The word “detox” gets thrown around a good bit in the lay press, but there are actually some very specific processes that are being referred to here. The liver is the main organ of detoxification, using 2 sets of chemical reactions to clean up inflammatory debris,as well as break down and rid the body of toxic chemicals. Most toxic substances are fat soluble, meaning they prefer to hang out in fat, not the watery environment of our blood, stool or urine. (This is why it’s so difficult to get pesticides, PCP’s and other toxins out of the body). We need to shift this as part of the detoxification process.
The first set of reactions (Phase One) takes chemicals from the blood stream and changes them into free radicals, which are highly active and destructive. The Phase Two reactions then make these compounds water soluble in order for them to be passed into the bile and stool for elimination, or out via urine. If both sets of processes are working well, you’re in good shape. If Phase One isn’t doing much, you end up with a lot of excess toxins floating around. If Phase One is fine but Phase Two isn’t up to snuff, then you’ve created a lot of reactive chemicals that can’t break down.
Poor detoxification can occur due to nutrient deficiencies, lack of appropriate cellular energy, or a simple case of overwhelming the system. Nutrient deficiency is amazingly common, even in our overfed society. The nutrients needed are antioxidants and minerals, which are found in produce….not fast food or starches like bread and pasta. Even if you eat well, if these nutrients are being used up in other processes (like making stress hormones), you might run out. If your food choices are poor, you might not have enough cellular energy to do the trick. Last, if you have too much to break down at one time, the system can’t keep up (think Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory).
Improper liver detoxification can lead to many symptoms that seem unrelated—-gi issues, asthma, hormone imbalance, depression and mood disorders, among other things. Many practitioners suggest mild support of liver detoxification for weeks as a means to support healthy change. (We’re only doing 10 days, but someone who is ill would do a less vigorous version over 3-4 weeks). Along with adding in appropriate nutrient support, we remove things that are damaging to the system: highly allergenic foods, alcohol, excess caffeine, other non-essential supplements.
It’s also traditional in other healing systems for a detox to be a time of quiet and reflection. This encourages the body to focus on the detoxification processes, shifting nutrients away from the fight and flight reaction. Meditation is encouraged and exercise is cut back. There are specific yoga postures that help encourage your body’s work during this time; we’ll be covering those as we go. (Here at the Functional Medicine course, some participants have been doing an elimination diet for the week, though a full detox was discouraged since we’ve been anything but quiet and contemplative these long days!)
This is the basic process of detoxification; I’ll be going over more details with participants next week. Best to all of you!