By ModiHealth practitioner: Dr. Meghan Smart, PharmD, INHC
Every January the internet brings us advertisements for detoxes. Juice cleanses, detox teas, flat tummy gummies, the list goes on. The marketing promises better sleep, increased energy, weight loss, flat stomachs, and glowing skin. I hate to burst their bubble, but most of these products are laxatives combined with random ingredients. Part of why this marketing works is confusion around what detoxification really means and how it really works.
Detoxification is done by the liver. When you come into contact with a substance your liver works on packaging it in a way that it can be excreted from your body through sweat, urine, or feces. There are usually two steps to this process- Phase I detox and Phase II detox. In Phase I the liver converts the original substance to an intermediate which may or may not be active in the body. In Phase II the intermediate gets converted into something that can be excreted.
There is a lot of debate in the scientific community as to whether practices that encourage detoxing are necessary as the liver is already designed to do this work. Lots of healthcare providers would probably tell you that if you are having regular bowel movements, you’re fine when it comes to detoxing.
I would argue that there is a case for added support when it comes to detoxing, but I’m not talking about flat tummy teas. Our bodies evolve slowly over time but our technology has changed rapidly. We are exposed to more chemicals and toxins than ever before. The average American woman is exposed to 168 distinct chemicals every day before she leaves her house. Then she goes outside and breathes polluted air, drinks contaminated water, and eats food that is sprayed with varying combinations of pesticides and fertilizers. We don’t know for sure that our livers and kidneys can keep up with this toxic load. We also know that some people are better detoxifiers than others. SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, are genetic variants that exist in our population. There are some common SNPs that impact how fast or slow you are able to carry out the chemical reactions needed for detoxification in your liver.
How can we support our liver in its pursuit of cleaning up our body? Here are my top tips:
- Drink clean water
I often recommend my clients use the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database to check out what is actually in their tap water. You’d be surprised. Everywhere I have ever lived has had 4+ known or possible carcinogens in the tap water. The good news is EWG can also recommend an appropriate water filter for you. Drink your water out of glass or metal containers instead of plastic. Staying well hydrated (aiming for half your body weight in ounces) is a great way to send some love to your liver.
- Eat clean food
When it comes to organic food, the most important places to spend your money are on animal products and the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen is updated every year to give you the twelve most heavily sprayed crops so you know where to prioritize buying organic. Bonus points for loading up on veggies that contain sulfur (broccoli, cauliflower, onions, brussels, kale, bok choy) as your liver needs sulfur to make glutathione, a key component of detox.
- Use clean products
Again, EWG has a great tool called Skin Deep that lets you look up your personal care products to see what is actually in them and how those ingredients could potentially impact your health.
- Exercise regularly
Sweat is another detox pathway, so make sure you are sweating regularly. Regular physical activity also promotes regular bowel movements which is key to actually eliminating toxins your liver has packaged up for you.
- Pay attention to toxicity in other areas of your life
We consume more than food and drinks. Notice what you watch on tv, where you spend time online, and what your relationships are like. Part of your January detox can be reevaluating how the people/places/activities in your life impact your overall health.
Learn more about and book a session with Dr. Meghan Smart here.