4 Simple Steps to a Truly Effective Detox
Most people hear the word “detox” and immediately think of fasting or juicing — two practices known to reset the digestive system. But there are several ways to cleanse and “reset” your system, and cellular detoxing may be the most important kind of cleansing you’ll ever do — and it doesn’t require a drop of juice.
While you may not be able see them, taste them or smell them, there are toxic chemicals in every cell and organ in your body. You’re probably already familiar with such environmental pollutants as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, pesticides and PCBs — but that’s just the tip of the toxic chemical iceberg; there are thousands more you’ve never heard of that lurk in our food and water supply and in our homes, offices, schools and cars!
In addition, destructive compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and hormone metabolites that arise from ordinary cellular metabolism further tax the body’s built-in detox systems, often overwhelming them.
Even more alarming: Approximately 10 million tons (over 21 billion pounds) of toxic chemicals are released into our environment by various industries each year. Of these, over two million tons (over 4.5 billion pounds) per year are recognized carcinogens.
Shockingly, many of these deadly compounds can be found in the blood of newborn babies. They continue to accumulate in our cells and organs throughout life — unless we take steps to regularly detoxify our bodies by consuming detox-promoting foods, beverages and nutrients that support healthy liver function, boost glutathione levels (a key detoxification compound) and prevent hormones and environmental toxins from being recycled back to the liver.
Evolution did an excellent job of equipping the liver with the means to detoxify metabolic waste and naturally occurring environmental pollutants. After the 18th century Industrial Revolution, more than 8,000 industrial toxins have been introduced into the environment — toxins that place a superhuman demand on our liver and other organs by overwhelming their ability to neutralize and eliminate chemical waste from the body.
Fortunately, nutritional science offers an effective means to boost your body’s three main detoxification systems to neutralize the thousands of harmful chemicals that increase serious health problems.
What Is Detoxification?
The liver, which performs more than 500 vital life functions each day, has at its disposal three detoxification systems (three sets of cellular proteins or enzymes) that make lipid-soluble toxins more water-soluble in order to transport them out of the body.
Potentially damaging molecules (e.g., ethanol, prescription and recreational drugs, hormones, industrial pollutants) are metabolized by the liver and transformed into more water-soluble derivatives for subsequent elimination from the body. Although the intestine, kidney, lungs and brain are equipped with so-called phase I, II and III enzymes and transport proteins, it’s your liver that serves as the master detoxification organ.
Here’s a quick overview of how these three systems work to detoxify and cleanse your body:
- Phase I (Transformation): Specialized enzymes attach water-soluble chemical “handles” to fat-soluble toxins, which renders toxins water-soluble enough to be eliminated from the body. In many cases, toxins can become even more reactive in phase I, which renders them potentially more destructive — until they’re addressed by the activities of the phase II enzymes.
- Phase II (Conjugation): Different enzymes “escort” molecules to the chemical handles on the toxins, which further increases the solubility of phase I toxins, making them less dangerous. Phase II enzymes also protect against the initiation phase of cancer. They counterbalance the oxidative damage from ROS, promote healthy hormone metabolism and prevent the recycling of hormones and toxins back to the liver.
- Phase III (Transport): The toxin is transported out of the body via the digestive tract by specialized proteins.
4 Simple Steps to Effective Detoxification
An effective detox strategy should include consuming foods, beverages and nutrients that support the body’s multiple detoxification systems.
1. Eat sufficient protein. The liver uses protein to obtain the amino acids (i.e., glycine, cysteine and glutamine) it needs to synthesize the master detox compound, glutathione. It also uses other amino acids for such phase II detoxification pathways as acetylation, glucuronidation, glycination and methylation.
2. Consume detox-promoting foods. Many phytonutrients (natural disease-fighting compounds found in fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables) enhance the operation of the body’s natural detoxification systems. For example, polyphenols found in berries, green tea and cocoa enhance the genetic expression of γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase, which increases intracellular glutathione concentration.
3. Take milk thistle extract and glutathione supplements. Recent studies suggest that two powerful natural compounds, glutathione and milk thistle extract, work synergistically to support healthy phase I and II detoxification and healthy liver function. Milk thistle supports healthy levels of glutathione in the body and promotes optimal phase I and II detoxification enzymes in the liver, kidneys and intestine.
4. Take a high-quality multivitamin-mineral formula that includes potent antioxidants. This will insure that you obtain sufficient amounts of B-complex vitamins and other methyl donors that support healthy liver function, promote glutathione synthesis and reduce high blood levels of homocysteine, an artery-damaging by-product of protein metabolism.
Detoxing Benefits of Milk Thistle Extract
Milk thistle extract (Silybum marianum) works in the first two phases of detoxification. In phase I, it binds to toxins and quenches ROS, helping prepare them for phase II. In phase II, it increases glutathione levels to facilitate toxin removal from the body.
