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Detox 101

Detox 101

How to Support Detoxification Naturally

Did you know that there are over 85,000 toxic substances registered with the EPA? This number continues to rise every year, and our bodies are exposed to these toxins in unprecedented ways and frequencies. The rise in autoimmune conditions is even being studied as an involved factor worldwide.

Considering this, it’s no wonder that the wellness world is focused on the concept of detoxification. Products marketed as “cleanses”, “detox” programs, and liver “resets” flood the market to appeal to this modern reality.

But what does detoxification really mean? How can we naturally support our body’s natural ability to process and rid itself of toxic substances?

In this post, we’ll explore what is actually going on in our bodies during our detoxification processes. We’ll discuss common sources of toxic substances and end with 4 overarching ways to support detoxification naturally!

Hopefully, this information empowers you to make decisions about supporting your own detoxification from a place of understanding rather than fear or confusion.

What does detoxification actually mean?

Simply put, detoxification is the process of getting rid of toxic substances from our bodies. This is a critical process that is constantly taking place within us to promote health and balance in a world arguably becoming more and more toxic. But it’s not all bleak!

We have some incredible, built-in functions that help us identify, transform, and eliminate toxins. Detoxification involves a symphony of nutrient supply, proteins called enzymes that direct chemical reactions, and other chemical signals, but we can summarize it in this way:

Basically, when the detox functions of the liver and rest of the body are supported and working well, it favors an ultimate expression of health. When overwhelmed or underperforming, toxic substances can accumulate and result in inflammation and dysfunction.


Where do toxins come from, and how much is too much?

We are exposed to toxins in many forms. Some toxins are generated within our own bodies, while others we encounter outside of ourselves.

For example, even our necessary and highly important hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, can be considered toxins. This may sound crazy, but under normal conditions, they are present in such small amounts that they are detoxified and cleared through the liver without concern.

The same goes for the ammonia created when our body breaks down and recycles our proteins. The liver converts this toxic waste to urea, which becomes a major component of urine.

Here is a short list of 10 other common sources of toxins we may encounter:

  • Environmental pollutants and emissions
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Alcohol
  • High sugar diets, trans fats, processed foods
  • Possibly some artificial sweeteners
  • Household cleaning chemicals
  • Ingredients in beauty and skin-care products
  • Pesticides and herbicides (i.e. glyphosate in RoundUp)
  • Heavy metals and plastics
  • Pathogenic bacteria and viruses

To wrap up this section, I’d like to introduce the idea of “toxic load.” It is a concept used to explain the collective burden that toxins might have within our individual systems.

In the conventional study of toxicology (i.e., medications, industry products, pollution thresholds, etc.), toxins are often evaluated individually rather than collectively. There is a Latin phrase that informs this idea - “dosis sola facet venenum” or “the dose makes the poison.”

The practical thought here is that “safe levels” of the many potentially toxic substances may add up to overwhelm our detoxification pathways. There are many factors involved in each person’s experience.

You might think about toxic load as a continuum. It describes where on the spectrum you fall between the amount of toxin exposure (internal and external) and your detoxification capacity (genetic and nutritional expression of liver enzyme function.)

How does your body detox?

Next, let’s turn our attention to what’s going on during detoxification. For this exploration, we will focus on the body’s powerhouse of a “treatment plant” - the liver. However, the liver works along with many other key organs like the kidneys, skin, lungs, brains, and even our gut microbiome to manage toxic load.

Though it’s complex, I believe a zoomed out understanding of these main pathways can help to more logically connect with the nutritional and lifestyle tips we’ll explore! We’ll focus on a simple, 3-Step process.

Phase 1 - The Enzyme Phase

During this phase, our liver enzymes respond to the presence of toxins by transforming them into an “in-between” or intermediate substance. The enzymes do this by usually adding a chemical tag that makes these intermediates often MORE toxic than their original toxins.

A classic example of this phase is in the way the liver processes alcohol. Normally, a specific Phase 1 enzyme transforms alcohol into its more toxic intermediate, acetaldehyde. However, when this enzyme is overwhelmed by excessive alcohol intake or enzyme deficiency, this acetaldehyde can build up, leading to signs of intoxication, impairment, and hangover symptoms.

Phase 2 - The Conversion Phase

In the phase, different liver enzymes, with the necessary help of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, respond to the presence of the toxic intermediates from Phase 1. It further tags these intermediates to make them non-toxic and it also makes these new byproducts able to be eliminated in Phase 3.

The one downside is that this phase is slower and more likely to be overwhelmed (in chemistry terms, this is the rate-limiting step). If overwhelmed, do you see how it could lead to a backup of the toxic phase 1 intermediates?

This is the phase that many “detox” and “cleanse” programs attempt to support for these very reasons. It’s the phase that makes toxins less toxic and able to leave the body.

Phase 3 - The Elimination Phase

Now that the toxins are “detoxified” and ready to be eliminated, the elimination phase is how toxins finally leave the body. If the final byproducts are fat-soluble, they mostly leave through the bile and ultimately in the stool. If they are water-soluble, they are eliminated in the urine.

This highlights the importance of hydration and regular bowel movements! These functions are zoomed-out, daily indicators of your body’s ability to detox.

Practically, it’s important to make sure your bladder and bowel function is ideal before undertaking any kind of formal detox, so consult with your health and wellness practitioner.

And remember, all 3 of these phases are happening non-stop in our bodies. They can always be supported.

4 Ways to Support Detoxification Pathways Naturally

Gravitate toward a Whole Food, Plant-Rich Diet

Strive for Ideal Hydration

  • Adequate hydration is pivotal for detoxification, and regular urination supports Phase 3 detoxification most specifically.
  • Avoid holding your urine whenever possible.
  • If you drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, or energy drinks, I generally recommend drinking two glasses of water the same size as the caffeinated beverage to offset potential dehydration.

Consider Detoxifying Nutraceuticals and Botanicals

  • Look back to Phase 2 detoxification and recall that it’s slower and requires the most support from vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to detoxify and eliminate intermediates!
  • A great place to start is with a quality, bioavailable multivitamin (like Cielo’s Rise) and an antioxidant supplement (like Cielo’s Golden Hour).
  • As with anything, we advise consulting with your health and wellness practitioner for tailored nutraceutical and supplement recommendations.

Utilize the Power of Lifestyle

  • Create awareness around avoiding exposure to toxins wherever possible and practical.
    • Limit or avoid alcohol.
    • Avoid unnecessary medication usage.
    • Reduce exposure to household and workplace chemicals and cleaning products.
  • Exercise and regular movement support circulation and sweating, which helps to further transport and eliminate toxins.

Despite our ever-increasing exposure to toxins, hopefully you can see the power of supporting our detoxification pathways in little ways everyday. If you would like tailored detoxification support recommendations, it’s a great idea to consult with a health and wellness practitioner to address your specific needs.

About the Author

Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt, DACM, DC, L.Ac., Dipl.OM.

Kenny Mittelstadt is a functional health practitioner and acupuncturist based in San Antonio, Texas. He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through wellness education and root-cause healing – transforming health through personalized, lab-based functional medicine programs!


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