While the thought of living in this toxic soup of potentially harmful chemicals can be frightening, there’s so much you can do to reduce your exposure and help your body neutralise and remove these toxicants from your body.
What continues to amaze me is how our bodies always want to achieve balance (homeostasis), and when things go awry, can get back in to balance fairly quickly when given the right conditions.
It actually takes a lot for your body to get out of balance because there are feedback loops that help to maintain just the right amount of a substance — from hormones to neurotransmitters to digestive enzymes.
Your liver also plays a major role in keeping things in balance, such as managing and storing your fuel sources, activating or balancing hormones (from thyroid hormone to cortisol, insulin and oestrogen) and filtering your blood to remove anything that isn’t meant to be there.
Usually, an imbalance occurs over a period of time, though sometimes in a short period of time if you’ve been exposed to high levels of toxicants or stress (or both).
An imbalance is typically caused by:
- Not enough nutrients to keep your body’s processes running well
- Too much sugar and/or fat that can impair your liver’s function and ability to store and burn fuel (which then leads to weight gain)
- An overload of toxicants that disrupt the function of a cell, pathway or system
- Stress — which increases your need for more nutrients and can inhibit your body’s ability to detoxify
In the case of having a high toxic body burden, usually your body isn’t getting enough of the nutrients the liver and other detox pathways need to work properly, alongside all these other factors.
This leads to the symptoms outlined in my previous article, and in the toxic burden questionnaire which gives you an insight into how much of a toxic burden your body is under.
If you haven’t yet taken the test, you can do so here.
When you support your detox pathways with the right nutrition and reduce your toxic exposure, your body becomes better at detoxifying, as it can keep up with the toxicants it needs to process without getting overloaded.
When your liver is functioning better, you can experience more energy, weight loss and improved metabolism, balanced hormones, reduced food cravings, better brain function, digestion, immunity, clearer skin and more!
So in this article I’ll be sharing some simple strategies to support your body’s detoxification pathways — not just your liver, but kidneys, digestive tract, skin, and lungs.
1. Eat liver loving foods
Your liver is the most important organ when it comes to detoxification, so much of our focus will be on giving your liver some love!
There are two phases of the liver’s detox process.
The first phase alters chemicals so they’re ready for the second phase.
In the second phase, a chemical is added to the toxicant to neutralise it.
Then they’re sent to either the colon or kidneys for excretion (1).
It’s common to have a faster first phase and a slower second phase, which is where a lot of damage can be done, as often the altered chemicals in phase 1 can be more harmful than the original chemicals.
If your phase 1 is processing chemicals too quickly, it can cause a build-up of these ‘toxic intermediaries’ waiting for phase 2 to process them.
Here these chemicals can cause free radical damage to liver cells, as antioxidants quickly get used up trying to neutralise them.
So, we want to slow down phase 1 and speed up phase 2 to avoid these nasties hanging around and causing trouble.
Eating the following foods will stimulate and support the liver’s detoxification processes:
- Brassica vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale etc.
- Apiaceous vegetables like carrots, celery, coriander, parsley, parsnips, caraway seeds and dill
- Citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines and lemons
- Garlic, onions
- Jerusalem artichoke
The brassicas and apiaceous veg have been shown to reduce phase 1, while turmeric, tomatoes, garlic, onions, radishes, grapes and papaya will improve phase 2 (2, 3, 4, 5).
2. Replace coffee with green tea
Replacing your coffee or caffeinated beverage with green tea will also support your liver.
Green tea, including the trendy matcha green tea, contains the antioxidant Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that helps balance the liver’s first phase and increases the second phase.
It can also neutralise free radicals and bind to toxicants which will help their removal (6).
Caffeine speeds up the liver’s first phase (alcohol does too!), and stimulates your stress response which inhibits your liver’s ability to detoxify, so removing caffeinated beverages, or at least limiting, them can be beneficial.
Even though green tea does contain some caffeine, the positive effects on the liver’s function overrides any effect the caffeine content has.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, also has a positive effect on both phases of your liver’s detox phases.
