Despite our best efforts to avoid toxins, encountering them is a fact of life. They are in the air we breathe, water we drink, foods we consume, products we use on our bodies and in our homes, medicines we take. . .the list goes on. Removal of these toxins is a natural process of our bodies. Here is a look at how the body detoxifies.
What is Detoxification?
According to Merriam-Webster, detoxification is the process of removing a harmful substance (such as a toxin). Our bodies have an effective detoxification system that involves 3 primary organs.
The liver’s major function is filtering toxic substances to prevent them from passing into your bloodstream. Thus, the liver is our first line of defense against toxins.
The kidneys’ role in detoxification is the constant filtration of blood and excretion of toxins in the form of urine.
The colon’s main role is to flush out toxic chemicals. In other words, it is the “dumping station” for the liver, kidneys, and lymph system. In average person’s lifetime, the colon will handle over 25 tons of food. Healthy bacterial flora inside the intestines assist the colon with the breakdown of toxins.
The Liver’s Role in Detail
Water soluble toxins typically don’t stand a chance against a healthy body’s detoxification system, but many toxins we encounter are fat soluble. These toxins end up in areas of the body with concentrated fatty tissue, such as the brain, breasts, and adrenal glands.
Unfortunately, toxins can remain stored in fatty tissue for years. A build-up of toxins can lead to brain toxicity and endocrine disruption, as well as damaging side effects like frequent headaches, cognitive issues, and fatigue. Over time, the release of these toxins may even contribute to infertility and the development of cancer.
Your liver is the most important organ of detoxification and functions like a massive chemical plant. It manufactures certain compounds, detoxifies dangerous compounds, and directs substances all over the body for use, storage, or excretion. There is a two-phase process by which the liver removes fat soluble toxins. You can think of phase 1 as being responsible for breaking things down, while phase 2 builds new substances from these raw materials by adding molecules to them.
Phase 1 Detoxification
The presence of certain chemical toxins triggers the release of specific enzymes in the liver. The role of these cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) enzymes is to convert fat soluble toxins into water soluble substances for excretion in urine or bile.
Phase 1 detox involves a complicated process of oxidation (addition of electrons), reduction (removal of electrons), hydrolysis (breaking down using water), hydration (adding water molecules) and finally, dehalogenation (removing a halogen). Phew!
The steps listed above result in a water soluble substance that can be excreted by the body. However, this process is taxing on the liver and produces intermediate metabolites. What’s more is these resulting metabolites are free radicals and may even be more harmful to the body than the original substance.
Phase 2 Detoxification
In Phase 2, enzymes add another substance (called a conjugate) to the intermediate metabolite in a process called conjugation. Phase 2 conjugates include: amino acids, sugars, glutathione, methionine, sulfur, and acetyl co-A. After this final transformation, the substance is excreted either through the gallbladder as bile or the kidneys as urine.
Phase 1 detoxification requires the activity of lots of enzymes. Therefore, some people who are enzyme deficient or who have a high toxin load may need to supplement. Additionally, because this step of breaking down toxins is taxing on the body, other substances are helpful. These include antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, as well as other co-nutrients that support phase 1 activities.
Problems arise when substances needed in phase 2 are lacking. For example, a the body needs certain amino acids to metabolize sulfur (found in foods such as eggs, beef, cruciferous vegetables, cheese, etc.) into sulfate. A shortage of the amino acids necessary results in a “back up” of reactive intermediate metabolites, which can then lead to tissue damage and disease.
Supporting the liver is key for ensuring proper detoxification. Proper diet and supplementation help provide the liver with what it needs to carry out its job efficiently. In addition, avoiding alcohol and other toxins helps to reduce the demand on the liver. Certain foods, including coffee, tea, cruciferous vegetables, grapefruit, beets, and berries are all supportive of a healthy liver as well.
For a relaxing bath that can also help your body detox, check out this Raindrop Detox Bath recipe!
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