Spring Cleaning – Detoxification and Cleansing
In the springtime it is common to find that people want to get their bodies off to a fresh start. Many individuals undergo cleanses at this time of year in an attempt to rapidly rid their bodies of unwanted chemical or toxin build up, and in some cases excess weight.
The body’s detoxification process requires the action of two sequential steps known as Phase I and Phase II systems. Phase I either directly neutralizes toxins, or modifies toxic chemicals to form activated intermediates which can be neutralized by one or more or the multiple Phase II enzyme systems.
Phase I: Detoxification
Phase I detoxification involves a group of enzymes commonly referred to as the cytochrome P450 family. Cytochrome P450 is composed of 50 to 100 enzymes. Each enzyme works more efficiently at neutralizing certain classes of chemicals. Phase I enzymes can directly neutralize certain chemical toxins, but in most cases they are converted to an intermediate form which can be more toxic than the initial toxin. Phase II is required to neutralize this intermediate toxin form. Phase I enzymes achieve toxin neutralization via reactions such as oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis. These enzymes require several nutrients to function. The most important nutrients for the cytochrome P450’s effectiveness are the minerals copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
In Phase I neutralization reactions, the liver not only drains the compounds needed for this detoxification system, but contributes significantly to free radical formation and oxidative stress. The more toxin exposure, the greater the need for copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Glutathione is a critical antioxidant for the neutralization of free radicals generated in Phase I and is required for Phase II detoxification. If the liver is exposed to high levels of toxins, it can produce so many free radicals in Phase I detoxification that glutathione can be depleted. In this situation, Phase II processes dependent on glutathione are terminated.
Phase II: Detoxification
Phase II detoxification reactions typically involve conjugation of toxins with small chemicals that are attached to them by the Phase II enzymes. This conjugation either neutralizes the toxin or makes the toxin more easily excreted through urine or bile. There are basically six Phase II detoxification pathways:
- Glutathione conjugation
- Amino acid conjugation
In order to function properly, Phase II enzymes require nutrients for activation and to provide the small molecules that these enzymes attach to toxins. Deficiencies or low intakes of magnesium, selenium, zinc, and molybdenum will cause Phase II enzyme systems to function poorly, or not at all. The liver fulfills many vital tasks, including digestive and hormonal processes. It is key to the proper functioning of the body. There is no question that it is the body’s major detoxification organ. The liver must receive proper nutritional support to carry out all of its functions.
Cleansing and Detoxification of the Body
When toxins enter the body, unabated, through the mouth, nasal passages, or skin, the body initially prevents pollution by surrounding the toxins with fat and water then storing them in different areas of the body. With the current amount of toxin exposure, the strain on the body’s detox system can be overwhelming.
The major detoxification organs or systems consist of the liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, and the lymphatic system. When they become overworked, the body starts to show signs of failure. A variety of disease states can be traced to detoxification systems not being able to keep up with the elimination of toxin intake. The addition of a detox program to one’s wellness regimen can help pull these toxins from the body. Increased intake of fluids and nutrients is critical to the function of the liver, kidneys, colon, lung, skin, and lymphatic system along with any detox program must be emphasized.
The Role Kidneys Play in Detoxification
The kidneys play a large role in detoxification. The kidneys are responsible for the important task of purifying the blood of toxic substances like certain medications and other harmful chemicals. The kidneys provide an intricate and extremely efficient filtration system that performs many functions to keep the blood clean and chemically balanced. They filter and cleanse the body’s entire blood supply 60 times per day, removing waste from the blood and excreting it. Inside the kidneys, intricate processes take place in which water and dissolved waste materials (including toxins) leave the blood and enter the urinary system. The following processes are involved in the formation of urinary waste:
- Simple filtration – The semi-permeable walls of the glomerulus and glomerular capsule allow water and small molecules to pass freely, but larger molecules like blood cells, plasma proteins, and others, remain in the renal capillaries.
- Selective reabsorption – The purpose of this process is to reabsorb back into the blood the filtrate components required by the body to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, as well as proper blood pH. Foreign substances that are not normal blood constituents are not reabsorbed.
- Secretion – Foreign materials and substances not required that remain after filtration are cleared by secretion into the convoluted tubules and from there are excreted from the body via the urinary system.
In terms of kidney function, the two most important minerals are potassium and sodium. However, kidneys play more roles than just producing urine and maintaining proper levels of certain minerals, blood pH, and eliminating toxins. Kidneys are involved in production of things like prostaglandins, aldosterone, and renin. In this regard, magnesium and zinc are important to the kidneys’ other functions.
