Environmentally we live in a relatively toxic soup – whether we like it or not. Our air, water and food are full of pollutants, and even if we try our best to minimise exposure, many unavoidably remain. So even for those who consider themselves to be in the best of health the organs of detoxification often struggle to cope with the load. Therefore, from time to time, it is worth considering a detox program to assist the body.

A detox plan is particularly important for those who suffer with excessive or chronic fatigue, muscle aches, difficulty with concentration or memory, or feelings of malaise. For those who suffer from fibromyalgia, chemical sensitivities or chronic fatigue syndrome, such a plan forms an essential part of the journey back to optimal health, but should be undertaken with professional supervision.

There are many ways to detoxify the body; juice fasting, water fasting, detox baths and spa treatments, enemas, and raw food diets, are some of the better known ones. Then there are more targeted detox programmes that require professional guidance, since they need to be conducted in a specific manner.  These include heavy metal detoxes (see Chelation), gallbladder, liver and kidney flushes, plus colon and intestinal cleanses. Other detox plans are more exotic sounding, and perhaps less well-known, such as the Lemonade diet, the Hallelujah diet, the Mucus-less diet, the grape cure, the lemon juice and maple syrup cleanse, or the watermelon diet. These, and a slew of others, make regular appearances in the media – especially at springtime. It should go without saying: dump the junk [food and behaviour] – particularly during a detox!

Some detoxes can be as short as a juice fast for one day, while others are designed to detox for 7, 14, and 28 or 49 days – or longer. In Ayurvedic medicine specific detox routines are advocated for the start of each new season. These regimes all have their proponents, and many are based on sound naturopathic principles, which have often been tried and tested for centuries. There are also many specific detox programmes that claim to cure almost any condition, including cancers.

 The biology of detoxification

First let’s have a quick look at the biology. There are five organs of detoxification and elimination; the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, the colon and the skin. The lymphatic system acts as an accessory to the detox organs. Exogenous toxins [xenobiotics] are those ingested or inhaled from our environment e.g. food, drugs or other noxious substances, respectively. They can include heavy metals, pesticide residues, industrial pollutants, etc. Endogenous toxins are those resulting from normal metabolic processes within each cell of the body. The liver is the primary organ of detoxification.  It filters 30% of the body’s total blood volume every minute and has to process all toxins passing through it – including the 90% coming from endogenous sources.

There are three phases of biological detoxification:

  • Phase 1 in the liver takes the toxins [many of which are fat-soluble] and oxidises or binds them to form compounds.
  • Phase 2 in the liver converts these compounds into water-soluble substances.
  • Phase 3 eliminates these substances via the gallbladder and kidneys.

 Broad principles of a detoxification program

The first aim is to minimise the intake of, or exposure to, environmental toxins and pollutants, in order to give the body a break from the influx. Secondly, the channels of elimination must be opened to facilitate the expulsion of toxic compounds from the body. Thirdly, in tandem with the first aim [toxic burden reduction], it is imperative to ensure proper nourishment is established. This can be achieved by supplying all the necessary building blocks, in an easily digested and absorbable form.

Metabolic detoxification can be defined as simply normalising the body’s ability to metabolise exogenous and endogenous compounds, while temporarily reducing incoming toxic burden. Fasting and poor nutrition may impede proper detoxification. If one feels much worse while on a detox program, this usually indicates the mitochondria [intracellular batteries] are depleted and have insufficient energy to support the detox process. Exogenous toxins, such as mercury, for example, aggravate mitochondrial demise. In a medical or clinically guided detox, the doctor may therefore recommend a mitochondrial resuscitation program first, before returning to the detox program.

 Ways to assist the organs of detoxification.

 All detoxification processes depend on adequate water intake for metabolic processing and dilution of toxins, and for helping to effectively flush them out of the body. For this, 6-10 glasses of pure, filtered or bottled water a day is required.


Phase 1 & Phase 2 liver detoxification needs to be ‘in sync’ to facilitate a smooth detoxification process. Certain nutrients need to be present for each Phase to function optimally [see table].

Detox pathway, organs and nutrients needed

If nutrients are in short supply, toxic compounds may build up, thereby  aggravating an already toxic situation. Thus if proteins are absent from a detox plan, [e.g. a prolonged juice fast] the amino acids needed for effective Phase 2 will be missing, and Phase 2 detoxification processes will be interrupted. Milk Thistle and most vitamins promote Phase 1 actions, while proteins and cruciferous vegetables in the diet promote Phase 2 actions. Glutathione is an important liver antioxidant and detoxifier, but oral supplementation is not recommended since research shows that it is not well absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Glutathione manufacture can be increased by taking Vitamin C, Milk Thistle, Alpha Lipoic acid, or N-acetyl cysteine. Eating foods rich in sulphur-containing amino acids, i.e. cysteine-rich foods such as asparagus, avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onion, spinach and egg yolk, are helpful. Careful selenium supplementation may also be beneficial, since it is a co-factor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which is a potent antioxidant or free radical scavenger that protects the body from oxidation.


Any form of gentle aerobic exercise and/or breathing exercises helps to facilitate expulsion of toxins and metabolites from the lungs. During a detox program it is best to avoid strenuous exercise, as the body needs energy for the detox processes.


Colonic irrigation, coffee enemas and increased soluble and insoluble fibre in the diet assists with elimination via the colon. Soluble fibre is found in fruit, oats, legumes, pectin, psyllium husk and root vegetables. Insoluble fibre is found in dark, leafy green vegetables, fruit skins, rice bran and root vegetable skins. The aim is to have at least one soft bowel movement a day. If adding fibre is not enough, supplementing with magnesium citrate up to 800mg per day, is likely to get things moving in the right direction.


In addition to adequate water intake, it is recommended to replace table salt with sea salt or Himalayan crystal [rock] salt, both of which contain a healthy balance of minerals. Cherries and cranberries, in particular, help eliminate uric acids, as do potassium-rich fruits like apricots, bananas, and melons. To further reduce uric acid levels, which put a strain on the kidneys, decrease protein intake, especially fatty red meat as well as all fried foods, alcohol and yeast products. Parsley, dandelion, chard, raw spinach and asparagus all assist positive kidney function.


Daily brushing of the skin, with a natural bristle skin brush, removes dead skin layers and facilitates elimination through the skin. Natural salt and/or sugar-based scrubs are also good exfoliators. Soaking in a warm bath that contains a cup of Epsom salts helps to eliminate toxins through the skin.

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