Detox. An interesting word for this time of year. It is going to be touted on every diet, juice fast, and glossy mag you will see, and to coin one of my favourite phrases you will have to be in the Outer Hebrides not to see the word at this time of the year. Flushes, purges, cleanses, they all sit under the same umbrella, peddling an emergence into the feeling of ultimate health through a program of detoxification. However, is it a ‘detox’ that you really need? Your issues may not lie within the liver and a detox could cause you to feel worse!
Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon that gets so much hype after our season of over indulgence. Firstly, what IS a detox? Detoxification is a process that is carried out on a continual basis within our bodies every day of our lives. Contrary to any popular opinion, or belief, it is not something that we can switch on from time to time when we feel the need. It is how we rid our bodies of many toxins that we come into contact with on a daily basis.
There are intentional exposures to toxins such as cigarette smoke, alcohol and the other biggie: sugar, and those toxins are that are unavoidable, they are in our water, the air we breath and in many cases the food we eat. Our detoxification system neutralises these human contaminants and excretes them through the many different organs that support these processes such as the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, the air we exhale, and the skin. You cannot avoid many of the pollutants that we are exposed to on a daily basis, but what you can do is avoid your exposure to many of the ones that we expose ourselves to, sometimes unwittingly, on a daily basis. This avoidance is what supports the detoxification process and reduces the load upon it.
You probably know that the main organ of detoxification is the liver. Before embarking on any form of a ‘detox’ program there are some important processes within this organ of detoxification that you should be aware of, and the impact upon other areas of the body.
There are two phases to detoxification within the liver and these are aptly named as Phase 1 and Phase 2, so let’s take a closer look at these processes:
Phase 1: The toxin reacts with enzymes and creates what is known as a free radical, this being a potentially more toxic substance than the original compound.
Phase 2: Uses antioxidants to neutralise the toxic compound so it can then be excreted from the body via the kidneys as urine, the lungs or via the gastrointestinal tract.
The balance between these two phases is delicate and should be a considered process. Both Phases can suffer from dysfunction for many different reasons, genetic, a lack in the correct vitamins or minerals for antioxidant support, or simply just worn out from repeated exposure and overload to toxins.
Speeding up Phase 1 when Phase 2 has no capacity can result in a build up of harmful toxins as there is no capacity for liver to carry out this phase due to overload. One of the major issues of phase 2 detoxification, and one that should be considered in almost everyone before embarking on any detoxification support is that of the gut.
With up to 80% of your immune system found in your gut it is fair to say that your gut is your first line of defense. Any issues causing a breach of the lining of the gut, as in leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, alcohol abuse, drugs, stress, low stomach acid, can in turn have a direct impact on the liver. Think of your immune system as the soldiers of defense, and the gut lining a wall. As the enemies breach the wall, the defense pulls out the armour to fight. This is an inflammatory reaction, a chemical warfare going on in your own body with the liver attempting the clean up operation. So, not only is the liver dealing with the daily circulating levels of toxins, it gets a double whammy when the gut is in a state of dysfunction!
To round up, if you are feeling like you are tired, lethargic, suffering with aches and pains, you may well want to start at the gut rather than supporting liver detoxification. If you keep putting rubbish down the chute it is just going to continue to back up unless you start at the root cause of the issue!
Look out for our next post on Gut Health – where to get started.