de·tox·i·fy
verb
to remove toxic substances or qualities from

If you’ve been down the rabbit hole of holistic, natural or alternative medicine for more than ten minutes, chances are you’ve come across detoxing. But what exactly IS a detox? What do you need to know before you start one? How do you know which type is best for you, or just best in general?

Unfortunately, I think that the term “detox” has become sort of a bastardized term. Even healthcare professionals such as naturopaths and chiropractors can be guilty of this. Most of the time, when people refer to “detoxing” they either prescribe the same exact detox to every single person (MLM companies are super-guilty of this- see part 1and part 2) or they just have no idea what detoxification actually means. I was once told that a product (an MLM supplement someone was trying to sell me on) would “detox the mitochondria”. Come again?

What Detoxification Actually Is:

  • Detoxification primarily happens in the liver and intestinal tract.
  • There are numerous different enzymes and pathways that are in charge of detoxifying different drugs, hormones, toxins, and chemical compounds.
  • After a compound is detoxified (made less toxic and often water-soluble) it needs to be excreted from the body. This happens in the kidney, intestinal tract and skin via sweat.
  • Liver detoxification processes happen in two steps: Phase I and Phase II. Phase I actually makes compounds more reactive and harmful, so it’s important that all of the phase II pathways are up-to-snuff to clear those intermediates as soon as they are formed.
  • Some drugs or foods may speed up or slow down phase I detoxification, but not phase II. For example, grapefruit slows down phase I detoxification. This is why it is recommended that you stay away from grapefruit when you take certain medications- the grapefruit will slow down your body’s ability to get rid of the drug, increasing it’s half-life and the amount of the drug in your bloodstream.
  • Much of the detoxification that happens in the intestinal tract is done by our gut microbes. This is why a stool test is a necessary part of a good, targeted detox in my opinion.
  • Contrary to what my colleagues MLM company tried to sell me, to my knowledge it is not possibly to detoxify individual cells or organelles. The closest thing to a cellular garbage disposal or detoxifier is called the lysosome. Also, the closest thing to being able to “detoxify the mitochondria” is low level laser therapy, but that’s a topic for another day.
  • Some compounds can NOT be detoxified by the human body. Substances like those, as well as leftover detoxifiable compounds that the body couldn’t get rid of right away, are stored primarily in bone and fat tissue.

When is a detox appropriate?

This is a loaded question. Realistically, doing a good detox once a year would probably be a good thing for everybody to do. The better question to ask is “will this detox be the most effective means of treating my symptoms or problem?” If you’re feeling tired and sluggish, you may hope a detox will perk you up, but if you’re secretly anemic or hypothyroid, the detox likely won’t help your symptoms much.

Two examples of people who could almost undoubtedly benefit from a detox are:
  1. People losing weight
  2. Women coming off the birth control pill or other hormone replacement therapy

What constitutes a good detox?

1. A clean diet. This should be all organic (or as much as possible) to decrease the amount of pesticides in the body. Meat is fine, but make it grass-fed and humanely sourced. Staying away from legumes and grains is a good idea, especially if you have any gut symptoms. The total avoidance of food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs) is another critical part of any good detox. Basically, this part of the “detox” is all about giving your gut and liver a rest from the every day stressors they have to endure and nourishing the body with whole foods.

2. Supplements that specifically target detoxification pathways. Examples of supplements that boost glutathione’s detox pathway include NAC and milk thistle. Gut-detoxification can be boosted by a variety of supplements and herbs, as well as targeted probiotic supplementation. Be leery of any program that includes a protein shake- especially if it is to be used as a meal replacement. Carefully read the ingredients of these types of products as they often contain at least a few questionable items.

So there you have it, folks. Not all detoxes are hokey, and they can really be quite helpful when used appropriately. Just be wary of anyone trying to push a detox on you and make sure to quiz them to make sure they know what they’re talking about 😉

In health,

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If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. ​​Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.

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