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Detoxification Explained

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

I am constantly asked about the the best way to 'detox'. This is a tricky one as we are constantly 'detoxing'. I believe in power in knowledge so here is the ins-and-outs of our detoxification pathways and nutrients that can support their actions.

Both exogenous (external) and endogenous (internal) toxins are constantly being dealt with by several reactions throughout our body. The gangster of the detox dealings is the liver. Though this is not limited to alcohol and drug clearance but also includes hormones (both sex and stress), internal oxidative by-products, essential nutrients, cholesterol, fat transporters, amino acids, our beloved caffeine… and the list goes on! The two well acknowledged and referred to phases of liver detoxification are Phase 1 and Phase 2. When considering detoxification from a holistic perspective we must look at not just supporting the livers phases of detoxification but also ensure that we have adequate excretion occurring. This is referred to as Phase 3 (excretion of toxins). Below I will briefly discuss these three phases and nutrients that can support their optimal function.

Phase 1:

This is the first phase that toxins encounter in the liver. Phase 1 involves a family of proteins called the cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzymes. These enzymes modify toxins to enable them to be processed by phase 2 and then excreted (phase 3). The nutrients essential to phase 1 function (co-factors for the CYP450 enzymes) are often depleted by pharmaceuticals and increased stress. Thus creating a viscous cycle of a system trying to manage by-products of stress and toxins being interrupted by stress and toxins….

Important nutrient inclusions for phase 1 support are b-vitamins (whole grains, legumes, organic meat, mushrooms and free range eggs) and sulforaphane-rich foods (cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts).

Intermediate metabolites:

The modification of toxins that occurs in phase 1 often involves oxidation- creating a reactive oxygen species. The by-product of phase 1 transformation is intermediate metabolites (remember often reactive in nature) that are then to be processed by phase two and excreted by phase 3. It is often the case that we have a phase 1 working at a faster rate then phase 2 which can result in a back log of oxidative by-products, this can lead to several systemic results that we can sum up as systemic oxidation and inflammation. Two methods of thought are utilised to assist in the management of these intermediate metabolites.

1: Provide phase 2 with adequate co-factors for its pathways, ensuring the intermediate metabolites are picked up (so to speak) and excreted- this will be discussed when we talk about Phase 2.

2: Ensure adequate antioxidants to quench these oxidative products and lessen free radicle damage: Selenium (found highest in brazil nuts), vitamin C (citrus fruits), zinc (pumpkin seeds and oysters), thiols (found in garlic and onions) and vitamin A (sweet potato, carrots and eggs)

Phase 2:

Phase 2 picks up the intermediate metabolites (reactive!) that have been opened up by phase 1. Through several pathways these toxic by-products are coupled (‘conjugated’) with a water soluble group to ensure excretion. There are 6 conjugation pathways that are utilised to ensure toxic excretion. Each pathway involves different chemical reactions and thus different cofactor nutrients. Though there are a few nutrients that are considered across the board to assist in optimal phase 2 function these are:

Glycine (bone broth), taurine (shell fish, eggs), glutamine (eggs, beef, tofu), cysteine (wheat germ, eggs, organic chicken), methionine (eggs, sesame seeds, brazil nuts), glutathione (spinach, avocado, asparagus).

Phase 3 (the forgotten phase)

Phase 3 takes into account our gut, kidneys and bladder and their roll in excreting by products of detoxification pathways. Some simple considerations to optimise phase 3 detoxification are adequate fibre intake (fresh, whole foods), supporting bile production with a cup of warm lemon water and adequate water intake (aim for a minimum of 2L/day and increase with any exercise or illness).


We have looked at phase 1 (CYP450 enzymes), Intermediate metabolites (by-products of phase 1), Phase 2 (pathways that couple with the by-products of phase 1 to ensure excretion) and phase 3 (excretion of toxins). There are several nutrients found in whole foods that can influence these pathways and thus assist your body in excreting and managing any toxic load. It is important to remember that ‘detox’ is not specific to drugs and alcohol. Stress hormones (cortisol), sex hormones (oestrogen) along with toxic by-products from regular cellular reactions that are occurring constantly in our body to provide us with energy... are all managed through our detox pathways. Balance is key in the homeostasis of our bodies. Listen to your body, eat fresh and whole where you can, keep hydrated, keep moving and don’t feel guilty over those fun times 🥂be sure to support your body with balance and nutrition.

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