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Detoxification: What It Really Means

A little improvement of the detoxification pathways can go a long way to keeping you energetic and disease-free.

Charles Moss, M.D., has been practicing holistic medicine since the 1970s and founded The Moss Center for Integrative Medicine. In his second book, The Adaptation Diet: A Three-Step Approach to Control Cortisol, Lose Weight and Prevent Chronic Disease, he focuses on reining in our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Here, he explains detoxification, the first step in his process. —Editor   

Detoxification is a concept as old as Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine. It is a term many health care practitioners use, but what does it really mean and why does it matter? What is being detoxified, and how does it impact your health? The answer to these questions might change how you think about your diet and lifestyle.

What is Detoxification?

The primary organ of detoxification is the liver, where toxic substances are converted to inert material (biotransformation is the correct term) that can then be removed through the kidney and colon. In addition to the liver, the small intestine functions as an organ of detoxification with enzymes in the gut wall that can alter chemicals found in the more than 25 tons of food we consume in our lifetime. The microbiota (beneficial gut bacteria) also play a critical and underappreciated role in biotransformation and are adversely affected by antibiotics and other medications. The kidney removes toxins through the urine while other toxins can be removed through the skin by sweating (saunas can be helpful).

Why Is Detoxification Important?

It’s good we have all these systems because we are faced with an enormous burden of chemicals from our environment. These include persistent organic pollutants in water, air and food (PCBs, bisphenol A, pthalates, pesticides—1 billion pounds per year in the U.S.!), heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury) from soil and air pollution; and industrial pollutants. In addition, the body itself makes many substances through the process of metabolism that need to be detoxified. All these chemicals, as well as our own urea, ammonia, lactic acid and sex hormones, need to be cleared from our bodies through a two-part process in the liver: deactivation by the cytochrome p-450 system, and biotransformation through glucoronidation, sulfation and methylation.

To accomplish this daunting task, the liver requires adequate amounts of key nutrients and detoxifying foods often missing in many peoples’ diet. Symptoms of inadequate detoxification include headaches, joint pain and digestive problems. Here is a partial list of the foods needed to make the liver happy: organically grown, deeply colored fruits and vegetables rich in flavanoids and carotenoids; nuts, seeds and oils rich in omega 3 fatty acids; legumes and whole, non-gluten grains rich in fiber and B vitamins.

A word about the colon, which is a key avenue of detoxification, not only from direct contact with toxins in food, but from the body’s own metabolic detoxification process. To ensure this part of the detoxification process is optimal, fiber intake should be at least 20 grams per day. High fiber foods include legumes, oatmeal, chia and flax seeds, broccoli, artichokes and root vegetables like sweet potatoes and rutabaga. More fiber means a healthier mix of probiotic bacteria that produce fatty acids like butyrate, essential for the detoxification process. Supplementing with a well-designed probiotic is also good idea.

How to Detox

What I have found works for many of my patients to start the process of improved detoxification is a 10-day program of eating mostly organic, fiber-rich, vegetable-based meals including green juices, while avoiding sugar, beef, soy, chicken, alcohol, caffeine, dairy and all processed foods. I also recommend taking detoxifying supplements including antioxidants, fish oil and probiotics.

After the 10-day detox, to continue to lower toxin exposure, the following is recommended:

1. Eat only organically grown vegetables and organically produced dairy, meats and chicken (the highest levels of chemical pollutants are in dairy and beef).

2. Emphasize vegetarian meals as often as is comfortable.

3. Limit exposure to persistent organic pollutants like BPA, PCBs and phthalates by avoiding plastic containers, drinking bottles and plastic home products.

4. Make sure your diet has enough fiber, at least 20 grams, and consume half your body weight (in ounces) in purified water.

5. Supplement with a good probiotic, EPA-DHA, and a well-designed multivitamin with high-level antioxidant content.

A little improvement of the detoxification pathways can go a long way to keeping you energetic and disease-free.

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Photo Credit: Knape/iStock


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