What is Detoxification?
Who hasn’t been lured into a detox program with the hopes of rising up from the baptismal font of kale juice a brand-new and “cleansed” person? I get it. Having the chance to “start fresh,” and “get a clean slate” is tempting to even the biggest of doubters. The truth is that (un)fortunately, our body is way too smart to be remedied in the long term by quick fix approaches and a few days of fruit and vegetable juice.
So, what does it even mean to “detox”? Technically speaking, detoxification, otherwise known as “biotransformation”, is “a metabolic process of clearing, neutralizing, and/or transforming toxins and ridding them from the body”.
Aside from the obvious sources of toxins, like pollution, pesticides, cosmetics, processed foods, and self-care items, the body naturally produces toxins through its normal everyday functions that are eliminated via the detoxification pathways. Nowadays, there are more chemicals floating in the air than ever before and recent studies have linked the transfer of pollution in utero to negative long-term implications on the fetus (1).
The human body is so sophisticated and “on the ball” that several mechanisms are in place to ensure that toxic levels do not exceed a livable threshold. Skin, kidneys, bowels, and the liver are the key players in natural detoxification and pretty much run on auto-pilot performing advanced processes without you even knowing it. Thank goodness, because we have a million other things to worry about and a juice cleanse is not on the “to-do” list.
That being said, our body is only able to perform based on the level of nutrition, rest, and self-care provided to it. Each one of these body parts is exclusively reliant upon adequate nutrition to function at its best which ultimately dictates health outcomes. Poor nutrition is like having a car that is long overdue for an oil change—it will still perform basic function, but a smooth and secure ride is not guaranteed. Detoxification is similar in that certain dietary components are required to ensure each of the metabolic pathways is able to perform its duty well.
The liver is the rock-star of detoxification and gets a lot of the “detox diet” attention because it plays such a vital role in the processing and handling of toxins. Simply put, the liver scoops up toxins, packages them in little boxes, and ships them out of the body through the urine, feces, and sweat so you don’t get sick. Other jobs the liver performs includes: converts glucose (blood sugar) into glycogen storage for later use, stores vitamins and minerals, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and helps to emulsify fatty acids for better absorption.
Over the next TWO posts, I’ll dive a little deeper in to mechanisms of liver detoxification so you can understand more why a juice cleanse simply won’t do the trick! Liver detoxing involves two phases that are reliant upon one another and must work in tandem in a delicately orchestrated dance. It is important for both steps of the process to be in balance, as one misstep can cause toxins to go back into circulation and potentially do more harm than good.