Supporting the Lymphatic System with Minerals
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system, and it plays many important roles in detoxification and immunity. Lymphoid tissues include the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, thymus, bone marrow, and spleen. The immune processes of the lymph system are quite complex. Thymus, spleen and lymphatic glands are heavily involved in the body’s immune system. It is in the lymphatic glands that lymphocytes (white blood cells) are produced. About two to three liters of lymph fluid circulate in the lymphatic vessels. This fluid is formed continuously from the interstitial fluid – an extracellular fluid surrounding all of the cells in the body. This fluid penetrates the capillary membrane, keeping the volume of lymphatic fluid constant and allowing waste products to leave the cells and get carried away to the venous system and evacuated, helping to detoxify the body. There are a number of minerals involved in the lymphatic system. However, it has been shown that deficiencies of the minerals magnesium and zinc cause poor functioning of the lymphatic system.
Eliminating Toxins from the Body
Unwanted chemicals are present in our food, our water, our clothing, the air we breathe, the carpet we walk on, and all the plastics found in the many items we use every day. Detoxification is the body’s natural, ongoing process of eliminating harmful chemical toxins from the body so that it can function properly. Many bodily systems play important roles in detoxification of the body.
The Role of the Liver in Cleansing
The liver plays the greatest overall role in cleansing, handling 70% of all detoxification. Almost 2 quarts of blood pass through the liver every minute for detoxification. Filtration of toxins from the blood coming from the intestines is critical for the removal of bacteria, endotoxins, antigens, and other ingested toxic substances. The liver inactivates or removes ingested toxins, such as food additives, heavy metals, toxic medications, excess hormones, and others. The liver alone cannot filter all toxins from the blood.
The liver filters a number of toxins from the blood and each day the liver manufactures about a quart of bile. Bile serves as a carrier in which the toxic substances filtered by the liver are dumped into the intestines, where the bile and its toxic load are absorbed by fiber and excreted. Thus, adequate intake of fiber is of great importance in detoxification.
The liver neutralizes a wide array of toxic chemicals from both internal and environmental sources. The body’s own normal metabolic functioning produces a large amount of chemicals and hormones which the liver neutralizes efficiently. However, it has been seen that the level and type of internally produced toxins increase profoundly when metabolic processes aren’t functioning properly. The most common cause for detoxification malfunction of the liver is the result of nutritional deficiencies.
The Intestines and Elimination of Toxins
The intestinal tract extends from the mouth to the colon and is involved in far more than digestion. In the digestive process, the complex molecules contained in food are transformed into much simpler molecules than our intestinal cells can absorb. Digestion begins in the mouth, continues in the stomach, and is finalized the intestines. The nutrients in food, once digested into amino acids, sugars, fats, minerals, vitamins, etc., pass through the intestinal mucosa into venous capillaries, then travel to the liver. After liver detoxification, nutrients are sent into the blood stream. Various toxins, drugs, heavy metals, and other chemicals are sent from the liver into the bile. Bile plays an important role in the elimination of toxins from the liver and in the digestion of fats. The final phase of alimentation and elimination of toxins is in the intestines, after all the useful nutrients have been absorbed through the intestinal mucosa, due to action of the microflora. At this point all the insufficiently digested, large alimentary molecules and toxins are excreted with fecal matter.
The Respiratory System and Cleansing
The respiratory system consists of the lungs and bronchi. For the most part the respiratory tract evacuates toxins in the form of carbonic gas. They may also excrete phlegm. Normally, the alveoli of the lungs do not let solid waste material penetrate. Due to the constant irritation from toxic air and infectious microbes, the alveoli can become porous and can act as an extra exit for toxins that the liver, kidneys, and intestinal tract could not eliminate. Magnesium is important to lung function, playing important roles in the provision of energy and muscle function needed for breathing. Potassium also plays a role in the muscle function.
The Role of Skin in Detoxification
The skin is the largest organ of the body. In addition to governing thermal regulation, it protects the body from toxins and plays an important role in the elimination of toxins. Specifically, the skin evacuates waste products that are classified as crystals. These crystals are residues of the metabolism of foods rich in protein. They are liquid soluble, and the skin evacuates them via the sweat glands. Zinc and selenium play key roles in providing antioxidant protection for skin from free radicals and different forms of radiation (such as that generated by the sun).