The Dirt on Cleansing…..
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF DETOXIFICATION: THE REAL SCIENCE BEHIND DETOXIFICATION
In the book, Natural Detoxification, Dr. Jacqueline Krohn defines a toxin as, “anything which can be harmful or hazardous to the body, or that affects the balance of the body”. We are exposed to both external and internal toxins ALL the time (they are completely unavoidable no matter how ‘clean and neurotic” you are). Our body, especially when healthy does an amazing job of transforming and eliminating toxins with no fancy pills, enemas or machines required . Some examples of toxins include: pesticides, pollution, radiation, physical trauma, hormones (thats right your own parody produces toxins), organisms, chemicals (household cleaners, beauty products, etc) and toxic metals. However, our stress levels, emotions, thoughts and even noise also contribute to what is known as ‘toxic burden’. Responses to toxins vary widely from person to person depending on their age, health status, gender, genetic enzymatic defects, enzyme metabolism and many other lifestyle factors (including stress).
Detoxification is also defined as the process of removing unwanted fat-soluble compounds from the body. These Fat-soluble chemicals have a high affinity for fatty tissues and cell membranes which is what makes them dangerous. In these parts of the body, toxins may be stored for years, being released during times of exercise, stress or fasting. A recent study showed that when a group of overweight people dieted, their reduction in body fat correlated with an increase in circulating pesticides (pesticides are stored in fat tissue). In females estrogen may be accumulated in fat cells, in addition to signalling the body to store more fat this accumulation has been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer as well as other diseases.
The conversion of toxic substances into non-toxic metabolites is more accurately referred to as bio-transformation and takes place mainly in the liver and through two phases called phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification. If the body’s detoxification system (liver, gallbladder, kidneys, intestines and colon) are burdened, then the body can not maintain homeostasis. However, stimulating aggressive detoxification via fasting and other extreme measures may only burden the system more, putting individuals at increased risk of fatigue, decreased immunity and increased toxic burden.
According to Dr Melanie Robinson at Optimum Wellness Clinic in Edmonton, Alberta,
“If the liver is overwhelmed by work then its efficiency decreases and the body is exposed to more harmful substances. A tired liver may result in such varying symptoms as menstrual irregularities, digestive issues including constipation, fatigue, acne, muscular pain or tension, headaches, hormonal symptoms such as menopause, and insomnia. The liver is the only organ that is capable of regeneration. Giving it the tools and time it needs to restore itself will contribute to a long and healthy life.”
Inside the liver cells there are sophisticated mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years to break down toxic substances. The liver is the largest gland in the body that fits under the diaphragm on the right side. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped, hollow structure located under the liver. Its primary function is to store and concentrate bile. Bile secretion is a critical digestive process for the absorption of dietary fats and fat-soluble nutrients, but also functions as the major mechanism for moving conjugated toxins out of the liver and into the intestines, where they can be eliminated. The picture above from the Functional Medicine institute, provides a visual of this process.
During phase 1 detoxification fat-soluble toxic chemicals are bio-transformed into polar compounds with the help of enzymes and prepared for phase 2. The phase I detoxification pathway involves more than 100 enzymes known collectively as the cytochrome P-450. Usually the enzymatic reactions in phase 1 reduce toxicity, however sometimes they become more “bioactive” (fancy word for even more toxic or dangerous). If phase 2 proceeds normally, these toxic substances can be converted and excreted. However, when there is an imbalance between phase 1 and phase 2, these toxins remain in the body as free radicals and carcinogens. Additionally, if you ingest an excessive amount of toxic chemicals, the cytochrome p450 system can become too stimulated and overactive. This is known as induction of phase I, and it leads to high levels of damaging free radicals. Substances that can trigger this include caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, pesticides, paint fumes, and exhaust fumes.
In phase 2 detoxification, chemical groups are added until the substance becomes water soluble in order to be excreted through the kidneys or the digestive system. Each of these pathways removes specific types of toxins and requires specific nutrients for their optimal functioning.This is why a healthy diet with ample phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and amino acids is important.
Following detoxification reactions, the toxins are removed from the body by excretion primarily though the intestines, and kidneys . Once in the Gastrointestinal tract, bile needs to bind to dietary fiber to be transported out of the body in the feces. If there’s insufficient dietary fiber in the intestines, most of this bile will be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream along with the toxins. This is why fasting may not be beneficial during detoxification.
