How and Why the Body Can Detox
by Ryan Kneessi, N.D.Humans are exposed to more deadly pollutants, toxins and synthetic chemicals today than ever before. Countless technological and industrial advancements have occurred in the past 100 years allowing us a life of convenience, comfort and entertainment. In the United States alone there are over 80,000 different chemicals used in the market today, with an average of 2,000 new chemicals reaching market each year, according to reports from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Unfortunately, a large majority of these chemicals haven’t been studied for safety. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates in a 2011 report that over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released into the environment each year. As a result, numerous studies are not only demonstrating just how toxic our environment is, but how toxic we are.
Studies from the Environmental Working Group that viewed samples of blood, urine and tissue taken from adults across the United States have found that an average of about 100 chemicals may be in the human body at any given time. These studies are not just focusing on individuals who work in jobs that involve a high risk of toxic contamination. They are individuals with normal exposures to everyday products and materials. Luckily, there are ways we can combat today’s toxic onslaught through natural detoxification.
What is detoxification and why is it important? The simple definition of detoxification is the process of removing toxic substances from the body. This process is vitally important for cleansing the body of accumulated chemicals so we can maintain optimal health. Our cells dedicate large amounts of molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to transport chemical energy throughout the body and ensure the detoxification process is working properly. Various organ systems detoxify foreign toxic products and chemicals, known as xenobiotics, from the air we breathe, the food we eat, products we use and other industrial sources. Our bodies are designed to eliminate toxins through a process called biotransformation. The major organ involved in biotransformation and detoxification is the liver. Other organs that play a role include kidneys, lungs, integumentary (skin) and the gastrointestinal tract.
The liver has two mechanisms to help remove toxins from our bodies. First, the liver uses an enzyme called cytochrome P450 to convert toxins into more water-soluble products. This mechanism can actually convert toxins into more harmful products, but it a necessary step in the removal of toxins. This is because many of these products are now free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage our tissues. This is why anti-oxidants are important to help support detoxification. Anti-oxidants donate an electron to the free radical which terminates its ability to cause damage. The second mechanism of the liver uses various enzymes to signal the removal of these toxins by attaching a specific molecule to these more water-soluble products. Once attached, they are ready to be excreted from the body via the kidneys or gastrointestinal tract.
A century ago, a healthy individual with normal liver function was often enough to eliminate xenobiotics (aka toxins) through these detoxification pathways. The issue today is that humans are exposed to excessive amounts of chemicals and our detoxification systems just can’t keep up. When these toxins are absorbed and broken down by the body faster than they can be eliminated, dysfunction at the cellular level occurs and poor health is the result. The removal of these toxins from the system enhances the organs ability to better absorb nutrients, improve biological function and accelerate the healing process.
There are many natural approaches available to help restore the body's ability to eliminate toxins. A diet full of fruits and vegetables supports the detoxification process because they contain many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that support the different phases of detoxification. There are over 20,000 phytonutrients that exist in nature and each one has dozens of beneficial properties. Different detoxification protocols may focus on the removal of specific toxins. These include supporting the elimination of food-based chemicals, heavy metals, various environmental toxins or endocrine disrupting products. All these toxins can disrupt health a number of different ways.
A basic detoxification program will focus on avoiding processed foods, alcohol, added sugars, dairy and gluten. These foods can cause dysfunction of our physiology or biochemistry. The major goal of a detoxification program is to reduce the toxic load. Essentially, this is done by supporting different phases of liver detoxification with specific nutrients. A few nutrients included in most detoxification programs include a vitamin B complex, amino acids and a wide range of different anti-oxidants including vitamins A, C and E. Increase fiber content is also generally recommended to help with the elimination of toxins from the gastrointestinal tract, with 25 to 30 grams of fiber the usual recommended dosage.
Before completing a detoxification protocol, it is highly recommended to seek support from a naturopathic doctor or a medical doctor that is educated on the benefits of a detoxification protocol.
Ryan Kneessi, N.D. is an adjunct faculty member at Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH), in Laurel, Maryland. He is a naturopathic doctor and practices wellness in Chicago, Illinois. For more information on Dr. Kneessi’s practice, visit MoveForwardNaturalHealth.com.To learn more about MUIH and its graduate programs in nutrition (and more), visit muih.edu.