Why Your Detox May Do More Harm Than Good

Detoxification can be dangerous as well as beneficial – here’s why

Detox’s, and especially New Year detox’s, where people tend to go extra hardcore, fill me with fear.

I’ve seen it in our Functional Medicine and Nutritional Therapy clinics too many times.

Heavily marketed detox’s that claim to rejuvenate and revitalise after a period of over indulgence, often leaving people with more digestive issues, headaches and weight gain then they started out with.

What’s liver detoxification all about?

Detox: More Harm Than Good?

There are three phases to liver detox processes;

Phase 1 – The toxins are metabolised by a family of enzymes called Cytochrome P450.

Some products of phase 1 detoxification are water-soluble.

These are excreted through the kidneys.

Some are fat-soluble and during phase 1, intermediate products are formed which can be more harmful than the ‘original’ toxin.

Phase 1 end products that are not excreted need to undergo phase 2 metabolism rapidly, to minimise harm to the liver.

High levels of free radicals are also produced by phase 1 reactions, therefore the role of antioxidants is important.

Many detox’s such as juice cleanses only promote phase 1 pathways, but if phase 2 isn’t responding quickly enough, this can lead to a greater toxic load, or to put it another way, toxins being backed up with no where to go.

This is not good – and it’s a big problem for fat loss and health.

Phase 2 – Called conjugation – is where products from phase 1 are bound to a molecule to make it less reactive, therefore less harmful. They also become water soluble so they can be safely removed from the body.

The availability of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) is absolutely critical for liver detoxification processes, particularly phase 2. 

Therefore any ‘detox’ program that excludes protein, is essentially not promoting detoxification and can result in a greater toxic load. 

If food is being excluded e.g. a juice only fast, then taking amino acids in supplement form is critical.

Phase 3 – Phase 2 end products may be conjugated further during phase 3, and the toxins are transported out of the cells.

So what may have gone wrong during your detox?

When trying to optimise detoxification processes, there are a couple of basic rules. 

Firstly, generally both phase 1 and phase 2 liver pathways should be supported together. 

Secondly, bowel function must be optimal, that means a minimum of one bowel movement daily, but ideally three.

If only phase 1 liver detoxification pathways are supported, or if the bowels are not moving regularly, then you run the risk of toxins being reabsorbed into the system.

This can cause more harm, than the ‘original’ deep rooted toxin.

If you’re not passing stools a minimum of once a day (and ideally 3 times a day), it may not be a good idea starting any kind of detox.

Unwanted signs and symptoms commonly seen after a detox-gone-wrong are headaches, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, skin rashes or spots, weight gain and poor sleep quality.

When do you ‘detox’?

The body is undergoing detoxification processes all the time.

You’re detoxing all the time, including right now.

Detox programs or cleanses, are focused periods of time when detoxification processes are enhanced.

But it’s not for everyone.

If you take medications, have a diagnosed condition or have a weak or compromised immune system, then seek medical advise before starting a detox program.

Pregnant or breast-feeding women should not follow a detox program.

Also, consider what toxins you are trying to eliminate from the body, as different toxins, are metabolised differently by the liver. 

Are you trying to remove heavy metals (cadmium e.g. from cigarette smoking, mercury, aluminium, etc) for instance? 

Hormones? Pesticides? Phthalates (found in plastics)?

Bacterial toxins or caffeine?

To your optimised, healthy future,

Dee & the Coho Health team

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