Simple lifestyle choices, as well as targeted detoxification, can reduce exposure to toxins and enhance mobilization and elimination of stored and external toxins.
The Phyto-Nutrient Gap
It’s easy to think that we need all these fancy supplements and detox cleanses in order to facilitate a healthy detox system, but in reality, what we eat has a much greater effect. That’s where ‘food as medicine’ really comes into play.
What it means is that when we eat foods, we are ingesting nutrients that interact with our bodies in ways that turn on and turn off certain genetic processes that we need on or off that trigger cellular and enzymatic changes that make things happen in the body. And we know the nutrients that are contained in food that interact with the detoxification cycle.
It’s no surprise that we are currently living in a phytonutrient gap, meaning we are not getting enough fruits and vegetables in our diets. In fact, according to the most recent NHanes study (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), most of us in the US are only getting 14-16% of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their daily diet.
On top of that, the recommendation made by the FDA and CDC for fruits and vegetables is the bare minimum that we need for health - this not the optimum amount - this is the amount to prevent diseased.
As human beings, we evolved on the planet with access to very highly nutrient-dense foods such as foraged wild berries, wild greens, wild seeds, and tubers. These foods contain antioxidants, phytonutrients, and phytochemicals that all have very nuanced interactions with our body and trigger very important detoxification processes.
The detoxification system relies on the right balance of protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to be effective. All these play a role in facilitating the elimination of toxins.
For example, adequate protein is required to supply the amino acids used by the liver to provide glycine, cysteine, and glutamine to synthesize glutathione, as well as amino acids critical for many phase II detoxification pathways including methylation, acetylation, glucuronidation, and glycination. Glutathione is the most critical antioxidant and detoxifier in the body, and one that is easily depleted in the face of chronic exposure to toxins.
Many phytochemicals enhance detoxification pathways. These include many pigmented plant foods such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower), green tea, watercress, dandelion greens, cilantro, artichokes, garlic, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, citrus peels, and even cocoa.8
Polyphenols found in berries, green tea, and cocoa enhance the genetic expression of γ glutamylcysteine synthetase, which increases intracellular glutathione concentration.8
Here are some examples of the detoxification POWER foods:
-Organic raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries - rich source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that give blackberries their deep purple colour. Buy fresh in season and frozen when out of season - eat 1 cup per day.
-Purple grapes, pomegranates and walnuts - rich in ellagic acid which increases phase II detoxification and protective of the liver cells - eat 1 serving per day.
-Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage) - contain glucosinolates (responsible for the pungent odor of these vegetables) and isothicyanates (responsible for the sulfur smell). These compounds work in the conjugation phase in the liver where endogenous and exogenous estrogenic compounds are packed up and eliminated. At least 2 cups of roasted, sauteed, or raw.
Two Important Notes:
1. Cruciferous vegetables contain naturally occurring compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens can interfere with the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. If you have hypothyroidism or a goiter, you should only eat these foods cooked, not raw, because cooking inhibits the goitrogenic effects of these foods.
2. Oxalic acid is a compound that occurs naturally in many foods including spinach and beet greens. It can bind to minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the digestive process and inhibit absorption of these minerals. I recommend cooking these types of greens to reduce the amount of oxalic acid.
-Onions and garlic - very rich in organosulfur compounds such as cepaenes and thiosulfinates which are very potent antioxidants in the body, protecting cells from oxidative damage.
-Dandelion greens - Contains substantial amounts of vitamins A, C, D, and B-complex as well as zinc, magnesium, and potassium. Its high amount of potassium makes dandelion leaves (and root) one of the best diuretics – it alleviates bloating associated with PMS very effectively. It is also a powerful liver detoxifier, which allows for increased de-activation and excretion of estrogen from the body, which is very important for women who have conditions caused by estrogen dominance.
-Broccoli Sprouts - Have the highest concentration of a compound called sulforaphane, which has super anti-inflammatory powers. Sulforaphane basically causes cancer cells to commit suicide. It also helps prevent cancerous changes in your cells and changes the way your body uses estrogen, so that less of the hormone fuels conditions caused by excess estrogen. Studies show that sulforaphane literally stops breast and ovarian cancers (and other cancers) from forming and growing.
-Other favorite green vegetables - Asparagus, beet greens, broccoli, broccoli raab, brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and endive.
-Flaxseed and chia seeds - contain lignans and phytoestrogens which, despite their name, act to protect against the more toxic and cancerous forms of estrogens in the environment. Add 2 T. of either seed each day.
-Omega-3s - although not contributing directly to detoxification, it’s worth mentioning that the types of fats you eat can have an effect on the inflammatory condition of your body.
Good fats include the poly & monounsaturated fatty acids. Foods that contain these fats are wild-caught salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, cod liver oil, ghee, avocados, olives, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, ground flaxseed, help seed, cashews, grass-fed butter.
-Culinary spices (rosemary, turmeric, ginger, thyme, oregano, basil, curcumin, fennel, dill, cinnamon, cardamom, etc) - increase metabolism and support natural detoxification - eat 1 tsp per day of total spices.
This is just a snippet of the foods working in tandem with our physiology. You’ll find a chart of which foods serve which part of the detoxification process further in the worksheet.
Intestinal Health & Microbiome
Detoxification and elimination are a dynamic duo.
If we are going to break things down, we need to then eliminate them. So we want to make sure we are supporting healthy gut function on top of liver detoxification simultaneously.
In fact, we can consider the gut home to Phase III detoxification because of its high concentrations of cytochromes P3A4.
In the intestinal villi, the tiny hair like projections on the intestinal wall that absorb macro and micronutrients, we have something called antiporters.
Antiporters take and push out environmental chemicals that are being eliminated by the liver, coming through the bloodstream into the intestine and eliminated.
These villi, however, are very vulnerable to inflammation and get destroyed due to poor diet and stress.
The gut microbes themselves are able to transform, breakdown, bind, and render harmless a variety of toxicants which helps keep the body safe. However, disruptions in the microbiome, called dysbiosis, are incredibly common and can have a huge impact on detoxification.
Again, a healthy gut is essential for the completion of the detoxification process which we will cover in later modules.