Detoxification is an important elimination process the body uses daily to remove toxins and prevent their accumulation in the body. It does not matter how many good things you put into your body if you cannot take out the garbage. Your body is the house of your soul. If you accumulate garbage in one room of your house that will attract flies (microorganisms, abnormal cells, cancerous cells…). Antibiotics, antivirals, chemotherapy and radiation kill the flies (bacteria, viruses and cancer cells), but if you do not do anything to get rid of the garbage, the flies will come back.
The liver, intestines and kidneys are the primary organs responsible for this, however there are actually 5 methods of detoxification employed by the body. Toxins that are not removed are stored in fat tissue and bone.
Generally, we have two types of toxins: water soluble and fat soluble. Water soluble toxins can be dissolved in water, whereas fat soluble toxins are dissolved in fat. The liver plays the most crucial role in fat soluble detoxification. It filters blood to remove large toxins, synthesizes and secretes bile to remove fat soluble toxins and disassembles unwanted chemicals with enzymes. This disassembly process requires two steps. Phase I will directly neutralize a toxin or will modify the chemical into a form that can be neutralized by Phase II. The liver detoxifies almost 2 liters of blood every minute and 99% of bacteria and toxins. However, when the liver is damaged, the amount of toxins that remain in the blood increases by 10 times.
Phase I Detoxification
Phase I utilizes a group of enzymes known as cytochrome P450. There are roughly 50-100 enzymes in this system that either directly neutralize some chemicals or convert them into forms to be eliminated by Phase II enzymes. The activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes varies individually based on genetics, exposure level to chemical toxins and nutritional status. The variation in activity is responsible for the variation in risk for disease. For example, there are differences in smokers’ abilities to detoxify carcinogens. Some people can smoke and only sustain modest lung damage while others develop cancer. In addition those with underactive Phase I detoxification will experience intolerances to multiple substances, including caffeine and perfumes.
Cytochrome P450 metabolizes a chemical to a less toxic form, making it water soluble or converting it to a more chemically active form. This more active form must be quickly removed from the body by Phase II to prevent a potential problem. Therefore the rate at which Phase I produces activated metabolites must be balanced by the rate at which Phase II processes them. An imbalance between the two phases can occur when a person is exposed to large amounts of toxins or for long periods of time. The critical nutrients become depleted allowing for the highly active forms from Phase I to accumulate. The activity of Phase I enzymes can also decrease with age, lack of physical activity and reduced circulation. Copper, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C are vital nutrients required by Phase I enzymes.
The following chart demonstrates substances detoxified by Phase I as well as drugs that inhibit Phase I enzymes.
Phase II Detoxification
In Phase II, various liver enzymes attach small chemicals to the toxin, a process known as conjugation. This reaction either neutralizes a toxin or makes it more easily excreted by the kidneys or bowels. There are seven pathways of detoxification in Phase II, each requiring certain nutrients and energy to function properly.
The following chart describes the seven Phase II pathways and provides information on the nutrients needed for each step and the substances that can decrease its activity.
The metabolism of toxic chemicals and drugs is highly dependent upon protein and amino acid status in the body. Increased toxicity of chemical compounds and drugs has been connected with protein deficiency. Herbicide and fungicide accumulation have been shown to be increased several fold by low protein consumption. Low protein diets decrease cytochrome P450 activity, increase lead toxicity and increase the immune system’s susceptibility to disease from pesticides. Protein is essential for proper functioning of all the Phase II detoxification pathways. Whey protein is one of the most important sources.
Phase II requires the synthesis and secretion of bile. Each day the liver produces about 1 liter of bile which serves as a carrier for many toxic substances to be dumped into the intestines. These substances must be removed immediately to prevent their reabsorption into the system. Fiber, such as psyllium, absorbs the toxins carried by bile to the intestines and facilitates rapid excretion by the bowels. If bile elimination becomes inhibited, toxins can remain in the lives longer than desired.
Gallstones, “sludge”, alcohol, thyroid conditions, constipation, oral contraceptives and other medications are just a few factors that can impair bile flow. Normal bowel action allows for 94% bile reabsorption. The fat soluble toxins excreted with it are recycled as part of the body’s starvation prevention program. Constipation however would allow for 99% reabsorption. Fiber prevents liver recirculation and increases the amount of fecal bile acids by 400%.
- Avoidance: Reduce daily toxic burden (food, environment, etc.)
- Supplementation: Help the body handle the toxic load (support detoxification pathways)
- Cleansing/Detoxification: Remove of the toxic accumulation (fasting, saunas, colonics…)
Fasting is one of the oldest known therapies that dates back over 3000 years. Fasting has been used in the treatment of: high blood pressure, obesity, chemical poisoning, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, psoriasis, eczema, thrombophlebitis, leg ulcers, IBS, asthma and mood disorders. A professional organization involved in the study and promotion of fasting is the International Association of Hygienic Physicians (IAHP). It is composed of doctors specializing in therapeutic fasting as an integral part of total health care. One of the most significant studies regarding fasting and detoxification involved patients who had inadvertently ingested rice oil contaminated with polychlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs) in Taiwan. All patients reported improvement in symptoms and some observed “dramatic” relief, after undergoing 7-10 days of fasting. The level of circulating chemicals in their blood increased due to the elevated rate of fat break down. Once the detoxification pathways caught up with the processing and elimination of fat soluble toxins, transformative changes occurred. Thus the fat soluble PCBs were released from storage into the bloodstream at higher than normal rates. The liver’s detoxification process is responsible for removing the substances through Phase I and Phase II (please refer to Fasting for more information).
Saunas (48°C- 57°C)
Saunas stimulate one of the basic methods of detoxification by the body. When the body sweats toxins are released through the skin. One research article studied the exposure of 14 firemen to highly toxic PCBs using saunas. The firemen underwent 2-3 weeks of detoxification, through dieting and using saunas, after developing neuropsychological problems 6 months after a transformer fire explosion. Their memory was drastically improved following treatment. Saunas have multiple therapeutic benefits. They increase excretion of heavy metals (cadmium, lead), augment excretion of fat-soluble chemicals (PCBs) and accelerate fat breakdown throughout the body. Compounds become mobilized into the bloodstream through sweat. The compounds released can include cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, bromide, chloride, chromium, copper, iron, potassium, sodium, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
Colonic treatments clear compounds that have been dumped from the liver into the intestines. This therapeutic treatment further enhances the removal of bile and thus prevents their recirculation as 94% of toxins in the bile are recycled in Phase II. Colonics will also help with the absorption of water (please refer to Colonics for more information).
Coffee enemas have been a standard in detoxification protocols in the past, primarily due to triggering significant bile dumping and eliminating the reabsorption of toxins.
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