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Detoxification Pathways

Detoxification is an every day, all day, year round process. And as this world becomes more toxic than ever it is much more of a daunting task to prevent and recover from almost constant exposure to so many forms of pollution from the environment.

Environmental impact and health is slowly being recognized by more and more health care providers.  It is no longer just a psychological issue.

There is a substantial amount of evidence related to the physical impact of exposure to toxins on your body. Italian researchers have found physical changes indicating the reduction of your ability to detoxify if you have MCS or problems with environmental exposure, even including exposure to pharmaceuticals.

You might experience some of these symptoms, and more, because you are over exposed to toxins: Headache, Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, Eye, ear, nose or throat irritation, Chills or Fever, Dizziness or vertigo, Nausea, Hair loss, Skin rash, Infertility of women and men, Liver disease, Neurological dysfunction, such as loss of memory or concentration, or confusion, Weakness or fatigue, Depression, or cancer.

Many people are now plagued by multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).  This has been defined as ďa chronic, recurrent condition characterized by reduced tolerance to various environmental agents or to a class of chemical substances".  MCS America is a good source for help and information about the various forms of this illness.

The Liver Performs Two Phases of Detoxification

As Dr. Leo Galland explains in his book, Power Healing, the liver performs two phases of detoxification; Phase One (oxidation) and Phase Two (conjugation).

In Phase One, the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins.  This process is called oxidation, and makes the toxins more soluble in water.  Making them more water soluble is necessary so they can be more easily excreted from the body by the kidneys or the liver.  Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble to start with, and therefore difficult or impossible to eliminate without the liverís help. (6) 

Although Phase One is crucial for detoxification, it poses risks.

Sometimes the end product of Phase One detoxification is more dangerous than the compound being detoxified. Benzene, for example, is a dangerous organic solvent, is present in gasoline and cigarettes, and a known carcinogen. (7) Phase One enzymes oxidize benzene, producing benzene quinones, which are a source of increased toxicity. (8) To complete the detoxification of benzene, your liver relies on Phase Two enzymes, which are described below.

The bottom line on Phase One detoxification is: you need it but you donít want Phase One activity to exceed the ability of your liverís Phase Two enzymes to finish the job, otherwise youíre in trouble.

Increased Phase One Liver Activity without a balancing increase in Phase Two activity can be caused by:Tobacco smoke, High alcohol intake, Consumption of standard vegetable oils, Eating char-broiled meats, Consuming BHT

Medications can also increase or decrease Phase One liver activity in ways that are highly specific to the drug and its duration of use.

Intense scientific research being done around the world is examining how nutrition can help facilitate the detoxification process.

Scientists from the University of San Francisco note,  ďA judicious choice of food will counteract noxious agents. Therefore, the diet can be a major factor in determining who does and who does not show toxic symptoms following exposure.Ē (9)

Foods Can Increase Phase One Liver Detoxification and at the same time balance it with an increase in Phase two detoxification. They include: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts (10-12)

  • Oranges and tangerines

  • Caraway seeds and dill seeds

No surprise that these foods are recommended for their health benefits.

Zinc plays an essential role in Phase One detoxification. 

A deficiency of zinc doesnít stop Phase One detoxification, but shifts the activity of Phase One enzymes in a direction that encourages the formation of cancer promoting chemicals. In my clinical experience, zinc deficiency, as measured by low plasma zinc levels, is quite common in the United States. Few foods are really rich in zinc, so supplementation is often useful.

Phase Two Liver Detoxification

To rid itself of toxins produced by Phase One detoxification, the liver performs a second phase, called conjugation.   In this phase, oxidized chemicals are combined with sulfur, specific amino acids, or organic acids, and then excreted in bile. (13)

This phase of liver detoxification is inhibited by nutritional deficiency, toxic exposures, and medications such as acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol), alcohol consumption, and low protein intake that deplete glutathione which is needed for acetaminophen detoxification.

The most important amino acids for Phase Two detoxification are cysteine and methionine 

These two amino acids are the main dietary sources of sulfur, and are found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.  Vegetarian sources of cysteine and methionine include nuts, seeds and beans.  The usual adult RDA of cysteine and methionine is 700 to 1000 mg. per day, but is never fixed, because it fluctuates with the liverís burden of toxic compounds.  The bodyís stores of these amino acids are depleted in the process of detoxification, so the greater the toxic stress, the more the body demands. 

Bioflavonoids may also be beneficial for stimulating Phase Two enzymes in Detoxification.   

Bioflavonoids are abundant in fruit, vegetables and tea, and are the active ingredient in many herbs.  Research indicates that bioflavonoids can facilitate the detoxification process. (14) Scientists from the University of Seville in Spain note that the bioflavonoid luteolin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities and may help detoxification.  (15) Luteolin is found in vegetables such as peppers, celery, carrots, in herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and peppermint, and in olive oil.  (16)  

A prime example is milk thistle, an herbal (folk) remedy for the liver.  The active ingredients are a group of bioflavonoids collectively called silymarin.  Research indicates that milk thistle may offer protection from liver disease. (17) The standard amount of silymarin taken is 70 to 210 mg. three times a day.  

Phase Two Liver Detoxification Helpers include: 

  • Adequate protein intake

  • Alliums such as onions and scallions, (18)

  • Citrus fruit (19)

  • Curcumin (20)

  • S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) (21, 22)

  • Milk thistle (silymarin)

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (See 10-12)

Our understanding of what the body needs to detoxify has been revolutionized by scientific research, teaching us the powerful role that enhanced nutrition plays in the process.  Source: Dr. Leo Galland

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