I will include some simple nutrition and movement tips below in order to enhance your bodies natural detoxification process
NUTRITION AND DETOXIFICATION
It is no surprise that detoxification depends on your daily diet. Everybody’s dietary needs are different as a result of the many genetic, enzymatic, hormonal and life style factors. Evangelizing a particular diet protocol is limiting and unhelpful. Some people thrive on raw diets while others digest cooked vegetables much easier. Certain people also have specific dietary sensitivities and allergies. Optimal digestion means that we have access to a wide variety of wholesome foods and therefore access to maximum nutrition. Rigidity when it comes to nourishment hardens the body and numbs pleasure. Not only does it affect our ability to digest nutrients, but also to receive anything; you can’t receive with closed fists. Similarly, when we become disconnected to our gut instinct as a result of dogmatic dietary theories, we limit our capacity to explore our bodies infinite wisdom in food selection through the ‘feeling self’. I often refer to this as conscious eating. Make sure you take time to sit down and enjoy your meals, explore the textures, colours, smells, and tastes. Following your meal ask yourself how you feel. The more sensitive, as opposed to rigid, we can become about eating, the more likely we are to make healthy choices fuelled by intuition and self love rather than fear and dogma.
The efficiency of both phase 1 and 2 is adversely affected by deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. Inadequate protein reduces phase 1 clearance and insufficient calories decreases overall detoxification. Deficiencies in vitamins A, B2 and B3, folate, C, E, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium, and selenium have all been shown to decrease the activities of phase I and 2 enzymes.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, scientific research has revealed several compounds present in plant foods that help support the detoxification of toxic substances and are associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Compounds present in cruciferous vegetables, allium species (garlic, onions), citrus peel, and turmeric, are among those identified as having health promoting benefits. Cruciferous vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga, turnip, and watercress are rich sources of glucosinolate precursors of isothiocyanates, which have been shown to induce phase 2 detoxification. Chlorophyl has also been shown to increase detoxification various studies. Including these vegetables daily in your meals or adding vegetable juice and or wheatgrass to your daily diet will encourage the healthy detoxification function in the body.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ‘DETOXIFICATION’ DIET:
- Eliminate processed foods and eat balanced meals containing lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fatty acids. High protein enhances phase 2 detoxification, Unprocessed whole grains and vegetables contain fibre, vitamins and minerals needed for enzyme formation and cell repair. Fatty acids work with carbohydrates to support energy requirements and do not build up in the liver.
- Veggies, veggies veggies! If you have trouble digesting raw, try juicing or soups.
- Use the correct “fats” at the right temperatures. Overheating most oils destroys the nutritive value and alters the chemical structure making them toxic to the body. Educate yourself on smoking points of various oils as well as what kind of fats are stable to what temperatures.
- Begin your spring “cleaning” with an elimination protocol (often called detoxification) where you eliminate processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and sugar for 1- 4 weeks. Consume 8 ounces of warm lemon water inthe morning with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (optional). Try incorporating 1-2 servings of fresh squeezed vegetable juice or wheat grass shots daily. There are many herbal teas and tinctures you can use that help facilitate detoxification: milk thistle, dandelion root, uva ursi, burdock root and turmeric are a few of these. Following 1-2 weeks of the above suggestions you may wish to incorporate a short juice fast for 1-3 days. It is important to check with a health care professional prior to any fasting or detox protocol as they are not safe or recommended for everybody. Good quality juice may provide the vitamins and minerals for the body while reducing the toxic or digestive burden. I always include a light lunch or dinner during juice fasts and encourage those with higher metabolic needs to snack on nuts and veggies.
- As BBQ season approaches be mindful of over exposing meat to open flame, smoke and over cooking. the char is laden with cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when meat and high heat are combined. Barbecue smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), toxic chemicals that can damage your lungs. As meat cooks, drippings of fat hit the coals and create PAHs. In addition, when food is cooked at very high temperatures, a chemical chain reaction can occur that creates inflammatory products called advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). Whenever possible, the meat should be marinated or freshened with juices during the cooking. Studies show that using wine, vinegar or lemon juice as a marinatde can lower and reduce the formation of AGE and HCA. Another study shows that rubbing meat with fresh rosemary can cut HCA development almost entirely.
- Certain strains of probiotic bacteria may minimize toxin exposure by trapping and metabolizing xenobiotics or heavy metals. You may take probiotic supplements or add fermented foods into your daily diet.
- Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), is the most well-researched plant in the treatment of liver disease. Silymarin promotes detoxification by several complementary mechanisms and is available in tea and supplements.
MOVEMENT AS MEDICINE: CLEANING THE COB-WEBS
Over the next few months our focus will be the core and detoxification. I thought it would be helpful to offer some anatomy and physiology information on the “core” so that you can apply this awareness to your daily life including walking, sitting, exercise and yoga.
In the winter our focus was on building strength and fortifying the roots. For the spring I like to increase cardiovascular effect as energy levels pick up. Circuit style training is a great way to continue to focus on building strength with the additional added benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Often in this type of training repetitions are increased and rest intervals decreased. I recommend a minimum of 2 strength/circuit workouts per week to see results.
In addition to circuit training I highly recommend getting back outdoors for a minimum of 30 minutes a day of walking, jogging, cycling, running or a combination.
ANATOMY OF THE CORE
The concept of the core is a little bit of an illusion as the more I study the human body and its complexities, the more I realize that the construct of a core that is a defined group of muscles with boundaries is very reductionist. Physically the core can be defined as the diaphragm, muscles of the abdomen (Transverse abdominals, Rectus abdominals, Internal and External Obliques), pelvic floor, hip flexors (Illiacus and Psoas) deep posterior stabilizers of the back (QL’s, Multifidius, Rotators) and extensor muscles of the spine (Erector Spinae group). If these muscles are too ridged or weak, respiration, digestion and even immune function may be compromised. It is important to remember that suppleness in the core is just as important as firmness.
The psoas is a combination of two muscles (three if you count it’s connection to illiacus). It originates on the lateral aspects of the vertebrae (sides of your spinal column) from T12-L5. It traces across the front of the hip and insets onto the lesser trochanter (little bump of inner thigh bone). Think of this muscle as a guy wire for the spine, supporting the abdominal viscera while providing movement of the lumbar during respiration. It is also a hip flexor that is used in running, walking, cycling etc. If you spend the majority of the day seated, this muscle becomes constricted and the abdomen becomes congested. Because the thoracic diaphragm (umbrella muscle under the ribs that is used during respiration) also attaches to T12, L1 and 2, when the psoas becomes constricted the diaphragm movement is also restricted. This not only affects respiration, but also liver function (it sits right below diaphragm on the right), circulation (vena cava and aorta run through the diaphragm) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) functions of the body (vagus nerve runs through diaphragm).
If you are interested in more information I have created an ’embodied anatomy’ video on core stabilization on Empowered online. I have also created a fun 60 min sequence for the core which you may purchase and download here.
LIFESTYLE DETOXIFICATION: LIMITING TOXIC EXPOSURE AND ACCUMULATION
If our focus for the spring is creating fertile spaces that are clean and clear than limiting toxic household chemicals and environmental activism should be a top priority. I asked Amy Mcleod, creator of Twisted Sisters Skin Nutrition, who has over a decade of experience working in the field of environmental biology and now creates all natural skin care products for some suggestions on how to reduce our toxic exposure.
“In regards to toxin avoidance: I Think in our world you would have to live in a bubble at this point to avoid toxins, they are everywhere. Mitigation is probably more realistic. First, stop contributing to the accumulation of toxic waste by limiting your use. Everything has a life cycle, it will end up in our water air or soil and eventually our bodies. Read labels. Sometimes we are directly ingesting or absorbing toxins. Educate yourself about what ingredients are and what they do. I think it is irresponsible to consider wholistic approaches to health without promoting an element of environmental awareness. We inhabit a living breathing earth, that without, we would cease to live and breath”
While it is not possible to completely eliminate toxin/toxicant exposure from all sources, there are ways to minimize it:
- Limit intake of processed foods.
- Look for organically grown fruits and vegetables or grow your own if you can ( this does not necessarily mean no pesticide exposure)
- Limit the introduction of VOCs in the home by using VOC-free cleaning products and low-VOC paints
- Avoid bisphenol A (BPA)-free or phthalate-free containers, and avoid reheating foods in plastic containers
- Consume less. Less consumption means less waste and production, which ultimately leads to less pollution.
If you want to find out more about this work, I offer personalized 12-week Empowered Body programs, https://empoweredyoga.ca/classes/beology-retreat-disconnect-re-connect/ Yoga and mindfulness courses
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