Let’s Talk Detoxification
Posted on December 24th, 2018
Ok guys, so I know it’s that time of year where we feel like we’ve really overdone it in the lead up to Christmas and seriously need a “detox”.
Well not so fast! Whilst I’m sure we may all benefit from a few earlier nights and being kinder to ourselves, I want to address the myth of detox foods and fads that may be somewhat tempting as January looms.
Firstly, it’s important to ask, what is detoxification?
Detoxification mostly occurs in the liver in 2 phases. It basically involves making a lipophilic (fat soluble compound) into a water soluble compound to be excreted by the body.
Phase 1: Is the bio-activation phase where an enzyme called Cytochrome P450 makes the toxin more water soluble but in doing so makes it more reactive.
Phase 2: Is the conjugation phase whereby, the more reactive substance is made stable through the addition of a further molecule. It is now ready to be excreted from the body via urine, stools bile etc.
In case you’re wondering, NO single food can replicate this process. The idea that “juicing” or “superfoods” can do what the liver and kidneys do is a myth.
So why is food implicated in detoxification?
Well, certain nutrients / phytonutrients can support phase I and II reactions.
Phase I nutrients include things like B vitamins, branched chain amino acids and antioxidants. These can be found in in a whole range of foods from proteins (animals and plants), fruits and veggies and everyday staples like pasta and bread. Basically just eating a varied balanced diet will support detoxification pathways.
Phase II nutrients are mainly amino acids like glycine, taurine, glutamine, cysteine, methionine and N-Acetylcysteine so again protein is going to be important and you don’t get much of that in cold pressed juice or hot water and lemon. It’s funny that we don’t typically think of turkey, pork or beef as detox foods however they contain these amino acids used in phase II conjugation.
Now, remember I said that after the toxin is made more water soluble by the Cytochrome P450 enzyme in phase I it becomes more reactive. Well your body also uses antioxidants to prevent any damage caused by these reactive species.
An antioxidant is a molecule that stabilises a free radical and in doing so becomes itself stable. Again it comes back to having a varied diet including lots of plant foods to provide nutrients including vitamin C, E, A, zinc and phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are chemicals found it plants that may confer many health benefits.
Isothiocyanates and Indole-3-Carbinol are two that are particularly good for detoxification. These are found in simple foods you should be able to buy in regular supermarkets like onions and garlic and cruciferous veg like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and sprouts. These can slow down phase I detoxification and speed up phase II allowing more of the intermediaries to be made stable without causing too many reactive substances that can cause damage.
So to conclude:
- Detoxification is carried out predominantly by the Liver in 2 phases.
- No single food can replicate this process so the idea of “detox foods” is a bit of a myth, especially when they come in powders and at a premium.
- Nutrients in a range of food including everyday items will support your Liver to do its normal job, basically you need to eat allow your body to do its regular job of detoxification.
Hodges, R. and Minich, D. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015, pp.1-23.
Waugh, A., Grant, A., Chambers, G. and Ross, J. (2014). Ross and Wilson anatomy & physiology in health and illness 12th Edition. London: Elsevier Ltd.