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Understanding Detoxification

Image via Stephanie Wunderlich

Most people have been lead to believe that detoxification or a liver cleanse is a simple matter of drinking a marketed lemon water or tea for two days straight, sitting on the toilet for 3 hours and wake up the next day with the flat tummy you’ve always dreamed of. Well... Allow me to set the record straight!

So you feel like crap... Big weekend, or maybe two/three/four big weekends that somehow turned into 6 months of body depleting fun and now you’ve declined into a sloth-like pit of ‘urgh’ and feel the only way to climb your way back to some sort of vibrancy is to flush everything out and start again. Sound familiar? Yep. Thought so.

Unfortunately, despite the ‘dumbed down’ approach that media, babes on Instagram and what the internet told you, you cannot manually force toxins from your body, so the idea of consuming exciting juices and powders is simply a ploy to make you buy totally useless products. In fact, most commonly these ‘detox’ programs take away all the essentials your body actually needs to detoxify substances and instead employs a starvation or ‘shock tactic’ to promote a shit-load (pun intended) of bowel evacuations that leave you feeling ‘empty/lighter’ with the assumption that you have successfully detoxed.

When it comes to detoxing there is no “quick fix” approach. Our body has an incredible capacity to break down, filter and excrete what is coming in and there are multiple organs (liver, kidneys, GIT, skin) working synergistically to maintain this process every single day.

To understand why it is so important that you see through detox fads and realize that the best approach you can take to help out your liver is to consistently make positive diet and lifestyle choices that allow your body to naturally do its thing, you need to first appreciate the complexity of detoxification. Which I'm going to attempt to explain for you now as simple as possible.

I’ve added the picture below to try and stress how complex this process actually is... and emphasize the point that there is not a green juice/tea/shake/pill in the world that could tackle this job alone!

So there’s predominantly three phases of detoxification that all involve slightly different processes and thus.. have different needs.

Just a little note: When I refer to toxins we are referring to substances from your food, alcohol, the air you breathe, your own internal hormone production, bacteria and pathogens, chemical products, pesticides and various other bits and pieces that you come into contact with.

Phase 1. Toxin Conversion

  • This initial stage predominantly involves processing toxins that enter your system into what we call ‘intermediate metabolites’

  • It’s basically making these toxins suitable to be dealt with!

  • Interestingly, this metabolites formed in this first stage are actually more harmful than the original toxin itself.. Therefore it’s SO important that the whole process of detoxification is working efficiently to ensure these are dealt with in phase II and easily excreted

Phase 2. Toxin Breakdown

  • Phase II gets a little complicated but basically our dangerous little metabolites from Phase II are made water-soluble (meaning that they can be safely excreted in the urine, stools and bile).

  • Once they are water-soluble they can go through one of 6 different chemical pathways (Sulfation, Glucoronidation, Glutathione Conjugation, Acetylation, Amino Acid Conjugation or Methylation).

  • All you really need to know about this Phase is that there are 6 pathways that all require specific nutrients to work effectively... This is where a lovely balance of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants come into play to ensure you have everything you need to support each specific pathway.

Phase 3. Purging

  • Once Phase II has worked its magic and processed our metabolites into water-soluble compounds, a group of special proteins called ‘Antiporters’ get to work.

  • Antiporters are triggered in the small intestines (this is why gut health is also very important for effective detoxification!) and act as little pumps, pushing out the water-soluble compounds from the liver cells.

  • So if your gut is crappy and 'lacking' you will find it very difficult to eliminate the build-up of toxins that are now floating around in your system! Leading to inflammation, otherwise known as a whole lot of drama and unpleasant knock-on effects.

SO... How do you support these detoxification pathways I hear you cry?! Surprisingly, given the complexity of the process, it’s pretty simple.

See my post on Supporting Detoxification to find out more.


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