“Detox” programs have been in the spotlight recently, with a bevy of Hollywood celebrities citing their “detox” programs as the secret to looking great on the red carpet. But, what exactly is detoxification? Is it merely the latest health and beauty fad, or is it a true health therapy? And can anyone besides the Hollywood elite benefit from it?
“True metabolic detoxification is anything but trendy”
“True metabolic detoxification is anything but trendy,” says Deanna Minich, PhD, FACN, and vice president of R&D Communications for Metagenics, Inc. “It’s actually a heavily researched, key biological process by which the human body rids itself of harmful substances. As a health therapy, the concept of metabolic detoxification has much broader and more significant implications than one’s appearance.”
“The good news,” says Minich, is that “with the proper guidance, a metabolic detoxification program can benefit almost anyone who wants to start the New Year with a clean slate.”
Living in a Toxic World
Each year, more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals—from industrial waste, heavy metals, pesticides, and prescription medications—pour into the environment, eventually making their way into our air, soil, water, and food supplies. Toxins have been detected as far away as the Arctic regions, suggesting that all humans bear some toxic load. But only a few high production volume compounds have been biomonitored for their effects on human health, despite overwhelming evidence that long-term exposure to even trace amounts can be harmful.
Health Impact of Toxic Overload
The buildup of toxins in human tissue can impact all body systems. Telltale signs of toxic overload can include acne, rashes, headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness, fertility issues, memory loss, and depressed immune function. Additionally, low-level, long-term toxic exposure has been linked to chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia syndrome, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Body’s Natural Cleansing Process
The majority of the 70,000+ chemicals registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for commercial use are fat soluble, meaning they’re not easily excretable and tend to accumulate in fatty tissue. The natural process by which fat soluble toxins are transformed and made more easily excretable is known as metabolic detoxification.
Metabolic detoxification is a complex process involving a chain of chemical reactions that occur primarily within the liver and kidneys:
Phase I (functionalization): Enzymes secreted by the liver break down toxins into modified, highly reactive molecules. (Ironically, a byproduct of functionalization is the creation of free radicals, molecules that can wreak cellular damage if not quickly neutralized.)
Phase II (conjugation): Chemicals such as the amino acid glutathione produced by the liver bind with the modified toxins, neutralizing them and making them more water soluble.
Transport: Proteins deliver the neutralized toxins to the kidneys, where they are excreted via urine; or the gastrointestinal tract, where they are excreted via the stool.
Optimal metabolic detoxification helps the body cleanse itself of harmful substances before they can accumulate in tissue and affect health. But factors such as toxic overload, genetic predisposition, and insufficient levels of key nutrients can impair this process, increasing a person’s susceptibility to toxicity-related diseases.
Getting the Right Calories vs. Cutting Calories
Metabolic detoxification is an energy-intense process. “However,” says Minich, “some popular detox programs—such as those that encourage water fasting and juice cleanses—can actually be counterproductive because they deplete the body of essential nutrients that are required for healthy detoxification.” Individuals who take such shortcuts could experience adverse side effects such as fatigue, breakdown of lean tissue instead of fat, and increased cellular damage.
A well-managed therapeutic metabolic detoxification program should be closely supervised by a knowledgeable health care professional. It should focus on getting the right calories, not drastically cutting calories.
Successful Program Elements
If you’re undergoing a metabolic detoxification program, be sure to get plenty of the following foods:
Organic fresh fruits and vegetables
Nutrients to support proper detoxification function, including catechins from green tea, glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables, resveratrol from grapes, isoflavones from soy, polyphenols and anthocyanidins from berries
Plant-based proteins, such as soy
Avoid the following foods or substances:
Foods that contain common allergens such as gluten (from grains) and casein (from dairy)
Processed and modified foods containing stimulants or synthetic chemicals
Alcohol and tobacco products
Additionally, be sure you’re getting:
Adequate levels of fluids, such as filtered water
Regular, moderate exercise
Much confusion exists today regarding detoxification. More than just a passing fad, a properly managed, professionally supervised metabolic detoxification program that supports the body’s natural removal of toxins can have important health benefits.