Detox Diets Part 3: How to Support Your Body’s Natural Detox Ability
AUTHOR: Cliff Harvey, PhD (Clinical Nutritionist & Naturopath)
Detoxes and ‘cleanses’ are some of the most popular diets available. And while they probably won’t help you to lose any more weight than a good diet, or improve your body’s ability to remove toxins, certain nutrients and lifestyle changes can help to support your body’s own, amazing, innate detoxification pathways. Continue reading below if you want to learn about your body's natural detox ability.
Read our article ‘How Dangerous are Common Toxins’ for a refresher on what toxins are and how they affect the body.
Table of Contents
Reducing Toxins In Your Environment
There are many strategies that we can employ to help reduce our exposure to common toxins:
1. Choose supplements tested for heavy metals
Many supplement companies, including Nuzest, test their products to meet stringent guidelines for heavy metal contamination. When choosing a supplement always do your research first. Check the label to see what country the product originates from (manufacturing and monitoring systems for health supplements varies between countries) and if in doubt, contact the company direct.
2. Choose organic foods where possible
Organic does not always mean low in toxins and toxicants, however they are likely to be lower in pesticide and herbicide residue and environmental pollutants. If your budget allows, opt for organic produce where possible. And if not, make sure to wash your fruit and veg thoroughly before consuming in order to lower your risk of consuming unwanted toxins.
3. Choose foods from countries with more stringent quality controls
Some developing nations can have more relaxed environmental and pollution controls, and this can affect even ‘organic’ foods. It is safest to choose foods and materials from countries with more stringent environmental pollution laws and those known to have lower levels of heavy metals in groundwater and soil.
4. Reduce the use of plastics
Replace plastic storage containers with glass wherever possible. If using plastic, make sure that you opt for BPA-free plastic and always recycle properly. One of the most important things to remember is to only ever heat your food in containers that are deemed microwave-safe! This includes glass and microwavable safe ceramics and plastics. Current data indicates that BPA alternatives such as bisphenol B (BPB), bisphenol F (BPF), and bisphenol S (BPS) have comparative effects to BPA, so should also be avoided where possible42.
Exercise can promote greater metabolic activity which may speed the clearance of toxins from the body. It is also useful to offset some of the negative effects that can result from some toxins and toxicants by helping to improve oxidative control, increase insulin sensitivity, and encourage the clearance of damaged and dysfunctional tissue from the body. Endurance exercise-trained rats are able to maintain glutathione status (an important antioxidant involved in detoxification) during paracetamol toxicity compared to untrained rats 15.
Occasional or intermittent fasting can help the body to deal with some of the effects of environmental toxins and toxicants by modulating inflammation, encouraging the removal of dysfunctional and damaged tissue, and improving antioxidant pathways.16-20.
Nutrients That Aid Detoxification
Many of the toxins that we can be exposed to promote oxidative and other damage in the body. So, nutrients that might help us to avoid accumulating toxins, encourage their detoxification and excretion, and reduce damage are of particular interest. Oxidation, for example, is a normal and essential part of many cellular processes, however excessive oxidation is damaging.
Our natural, internal antioxidant pathways rely on a healthy liver, and various micronutrient and macronutrient co-factors. Most of the research that has been performed on dietary and supplemental interventions that may help in various aspects of detox or resistance to toxic chemicals has been performed in animals (due mainly to the ethics of exposing humans to toxic chemicals!). Regardless, this research offers a glimpse into some nutritional interventions that might improve the resilience of the body. These findings are summarized under the sub-headings below.
Nutrients that may help to reduce the accumulation, and improve the excretion, of common toxins
- Spirulina and dandelion may help to reduce mercury accumulation23. Spirulina with zinc increases the excretion of arsenic in chronic arsenic poisoning24, and absorbs cadmium25.
- Chlorella may be useful in inhibiting the absorption of dioxins via food and the reabsorption of dioxins stored already in the body in the intestinal tract, thus preventing the accumulation of dioxins within the body26. Research performed in mice also suggests that mercury excretion is enhanced by chlorella27-28.
- Milk thistle may help to reduce the entry of toxins into cells29,30.
- Folate is critical to the metabolism of arsenic31.
- Alpha-lipoic acid supports detoxification processes32.
- Glycine was found to be effective for increasing glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) levels, and decreasing lead levels in bone (with extremely high doses of around 1g per kg bodyweight in subject animals)33.
Nutrients that may help to reduce oxidation and damage from toxins and toxicants
- Treatment with cysteine, methionine, vitamin C and thiamine can reverse oxidative stress associated with arsenic exposure and result in a reduction in tissue arsenic level34.
- Spirulina and dandelion enriched diets reduce lead and mercury-related oxidation23,35.
- Spirulina, ginseng, onion and garlic decrease lipid peroxidation and increase endogenous antioxidant levels36,37.
- Curcumin, resveratrol, Vitamin C, E, selenium and zinc and the bioflavonoid quercetin can effectively protect against cadmium-induced lipid peroxidation and reduce the adverse effect of cadmium on antioxidant status38-40.
- Curcumin significantly protects against lipid peroxidation induced by both lead and cadmium41.
- Milk thistle reduces oxidative damage from toxicant exposure29,30.
The body has an amazing capacity to remove toxins and toxicants naturally from the body. Despite what you may be led to believe, detox pills and potions won’t do anything more than a good diet based on natural and unrefined foods. Lifestyle changes and dietary additions can help to support your own internal detoxification pathways, thus helping your body work ‘as nature intended’. Eating a varied nutrient-dense, organic (where possible) diet and exercising regularly can help us to reduce damage from toxins and toxicants and optimize the excretion of any chemical nasties that we may be exposed to.