When we think of detox, we assume it has something to do with cleansing the body. That is completely correct – but how does it actually happen? We understand that we consume processed food that is high in fat and sugar which fills our body with toxins. Then we put ourselves on a cleanse or a detox – and poof! The toxins are eliminated. How do we go from being a toxic wasteland to a beautiful oasis?
Let’s see how this happens and what science has to say about it.
Let’s look at it from a cell’s perspective.
From a cell’s perspective, what we consume is its fuel. Essentially, we consume different types of substances, which are built up of different chemicals. These are then broken down in our body’s into different types of amino acids and other compounds, which then get reused or excreted. Not only does our body excrete toxins; it also gets rid of excess hormones. The liver is the primary and best-known organ for detoxification. It directly filters the blood and prepares toxins for excretion. Other organs that help with detoxifying our body are the intestines, kidneys, lungs, and brain. All those organs need to work in sync to properly cleanse the body.
The process ultimately transforms fat-soluble compounds into water-soluble compounds so they can be excreted as waste. This process can be broken down into 3 phases:
Phase 1, transformation, begins with turning fat-soluble compounds to water-soluble ones. Water-soluble compounds are excreted, while fat-soluble compounds are stored in fat cells. The reactions in this phase include, oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis and cyclization. Oxidation and reduction involve a transfer of electrons that cause a reaction and change in chemical structure. Oxidation is the loss of an electron, and reduction is gaining an electron. To give a few examples, slow oxidation is rust developing; quick oxidation is a fire. Our metabolism oxidizes glucose to create ATP to be used as fuel for our cells and other processes. Hydrolysis is a fancy word that means adding water to help break a chemical bond. Cyclization is a reaction that creates a ring formation. All those are processes our body undergoes to make toxins water-soluble. Through their unique oxidative chemistry, cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (CYPs) catalyze the elimination of most drugs and toxins from the human body. One major drawback in this face is the creation of free radicals which are hazardous and cancer causing. Antioxidants are needed to neutralize these free radicals.
Phase 1 is great and crucial to detoxification; however, some byproducts are still toxic, destructive, or even more reactive. That’s why phase 2 is important. Phase II enzymes increase the solubility and reduce the toxicity of phase I products. Phase II enzymes play a major role in the cellular detoxification of damaging, genotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Reactions in this phase are a bit more complex and hard to explain without getting into specific enzymes. Feel free to read up more on phase 2 here.
Phase 3 is responsible for eliminating metabolic products and toxins from the cell. Transporters, such as ABC transporters, are found in the liver, kidneys, and brain, where they act as barriers to entry. Another key player in transportation that isn't technically part of this phase is bile secretion. Bile is equally important in detoxification, because it aids in the excretion of bilirubin, several inflammatory mediators, as well as other toxins. An impairment in bile flow is damaging to the liver because it causes a buildup of toxins that specifically damage the liver.
That, my friends, is how you rid your body of poisons and toxins. These phases continuously run, and we need our organs to be in sync to properly cleanse our body. Doing a detox helps these systems because it gives them a break from being continuously overloaded and bombarded by toxins. A detox allows your organs to catch up and provide a “deeper” cleaning.
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