It’s no secret that the term detoxification can cause a stir. Just google the term and you’ll get a list of sites and messages varying from one extreme to the next. What or who is to blame?
Miscommunication and misinformation; for every solid (aka. science-based) piece of evidence supporting detox, you’ll find ten times more misinformation out there. Fad diets, poorly written books, false promises, and lack of education on the subject are all to blame. With all of the conflicting messages floating around out there, it’s time to bridge the gap…with science.
Let’s take a look at detoxification from a science or evidence-based perspective. The term toxin defined within the context of detoxification is referred to as the following:
Xenobiotics: chemicals or molecules that are foreign to the body and originate externally (think environmental toxins, phytochemicals, drugs, etc.)
Endogenous toxins: these occur as byproducts of reactions the occur inside of the body such as the metabolism of hormones, bacteria, and other complex molecules
Every time you eat a piece of processed meat, breath in the city air, microwave leftovers in a plastic container, chances are you’re consuming the toxins within it. It’s nearly unavoidable in today’s society of mass production. So where do these xenobiotics go once inside the body?
The Detox Process
If they are not excreted through urine or feces (after processing by the liver), they can move into the fat stores in the body. Why? Think about it like this; rather than circulating harmful and foreign substances in the body, toxins are often moved to fat stores as a safety measure. There, they’re safely stored, away from vital organs and free from circulation. Our bodies are rather clever, aren’t they? It’s not that your body wants to hold on to toxins. The fact is, the human body can be overwhelmed with foreign substances that it simply doesn’t know what to do with them or is in a chronic state of inflammation.
Detox In Two Phases
How is detoxification defined within the functional medicine community? It is defined as any process of decreasing the negative impact of xenobiotics on bodily processes. It goes deeper than that. The term detoxification is used to refer to the transfer or mobilization of fat-soluble toxins to water-soluble metabolites that are excreted via urine and/or feces; this occurs in two phases. Phase I detoxification turns a fat soluble toxin into an unstable intermediate molecule. Phase II detoxification takes the unstable intermediate molecule and conjugates it into a water soluble compound so it is freely removed via feces, urine, or skin.
The primary organ responsible for detoxification is the liver. However, the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, lymphatic, urinary, and respiratory systems along with the skin and lungs play a role in detoxification as a whole.
The importance of a balance in Phase I and Phase II detoxification is paramount. If Phase I is up-regulated while Phase II lags behind, the unstable intermediates are freely roaming and ready to wreak havoc. The imbalance in the two phases can also cause miscommunication between other types of molecules such as fatty acids, steroids, and other naturally occurring molecules in the body.
Taking The Plunge
So you’re ready to take the plunge and dive into a detox program but you’re not sure what to expect. What should you look for? What foods can support detoxification? How should you go about spring cleaning for your body? We will answer these questions and more, next.