Categories Detoxification

The Detox Myth

  • Do you have food sensitivities?
  • Or struggle with caffeine?
  • Or are you bothered with air pollution?
  • Or do you experience brain fog?
  • Do you have known or suspected hormonal problems (specifically with estrogen or thyroid?)
  • Do you often wake-up feeling as though you’ve been drugged?
  • Or ever experience tingling in your hands or feet, or weird muscle pains?
  • Are you worried that your body might be a little on the toxic side?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time to talk about detoxification.

If you spend any amount of time perusing the online health circuit, you’ll very quickly find that you may be in need of a “detox.”

Why? Well as it is often explained, your body gets toxic, and your liver in particular is your bodies filter, and when you have too many toxic inputs, your liver gets clogged up. The solution? A detox!  

However, I have also come across several articles in the last few years that basically will tell you that detoxification is a myth. Furthermore, the general indication from these sources is that basically people who tell you that you need a detox, should go straight to the quack watch list.

So, a reasonable question might be, is detox a myth?

But the answer is a little bit more confusing. The truth is both a little bit of yes, and a little bit of no. But really the primary problem here isn’t that your liver doesn’t deal with detoxification, but rather the problem is how that process is being communicated.

So let’s get rid of some myths. For starters, your liver is really not a filter. And using a word like “detox” has often given the impression that your liver is some kind of an internal water filter. It presents this kind of image of your blood going through your “filter” and all the toxins getting caught there until you come along and “clean” your filter. And this just isn’t how your liver works.  

Honestly, when we talk about it like that, I get the critique that says ‘detox is a myth.’ The way it’s often discussed provides some legitimate opportunities for criticism from more conventionally trained scientist. Your liver is not a detoxification machine that “filters out toxins” … but it does do detoxification, and I think it’s high time we get a little more sophisticated in how we discuss our liver, because this process is incredibly important to your health.

But also, it’s important to understand your liver because its function can be supported with nutrition and other lifestyle factors. Therefore, the more you understand about how that process works, the better you will be able to support this part of your health.

While detox or detoxification aren’t necessarily wrong words, they do fail to really capture what your liver is doing. In the medical world detoxification is often only a word used to reference what happens with an overdose from a chemical or drug… but it’s certainly not something you do to support your health.

This is why the word I prefer to use is the word Biotransformation.  

While Biotransformation may be a longer, less user-friendly word, it does provide a better idea of what your body, and specifically what your liver, is doing.

The liver is your bodies largest internal organ, and performs several hundred known task that are crucial to your health. These include things having to do with digestion, blood clotting, bile creation, hormone metabolism, and yes, processing chemical exposures, as well as drugs or pharmaceuticals. In short, you can live with part of a liver, but you’ll die without having a liver. Oh, and if you remove part of it? The remaining portion will regrow the lost portion in about a year. Yep. That’s right. Your liver can do regeneration. And no, there is no other part of your body that does this… just your liver.

And I’ll be honest –when something is so weird and cool that it sounds like it should be science fiction? I start paying attention.

So what about detoxification? Or Biotransformation? Why is this important? Well, when we’re talking about detoxification what we’re referring to is a process in which your liver takes biochemical material that your body cannot use (otherwise known as toxins), and it converts these into materials that your body can excrete in your urine or feces. It takes a biochemical substance (bio) and transforms it (transformation.) Hints Biotransformation, is a much more descriptive term.

So what are these “bio-toxins” your liver transforms?

Well, it could include chemicals that are manmade. In our highly manufactured environments, this is certainly an important issue. However, it’s hardly the entirety of what your liver is processing. It often also includes pharmaceuticals that your doctor prescribes, or things that you take over the counter (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.) While these substances are functional in small doses, if they remained in your body and built up, many of them would be poisons. But because of what your liver does, you process these substances in a matter of usually a few hours, and excrete them.

But beyond drug or chemical metabolism, your liver also metabolizes many natural agents that you ingest (certain plant materials that your body cannot use, or other substances, such as alcohol.)

Furthermore there is the often ignored fact that your liver also does substantial processing of materials that your body makes. For instance, hormones such as estrogen rely heavily on liver biotransformation.

So can your diet influence how this process works? YES. In fact this is a well-known reality of medication. If you’ve ever been prescribed a drug, and had your doctor or pharmacist tell you to lay off the grapefruit? This is what they’re referencing. Grapefruit is one such agent that can significantly accelerate certain aspects of your liver metabolism, altering the half-life of a medication (that is to say, the amount of time certain medications remains active in your body), which could either result in you excreting too much of the drug (without it adequately working) or it could also result in excessive quantities of the drug becoming stuck in limbo (so to speak) in your body, without the ability to transform it into your urine or feces, in an appropriate amount of time. The later of these options could even result in drug toxicity.