Milk thistle contains a mixture of several related polyphenolic compounds derived from the parent compound, silymarin. One of these compounds, silybin, is the most bioactive component in silymarin. Silymarin promotes detoxification by lowering liver oxidative stress associated with toxin metabolism, especially lipid peroxidation. This helps conserve glutathione levels, a beneficial effect that has been used to reverse acetaminophen (Tylenol™) toxicity.
Milk thistle enjoys a superlative safety profile, having been used for the last 2,000 years to treat liver and gall bladder dysfunction. Studies confirm that milk thistle can protect liver function, prevent liver damage and normalize elevated liver enzyme levels.
The Detoxification Benefits of Glutathione
Glutathione levels can decline 50 percent below optimal levels as we age. One study found that people with the least amount of glutathione in their blood were much more likely to suffer a heart attack than those with the most glutathione. The kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen and the eye (cornea and lens), contain the highest concentrations of glutathione in the body.
Unfortunately, about half of the US population suffers from a reduced capacity of glutathione, which impairs the body’s ability to get rid of toxins. These people have a genetic variant of a gene known as GSTM1, which is required for the process of creating and recycling glutathione in the body. As a result, fully half the population is at elevated risk for oral, bladder, breast, colorectal and cervical cancers due to this genetic aberration.
Studies suggest that glutathione boosts the body’s detoxification systems and protects against damage from ROS (oxygen radicals) in the following ways:
- Glutathione strengthens the immune system and acts as a general detoxifier.
- Oral glutathione increases glutathione levels in blood cells and plasma by 30-35%. This finding ends a long-standing debate over whether oral glutathione could effectively enhance the body’s glutathione levels.
- As glutathione levels increase due to supplementation, so does the function of natural killer (NK) cells, a biomarker for increased immune defense. Glutathione is thus an effective intervention strategy to support healthy immune function.
- Glutathione promotes nucleic acid synthesis and supports DNA repair.
- Glutathione protects the integrity of red blood cells .
- Glutathione supports healthy brain function.
- Glutathione protects the skin, lens, cornea, and retina against solar radiation damage.
- Glutathione is used to treat the following health conditions: Crohn’s disease, diabetes, HIV infection, liver cirrhosis, pulmonary disease, neurodegerative disease, pancreatitis and Wilson’s disease.
- The liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas and the lens and cornea have the highest concentrations in the body.
Why Detox Is Critical for More Than Half the Population
The glutathione S-tranferase (GST) gene family plays a central role in the inactivation of toxic and carcinogenic compounds through encoding phase I and phase II metabolizing enzymes. Studies estimate that certain GST detox genes are absent in 35–60% of individuals. GST polymorphisms have been linked to susceptibility to cancers of the bladder, brain, cervix, colon/rectum, GI tract, head and neck, kidney, lung, ovary, pancreas, prostate, testicle and thyroid gland.
Everyone needs to detox for optimal health, but if you’re among the half of the population that has defective or missing GST genes, your risk of cancer could increase dramatically if you fail to take steps to compensate for the significant loss of ability to detoxify environmental carcinogens.
4 Additional Nutrients for Successful Detox
Four ancillary nutrients closely participate in the body’s detoxification processes and work synergistically with other foods and nutrients to promote optimal detoxification and healthy liver function:
1. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a water- and fat-soluble compound, which means that it’s capable of inactivating oxygen radicals in all organs and tissues in the body. This unique quality makes it especially good at detoxifying harmful compounds in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. ALA also activates a detox-related gene called Nrf2. Activation of Nrf2 essentially opens the door for the production a vast array our body’s most important antioxidants.
2. Calcium d-glucarate (a calcium salt found in such foods as alfalfa, apples, cruciferous vegetables, grapefruit and lettuce) suppresses the gut bacterial enzyme beta-glucuronidase (which interferes with phase II detoxification) and restores the glucuronidation detoxification pathway. This compound promotes glucuronidation, a process that enables the body to rid itself of toxic compounds including xenoestrogens, industrial pollutants and other carcinogens.
3. N-Acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid derived from cysteine, which promotes vasodilation and increases glutathione production. It also possesses antioxidant properties that can reduce or prevent kidney damage. The FDA has approved NAC to treat liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose. Although NAC is not found naturally in foods, it’s parent compound, cysteine, is abundantly present in most protein-rich foods.
4. Selenium is mineral found in Brazil nuts, shellfish, tuna and whole grains. Selenium boosts the body’s ability to recycle glutathione. Consuming just one or two Brazil nuts daily will meet or exceed the RDA for selenium.
Start Detoxing Today
Part of an overall anti-aging strategy should be to focus on consuming foods and nutrients that support the body’s detoxification systems in order to adequately eliminate the health risks caused by the vast number of toxic chemicals modern life throws at us each day. However you choose to detox and equip your body, if you do one thing and one thing only, I recommend taking a supplement specifically formulated for daily detoxification that includes scientifically supported levels of milk thistle and glutathione.
Our bodies are continually assaulted by thousands of toxic compounds each year and by daily exposure to metabolic byproducts. It is critical that we take steps to optimize our body’s internal detoxification systems so that our bodies can combat these health damaging attacks.