Every day, your body makes waste while it is doing its job of living. We are also now exposed to an absolute barrage of toxins that didn't exist until the 1900's. The goal of detoxification is to have your cells excrete these wastes and toxins, and get them out of your body without reabsorbing them. Once they are out, many feel much more alive, more alert, lighter and refreshed. But how exactly do we get there?
From the Cells to the Lymphatic Fluid
Your cells dump their waste/toxins into the tiny spaces between them that are filled with extracellular fluid. Throughout most of the body, this is called lymphatic fluid; in your brain and central nervous system it is called the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
The CSF drains back into your lymphatic fluid, which then enters back into your blood. (When we sleep, this CSF washes over the brain in slow, rhythmic "waves," which is believed to remove toxins and prevent neurodegenerative diseases.)
Once the lymphatic fluid re-enters the bloodstream, the onus falls mostly on the liver to filter and detoxify the "garbage" that was drained. It does this in two stages, or "phases".
Liver Detox Happens in Two Stages
Phase I can be thought of like “garbage processing”: your liver takes a fat soluble compound, which would otherwise soak through your tissues and be reabsorbed, and enzymatically breaks it down, making it water soluble so it can be escorted out of the body.
In this process phase I liver detox creates what are called reactive intermediates, which can be more toxic than the original molecule, because they have a “sticky” or reactive end that is ready to join a carrier molecule in phase II. If they leave the liver when not bound to such proper transport, this sticky end can react with your other tissues causing insult....see below.
Phase II liver detox involves conjugation - attaching another molecule to the reactive end of the broken down toxin, allowing it to be transported safely from the liver to other other elimination organs, like the bowel.
When Phase II Can't Keep Up, Detox Reactions Arise
The difficulty arises when phase II is not keeping up with phase I. Think of it like this: if you have ten trucks dropping off waste at the garbage processing plant (your liver), but there are only two trucks (transport conjugates) to carry it away, the garbage in the liver factory builds up and spills out the "windows": ie. back into your bloodstream.
This is what causes "cleansing" or detox reactions (AKA “Herxheimer reactions.”) When phase II does not keep up with phase I, the build up of reactive intermediates with their "sticky" ends have the potential to cause a lot of oxidative stress and inflammation due to their instability, and tendency to disrupt other tissues. For this liver-specific antioxidant protection can be extremely helpful.
Ensuring Your Liver has Abundant Conjugate Molecules is important...and not just when you are cleansing!
In a healthy individual, when everything is working optimally, there are ample phase II conjugates available in the liver to join with the reactive toxins for safe transport.
There are also plenty of products you can use to support both phases of liver detox, such as GSH+, or Opti-Liv Extra. Such products help shore-up your antioxidant reserves of compounds such as glutathione, which we have discussed. [See: Do You Need To Protect Your Liver While Cleansing?]
Optimized DIM & D-Glucarate, which helps metabolize estrogens favourably in phase I, (i.e. DIM), and escort them out in phase II, (i.e. D-Glucarate).
As well, many different amino acids from proteins act as liver conjugates!! These include glutamine, arginine, ornithine, glycine, taurine, etc.
Don't Forget your Protein!
This is an extremely important element in detoxification that many miss while fasting or doing a detox. DON'T FORGET YOUR PROTEIN!! This doesn't mean you have to eat an egg or meat. Rather you can supplement free-form amino acids, or easily-digested, low-calorie protein sources like spirulina, hemp protein or collagen. Supplementing with such sources of amino acids, particularly the spirulina, (a good addition with its chlorophyl content), will also help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent inflammation due to a triggered stress response from hypoglycemia. You don't have to consume a lot, just enough to keep you feeling balanced. (Note: Though it's great for building muscle, whey protein is less desirable when fasting or cleansing because of its tendency to raise blood sugar and insulin levels.)
Phase III: Packaged Up and Ready to Go
Once the Phase II conjugates have been joined with their reactive intermediates, the package is complete and ready to be transported for elimination via the kidneys and the colon. This phase of detox is known as Phase III, and involves eflux or "sweeper" proteins. These sweeper proteins move the newly packaged toxin out through the bile duct bound for elimination.
Phase IV: The Microbiome
However, when the packaged toxin gets to the gut, if the wrong bacteria are predominating, the bonds inside the water soluble package can get "snipped", and the fat soluble toxin gets freed and reabsorbed. Hence, probiotics are of critical importance to this process.
Imagine getting a toxin all the way from the brain to this point, only to have it reabsorbed because of an unbalanced gut microbiome!
This topic was covered recently in our blog on enterohepatic circulation. [See: Better Digestion Through Gut-Liver Hygiene] As I discussed in this article, much of the detoxification journey heavily impacts the detoxification of estrogens and old hormones - watch for more on hormone metabolism and detoxification next month!
Until then, be well.