The process of biotransformation is somewhat hard to simplify, but if you break it down to the basics, you can roughly say that it takes place in two parts. These are often referred to as phase 1 and phase II, or sometimes as hepatic first pass and second pass. The first phase or pass can broadly be thought of as the process of oxidizing, hydrolyzing, or reducing a substance—this is accomplished primarily through the liver with a family of enzymes known as the cytochrome p450 enzymes. This is a family of enzymes, which means there’s multiple forms—not just a single type—and each of these can be genetically influenced, and many of them can be upregulated or downregulated, based on exposure. This is one reason why you might experience increased tolerance to a substance (such as caffeine) after you’ve been exposed to it over the long-term.  

Phase II of biotransformation, is known as conjugation. Just like you might conjugate a verb by taking the root part of the word and adding an ending to specify it’s meaning, biochemical conjugation takes a substance and adds something on, so the substance can then be excreted by your body. Again, there is not a single conjugation, but rather a collection of biochemical substrates your body may use.

As you maybe are realizing, detoxification is an infinitely more intricate process than a filter. But that doesn’t mean that caring for you liver has to be complicated. There are multiple things that you can do to assist your liver in the work it does. In future post I’ll try to address these in more detail, but here are some broad strokes.

  1. Remove your exposure to known chemicals in your environment. As mentioned many chemical compounds can upregulate the expression of your genes, and increase or decrease your body’s ability to handle toxins, and so if there are areas where you can reduce exposure, this is really helpful for your liver. Keep an eye out in particular for BPA, Parabens, Phthalates, Aluminum, Formaldehyde, and Perfluorinated chemicals.
    ProTip: you can look up your favorite brands in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to determine the safety of your favorite toiletries and cosmetics.   
  2. Eat enough Fiber. Fiber is one of the main aides in helping your body to move substances out of your body in your feces, so getting adequate fiber is beneficial in liver support. Add 2 Tb. flax or chia seeds to your morning meal.
  3. Add cruciferous vegetables to your meals. Cruciferous vegetables ( such as broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) help support conjugation pathways. Try including 1 to 2 servings of cruciferous vegetables a day—broccoli sprouts are my favorite! (If you have a known thyroid problem, limit this to 3 to 6 servings a week, and make sure to consume them cooked instead of raw.)   
  4. Get plenty of vitamin B-rich foods. You can take a quality B supplement, but one of the highest food sources is to consume 2 to 3 servings of beef or chicken liver every week. If you’re scared off by the taste of liver, I suggest trying a pastured beef liver capsule such as this one by Vital Proteins or this one by Ancestral Supplements. If you are a vegetarian, consider adding extra b vitamins with Nutritional Yeast, such as this one from Braggs.  

In a future post, I’ll cover some more specifics. If you are wanting to dig deeper in your nutrition journey, be sure to check out my nutrition consulting program. So many aspects of health benefit greatly with individualized support, and I’m passionate about empowering people to create a vibrant wellness story. If you want to learn more, you can read here!

Blessings on your wellness story!

Categories Detoxification, Wellness Story

3 Tips for how to Detox your Wellness Story

Every winter I get ridiculously anxious for warm days, and sunny skies. Don’t get me wrong… it’s not that I don’t like winter, I really do. But towards the beginning of March (and definitely by the beginning of April) I’m almost always ready for a change of pace, and I’m often frustrated by how reticent spring can be.

Seasons are a good reminder that stories take time, and we can spend all our energy being frustrated with that process– or we can lean in. As the adage goes, “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothes.”

Ok truthfully, I’m not quite that optimistic—I do believe there is such a thing as bad weather—but I would also say that most weather can be greatly improved with the right clothing, just as most inconveniences and frustrations can be reframed with the right mindset.

So today, I decided to put on some good clothes and lean into the well-established pastime of the Spring Cleaning; the perfect tradition of preparing for a shift in routine by clearing out spaces that have become pile-ups, removing things that are no longer useful or helpful, and in general channeling my inner Marie Kondo

I don’t know about you, but it isn’t just my outer living space that needs a spring cleaning. Towards the end of winter, the inner self needs one too. Which makes spring the ideal season to think about detoxification. So how can you give your Wellness Story a Spring Cleaning? Well like most stories, it begins in your brain.

1. Develop your “Yes, And” Mindset

One of the best life-hacks I’ve picked up in the last few years came from comedian Tina Fey. According to Fey, one of the most vital rules of improv is that you always agree with (or say “yes”) to the person who is on stage with you. It doesn’t matter what the other person throws at you– your job is to agree with what they’ve said. (Hints the, ‘yes… AND’) For improve to work, the people on stage simple can’t constantly be contradicting one another. And let’s be honest, life is kinda the ultimate improv, right? Yet, for many of us, instead of taking what comes at us, we fight what comes at us. We fight our age, our weight, our strength, or maybe an illnesses –yep, I’ve fought them all. But the problem is, we can get so caught up in fighting the fight, that we negate our power to frame the story in a way that helps us move forward.

So this is your first tip to spring cleaning your story: take what life has thrown at you, and use your and to frame it in the direction of where you want to go. What does this look like?

