This post is an easy-to-understand explanation of the three phases of detoxification (detox). The next post is specifically about how to detox so read on after this one.
Let’s get right to liver and gut
Most of your body’s toxic waste goes through three phases in your liver-gut and liver-kidney detox systems.
This is your first line of defense against toxins and uses a group of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450 family. These enzymes protect your cells from damage by:
- Converting volatile toxins into smaller substances meant for further detox
- Making toxins water-soluble in order to enter Phase 2
Phase 1 is activated by many external toxins. Examples include caffeine, alcohol, dioxin, paint fumes, steroids, pesticides, sleeping pills, contraceptive pills, and cortisone. It’s also activated in a favorable way by:
- Herbs: milk thistle, sassafras, caraway, and dill
- Citrus: tangerines and oranges (grapefruit shuts down Phase 1)
- Vitamin C rich foods like strawberries and bell peppers
- Crucifer veggies (also called Brassica): Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and turnips
- Vitamins: C and most of the Bs
- Lipotrophics: compounds that break down fat in metabolism (cysteine, methionine, choline, and inositol)
- Minerals: magnesium and iron
Phase 1 causes oxidation and free radicals
Phase 1 is all about the oxidation of harmful toxins in order to break them down into less harmful metabolites. This is necessary, and it does result in free radicals which can do lots of harm (even to your DNA) if you don’t keep them moving through your detox pathways and OUT of your body!
It’s a good idea to increase antioxidants as protection. Some of the Phase 1 activators ARE antioxidants (like vitamin C and silymarin in milk thistle). However, it’s good to add more, especially polyphenols and flavonoids. If you eat 5-7 servings per day of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day you are probably covered.
Supplemental additions include things like resveratrol, coQ10, vitamins A, C, and E, minerals selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese. However, if you take large supplemental doses of these antioxidants every single day, you run the risk of shutting down the production of your own master antioxidant, and hands down THE most important one: glutathione.
Phase 2 is all about conjugation, which uses 6 different pathways to take water-soluble Phase 1 metabolites OUT of your body through your bile, urine, and stool.
For the science types, these are glucuronidation, acetylation, esterification, amino acid conjugation, sulfation, and glutathione conjugation
Phase 2 absolutely requires:
- Sulfur! (from crucifer veggies, garlic, onions, meat, and egg yolks)
- Amino acids: glycine, cysteine (or n-acetyl cysteine), taurine, and methionine (meat)
- Molybdenum, a trace mineral (leafy vegetables, liver)
- Vitamin B12 (meat)
- Glutathione, which is made from the above amino acids, or you can take it in a liposomal form.
Other nutrients and foods that help Phase 2 are flavonoids (found in fruits, vegetables, and many herbs), ellagic acid in red grape skin, garlic, rosemary, soy, and cabbage.
When Phase 2 goes awry
The catch is that Phase 2 liver detox is often sluggish, probably because of the lack of intake of the above nutrients in sufficient quantities. You really do not want this, because the metabolites of Phase 1 are quite dangerous and need to be moved out!
So, you may activate Phase 1 simply by your morning coffee and your evening glass of wine, yet if you have a sluggish Phase 2, you could suffer the results of these “toxins” hours later. This may explain your insomnia, brain fog, or hot flashes, for example.
There is growing scientific evidence suggesting that certain diseases are the direct result of damage to the body from poor Phase 2 detoxification. This includes cancer, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus and immune dysfunction.
This is about transportation. It mainly refers to the transport of Phase 2 conjugates either: to your kidneys for further filtration and then out of your body via your bladder and urine OR out with your bile into your small intestine, and down through your GI tract for elimination via stool.
Phase 3 requires:
- Adequate hydration for the kidney-urine elimination
- Proper function of your GI system so that you can poop well! This means pooping daily, without constipation, sluggishness, loose stools, or diarrhea. You want your poop to score a #4 or 5 on this Bristol chart:
What if your Bristol score is NOT ideal?
If you do not produce one or more #4-5 poops daily, something is causing this. You could have a myriad of underlying causes. Likely culprits include:
- Dysbiosis –– an overgrowth of pathogenic microbes in your GI tract, or not enough core beneficial bacteria –– dysbiosis can cause loose OR sluggish stools.
- Lack of fiber –– fiber feeds beneficial bacteria, their byproducts form stool –– lack of fiber can cause loose OR sluggish stool.
- Magnesium deficiency –– so common! Often THE culprit of sluggish stools.
- Food intolerance –– can cause loose OR sluggish stools.
Do get elimination in order before doing a focused detox or “cleanse.” Otherwise, it is not worth the collateral damage. You don’t want to push Phases 1 and 2 if Phase 3 is not working!
Please read on about how to do a smart and safe Functional Medicine Cleanse.
Do you want my help designing a custom detox plan for you? Please reach out!