Metabolic detoxification

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Spring is known as the time for new beginnings, rejuvenation and shedding of the sluggishness of winter. It is also a good time to think of cleaning up the internal environment of the body. We live in a 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 remain that are unavoidable. In the best of health our organs of detoxification struggle to cope with the load, so from time to time it is worth considering a detox programme to assist the body.

A detox plan is particularly important if you 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 health.

According to Functional Medicine Associates there are many ways to detoxify the body: juice fasting, water fasting, detox baths and spa treatments, colonic irrigation and raw food diets, are some of the better known ones. Others are more exotic sounding, and perhaps less well-known, such as the grape cure, lemon juice and maple syrup cleanse or the watermelon diet. Some detoxes can be as short as a juice fast for one day, while others are designed to detox for 49 days or longer. They all have their proponents and are generally based on sound naturopathic principles, which have often been tried and tested for centuries. They claim to cure almost any condition including cancers.

The biology of detoxification

First let’s have a quick look at the biology of detoxification. 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. These 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 as 30% of the total blood is filtered through it every minute. 90% of the toxins that it has to deal with are from endogenous sources. There are three phases of detoxification:

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

Liver detoxification pathways and supportive nutrients (courtesy of

Broad principles of a detoxification programme

Firstly, one aims to minimise the intake of, or exposure to, environmental toxins and pollutants in order to give the body a break from the influx. Secondly, while the toxic burden is reduced one needs to ensure good nourishment by supplying all the necessary building blocks in an easily digested and absorbable form. Thirdly, the channels of elimination must be opened to facilitate the expulsion of toxic compounds from the body.

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 programme, this usually indicates the mitochondria [intracellular batteries] are depleted and have insufficient energy to support the detox process. Exogenous toxins, such as mercury, aggravate mitochondrial demise. The practitioner may often recommend a mitochondrial resuscitation programme before returning to the detox programme.

Ways to assist the organs of detoxification

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

  • Liver: It is important for Phase 1 and 2 to be in sync with each other to facilitate a smooth detoxification process. Certain nutrients need to be present for each phase to function optimally [see diagram above]. If nutrients are in short supply, toxic compounds may build up thus 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 detoxification processes will be interrupted. Milk thistle and most vitamins also promote Phase 1 actions. Proteins and cruciferous vegetables in the diet promote Phase 2 actions. Glutathione is an important liver antioxidant and detoxifier, but cannot be supplemented by mouth. Glutathione manufacture can be increased by taking vitamin c, Milk Thistle, N-acetyl cysteine and broccoli.
  • Lungs: Any form of aerobic exercise and/or breathing exercises will help to facilitate expulsion of toxins and metabolites from the lungs. During a detox programme it is best to avoid strenuous exercise, as the body needs energy for the detox processes.
  • Colon: Colonic irrigation, coffee enemas and increased soluble and insoluble fibre in the diet will assist 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. Ideally you should have at least one soft bowel movement a day. If adding fibre is not enough, then include magnesium citrate up to 800 mg per day.
  • Kidneys: In addition to adequate water intake, it is recommended to replace table salt with sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt, both of which contain the correct balance of minerals. Grapes provide good levels of potassium and, together with cranberries, help eliminate uric acids. Decrease protein intake to reduce urea levels, which put a strain on the kidneys. Parsley, dandelion, raw spinach and asparagus all assist kidney function.
  • Skin: Daily brushing of the skin with a natural bristle skin brush removes dead skin layers and facilitates elimination through the skin. Soaking in a bath with a cup of Epsom salts helps to pull toxins out through the skin.


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