  1. Start with saying something that life threw at you
  2. Follow that with your version of and ___.

For instance, one of my ‘yes, and’ examples might sound like:

  1. I was a fat kid, who struggled with miscellaneous autoimmune symptoms…
  2. and that propelled me to study nutrition so I could better learn how to care for my body, and I now help other people write their wellness stories.

That’s a pretty simplified example, but these sentences can become as simple or as complex as you need them to be. I might add, it’s important to note this is not intended as a trick to silver line your past. Ignoring the parts of our story that were painful, or trying to ignore obvious realities, doesn’t benefit anyone. The intended gift of the ‘yes, and’ is that you aren’t denying what your body is, or any of the facts that have brought you to this place. Instead you’re acknowledging what is, and reframing it into a meaningful context that allows you to bridge forward into the next chapter of your life.

*Side Tip: this can be good tool for helping you draw meaning in your own story– it is not helpful, or recommended, to try to ‘yes, and’ someone else’s experience. Just remember, while it is the business of reasonable and thoughtful people to find meaning in our own experiences– having someone else try to do that for us generally feels condescending rather than helpful.

2. Swap the Diet with a Reset

There’s a lot of really great work out there written about the damage of diet culture. At this point, I suspect a lot of us can agree that dieting has done a lot of damage, specifically to young women. As a nutritionist, I have mixed feelings about the term diet—on the one hand, a lot of people require therapeutic diets to address particular health concerns, and in its simplest definition the term diet simply refers to ‘the sum of food consumed by a person.’ Diet should be a benign term. But it’s not.

The problem is, diet has become a four letter word. Instead of insinuating a neutral explanation of a person’s nutrition, the word is loaded and often weighted with shame. Instead of being a tool we use to help with health, it’s more often something that we penalize our bodies with anytime we perceive them as being “out of line” or “unacceptable.”

Obviously this has given way to a lot of diet push-back—and I happen to agree that most of this is warranted. As someone who had a long history of disordered eating, I found a point in my life when I had to completely swear off dieting for my own wellbeing. The sad truth is dieting can become a vicious cycle, that sets up binge patterns and self-punishing behavior that ultimately ruins metabolisms, self-image, and potentially even seeps into other areas of our lives, damaging our personal relationships, and diminishing our capacity for doing meaningful work.  

On the other hand, our eating patterns (not unlike our pantries, our closets, and that one drawer in your house where everything migrates without you trying –often referred to as the “junk drawer”?) sometimes need cleaning up. This is where a reset can be helpful. So what’s the difference between a diet and a reset?

Honestly, there are probably a few definitions that would work, but I think one of the most important differences between a diet and a rest is mindset. And mindset matters.

  • A diet is often pursued to starve and punish your body into a shape, so that it will be pleasing to other people or to the culture around you.
  • A reset is intended to help you focus on foods that fully nourish your body regardless of its shape, so that your body can better serve your life.
  • A diet is about making your body’s size your focus.
  • A reset is about caring for your body because your focus is on your life.
  • A diet is about having a life with a great body.
  • A reset is about cultivating health so your body can support you in living a great life.

While nutritional resets aren’t always the solution for everyone, just like cleaning out your closet can make your house feel like a better place to spend time, cleaning up your nutrition can make your body feel like a better place to live. Nutritional resets can be a tool that allows you to ‘go through your junk drawers’ and help you, as Marie Kondo says, discover what sparks joy.

3. Retire Binary Thinking about Food.

One of the most frustrating aspects that constantly comes up around food, is this binary thinking. What do I mean by binary thinking? I mean this idea that we can classify some foods as “bad” and other foods as “good.”

There are a few reasons that I find this a completely useless (potentially damaging) nutritional faux pas. For starters, there is the fact that when we define some foods as good and some as bad, we suddenly have found a way to “moralize” food and have created another way to judge other people as being “good” or “bad.” So I’m going to go on the record with this one: What you eat cannot make you a bad person …or a good person. Food is not moral.

The second problem with this fact, is the further people go into this thinking, the more likely they are to become increasingly restrictive and obsessive in what they eat. One person thinks “all carbs are bad” another person thinks eating red meat is “destroying the planet.” And the extremes go on… often ending up miles from the truth.

So, wait a minute, you might say: Am I telling you, “you can eat whatever you want?” Basically? Yes. But before you go buy your favorite junk food item, I would recommend that you consider what food is. Food is a creative power. The food we eat is loaded with biochemical information that interacts with your cells on the molecular level. So while food does not make you a good person, you can use food to help create the kind of good life you want to live.

Summary —

As we move into the spring season I hope you’ll be inspired by these ideas, so you can start spring cleaning your wellness story. Remember, if you’re ready to spring clean your wellness story:

  • Develop your “yes, and”mindset
  • Swap out Diets with Resets
  • Retire Binary thinking about food

Blessings on your wellness story!