All Systems Go! Are You Ready for Nutritional Detox? Are You Sure???
Updated: Jul 25
There are myriads of detoxification protocols floating around the natural health galaxy. From celery juice to charcoal lemonade to Whole30 and hormone reset diets to sugar fasts to candida and parasite cleanses to intermittent fasting and saunas—the list goes on forever. There is definitely something for everybody, but is detoxing for everyBODY?
Let’s take a look at how and when to consider a detox!
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Trusting Your Gut
Detoxes can sound promising and powerful. Who doesn’t want to look and feel 10 years younger? Everyone wants a balanced mood, pain-free joints and a healthy tummy, right? It’s easy to get allured by Pinterest and blog images of colorful veggie juices followed by testimonies of renewed life after such and such a cleanse/diet/reset.
The truth is, detoxing can be extremely hard on your body.
Your digestive organs need to be in solid shape to support any detoxification program or even the purest foods and drinks can jam up your systems and make you feel worse.
North to South Clearance
Digestion is a north to south process.
It starts in the brain when you think about food or look at those Instagram pics and start drooling. Those are your cranial nerves sending messages to your salivary glands to get ready for some grub.
Digestion continues in your mouth when you begin chewing-- hopefully slowly-- releasing more saliva laced with enzymes-- to start breaking down carbs all the while sending signals to your stomach to start pumping the acid (hydrochloric acid-- HCL) so protein can get broken down into amino acids, a.k.a. brain food!
Digestion moves down the esophagus into your stomach where the goodies are mixed into an acidic soup called chyme, which flows bit by bit into your small intestine.
The real magic begins when the pancreas, gall bladder and liver get on board sending enzymes and bile to further break down nutrients for absorption and distribution throughout your body.
Carbs break down into glucose for energy
Protein breaks down into amino acids for brain, muscle, tissue and immune strength
Fats get broken down into fatty acids for energy, cell integrity, and happy hormones
Minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients, like the ones in the broccoli and carrots you’ve been munching on, get sent out for various jobs like turning on those anti-aging genes, fighting off illness and helping your adrenals manage stress.
Leftovers are passed down to the colon where the good stuff is recycled while the rest--water, waste products, bacteria, fiber etc.-- makes up feces and departs down the toilet.
All systems in this north to south symphony must provide clearance before any effective detoxing can begin.
So what if you’re burping up your lunch 3 hours later? What if you aren’t “going” everyday?
What if you are passing gas that can clear a room?!
These are all signs of digestive distress!
While a detox protocol may seem like just what you need at the moment, it may not be appropriate until there is more harmony in this north to south process. You may require a digestive enzyme or hydrochloric acid (like HCL with pepsin) to support food break down in your stomach and small intestine.
You may need some therapeutic liver and gall bladder foods—like this Easy Beet, Carrot & Green Apple Relish—to nourish your liver’s detox pathways. You may need more fiber to fuel your colon and microbiome (and to bulk up those poops).
Or you may need to eliminate some foods that don’t agree with you—at least for a time.
Detox is a serious matter and your digestion and elimination systems need to be flowing freely for toxins to pass through safely. In fact, it is strongly recommended that anyone wishing to do a serious detox should do so with a trained practitioner as they will know where to start and how to support you through the process.
Of all the digestive organs that need TLC prior to any detox, the liver needs extra care.
The liver is our body’s master cleansing organ. Among its over 500 functions, the liver is responsible for cleaning our blood by filtering out and neutralizing toxins-- including pharmaceutical drugs.
The liver depends on good digestion up north to do this job. This includes proper protein digestion, as the liver needs specific amino acids like methionine (found in eggs, fish, certain meats, dairy products, beans, nuts, seeds and some whole grains and veggies) to get rid of free radicals and the toxic effects of Tylenol (acetaminophen).
This also includes proper fat digestion as healthy fats stimulate bile flow—a necessity for a healthy gall bladder and peristalsis (movement) in the small intestine. Poor fat digestion jams up bile flow and also lymphatic tissue and therefore liver function.
The domino effect from poor digestion in the stomach and small intestine has dramatic impacts on the liver...and the entire body.
Pathways to Healing
The liver has two detox pathways known and phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways.
Phase 1 breaks down toxins into metabolites (a substance broken down from food, chemicals or even body tissues) that need to be eliminated. Some metabolites, like certain caffeine byproducts, are ready to be eliminated after phase 1.
However, most substances require a second phase of detoxification known as phase 2 detoxification (or metabolism) wherein a substance is added to the phase 1 byproduct to make it more water soluble for easy excretion by the kidneys or colon.
For example, when we are exposed to pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs or environmental pollution our liver enzymes break these products down via the phase 1 pathway and then phase 2 picks up the job and makes these toxic byproducts water soluble so we can pee, poop or sweat them out.
Proper metabolism of drugs and toxins by the liver is a critical for healthy detoxification.
When phase 1 metabolism is working too quickly, it pulls in too many toxins at once and creates a backlog in phase 2 allowing many toxic metabolites (broken down toxins in more toxic forms) to re-enter the blood stream.
When phase 1 works too slowly, toxins and waste build up in the body and the liver becomes overwhelmed by an accumulation of waste.
It’s like having cans and cans of garbage that are never fully emptied. If the garbage isn’t cleared before initiating a detox program, this mobilization of toxins can cause the major stress on the liver and backfire with symptoms of illness like diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, weakness and severe fatigue.
These symptoms are your body telling you that your systems are not yet clear.
While detoxification plays an important part of any healing process, it must be done with wisdom and care in order not to make matters worse.
Pay attention to your digestion and elimination patterns before diving into a cleanse.
As mentioned above, you may simply need to ask a trained practitioner about taking some digestive aids (like a digestive enzyme and/or HCL with pepsin) to make sure your nutrients are getting broken down and absorbed, you may need more fiber in your diet to keep those stools moving, or you may need some liver TLC with therapeutic foods or herbs recommended by a functional practitioner.
And of course all these systems will benefit from everyday detox practices such as a clean diet, proper hydration, deep breathing and adequate rest.
Never underestimate the basics!
You can try these two gentle detox recipes to get things started:
What is your experience with detox? Share in the comments below!
Dimitropoulos, E. (2014, March 19). Acetaminophen Toxicity: What Pharmacists Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/acetaminophen-toxicity-what-pharmacists-need-to-know
Hair, M., & Sharpe, J. (2014, January). Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome. The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington. Retrieved from: https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf
Methionine. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=Methionine
About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to memory, brain health, genes and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys messing around in the kitchen with old world recipes, reading and hearing stories from elders and farmers about traditional food sourcing, and wandering around the Red Rocks with her heroic husband and Staffordshire bull terrier.
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