking supplements
Truth: The body is constantly detoxing
Given the ubiquitous nature of toxins, the body has detoxification systems set in place that are constantly at work to deal with anything and everything we come into contact, including toxins our bodies naturally create. For example:
Cellular level: Intestinal epithelial (gut lining) cells have a detoxification system, which serves as a chemical barrier in the gut. Toxic compounds we may 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 through its capacity to convert fat based compounds into more water-soluble metabolites which can be efficiently eliminated from the body. It has two complex detoxification phases called Phase 1 (Cytochrome P450 enzymes) and Phase two (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 is also the 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).
2. Myth: All foods and supplements that support detox are safe for everyone
Truth: All foods and supplements have the potential to be problematic.
As mentioned before everything has the potential to be toxic, it is 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 to be used safely. For example
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 a Warfarin) and central nervous system agents. This grapefruit interaction enhances systemic drug concentration through 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 has been 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).
Feeling your gut is struggling to detox efficiently? It's time to reach out.
3. Myth: Detoxing is safe for everyone at anytime
Truth: 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 tend to be when the 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), Irritable Bowel Disease, gall stones 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
So, can you 'go on a detox'? Final thoughts
Detoxification is not BS, but when viewed as a thing that 'go on' in Spring or as a process that happens only when you take liver pills, yes, this is a BS understanding of detoxification. As you know our body's detoxification processes run 24/7, so the idea of 'going on a detox' isn't technically correct.
Another interpretation of 'going on a detox' is by 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 over simplification of this concept and suggest teaming up with a practitioner to refine this process and execute this safely.
As a naturopath, detoxification is part of our ancient practice and can be a important part in someone's journey to better health. We have been taught that detoxification is, of course, always occurring and if additional support is required that this must be carefully created for each individual with safety as first priority.
There are lots of questions and clinical considerations involved when choosing the right support for each your needs. Reach out and book your initial consultation with me and see how the The Gut Feeling To Gut Healing Program can help you.
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