Matcha turmeric latte, anyone?
3. Prioritise fibre
Your liver dumps toxicants into bile that’s sent to your colon for elimination (in your poo).
If there isn’t enough fibre in your intestines to bind the bile and toxicants it carries, toxicants may be reabsorbed and recirculated into your bloodstream, where the liver will have to filter them out and try to process them again – or store them in fat cells.
Constipation can also lead to recirculation of toxicants, so prioritising fibre will help get things moving to eliminate those chemicals from your body, pronto.
Aim to eat a variety of different fibres as they each have individual benefits – from being a food source for bacteria that also help detoxify chemicals, to binding and removing toxicants.
Eat a variety of whole foods such as whole grains, fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Rich fibre sources include:
- Legumes: black beans, white beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Blackberries and cherries
- Sweet potatoes
- Wild rice
- Rice bran
Scared of carbs? Don’t be!
Complex carbohydrates are needed to help your liver burn fat stores (so helpful for weight loss), to make active thyroid hormone, lower cortisol and create the antioxidant glutathione that’s heavily involved in your liver’s detoxification process (7, 8, 9, 10).
These foods also contain antioxidants that support the liver. So, win-win!
Replacing refined carbohydrates with these complex carbs is helpful as a high intake of carbohydrate from refined carbs can inhibit the liver’s first phase.
If you have a sweet tooth, try baking slices of sweet potato – or steaming and mashing some, then sprinkling with cinnamon. Thank me later
4. Stay hydrated
If you’re dehydrated, elimination of toxicants in your urine can be reduced, so they can hang around longer and potentially cause damage.
Make sure to drink filtered water to avoid exposure to many chemicals in tap water such as chlorine, chloramines, heavy metals like aluminium and pesticide residues.
A good rule is to drink a 200ml glass of water every hour or so in between meals (not with meals as this can dilute digestive juices and compromise digestion and absorption of nutrients. Drink 30 minutes before and an hour or so after meals).
The recommended 2.1L – 2.6L daily fluid intake includes water in food, so make sure to eat lots of high water content foods such as:
Cucumbers, spring greens, strawberries, watermelon, melon, papaya, celery, radishes, peaches, carrots, plums, apples, pineapples, lemons and limes.
5. Base every meal on protein
Those on a high carbohydrate or high fat diet, or those eating processed meats like sausages and bacon in place of high quality proteins may not be getting enough protein in their diets.
Both phases of the liver’s detox process require protein.
The amino acids from protein food sources are critical for the liver’s second phase of detoxification.
So when it comes to detoxification, without adequate protein your liver cannot detoxify properly.
Basing your meals on high quality protein sources will help ensure you get at least 1g of protein per kg of body weight per day, which is the minimum requirement.
High quality protein sources include fish, lean grass fed beef, poultry, shellfish and mollusks, tempeh and pea protein powder (11, 12).
6. Eat asparagus
Asparagus can improve your detoxification ability in several ways.
First, it’s high in glutathione – the major antioxidant that’s involved in detoxing (FYI, so are the brassicas, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and turmeric which is another reason to eat them!).
Glutathione is key for protecting the liver from any damage during the detox process as it neutralises toxicants.
Glutathione also helps detoxify alcohol, heavy metals, paracetemol, mould and bacterial toxicants, as well as immune and inflammatory compounds in the liver’s second phase.
We manufacture glutathione ourselves, though our production starts to decline after age 30 (which is probably why you could handle drinking more booze in your 20s than in your 30s).
Asparagus is high in pectin, a fibre which grasps on to toxicants to aid their removal.
It’s also highly alkaline so can help alkalise urine, which can speed up the excretion of toxicants (13, 14).
One way to consume these daily is to steam or boil them, then puree in the boiled water (cut off any hard bits first!).
Keep in the fridge and take 2 tablespoons twice daily.
This is a fantastic start – though detoxing deeper has even bigger benefits
Often a deeper detox is needed to allow the liver to deal with the toxicants that have accumulated over time, and get back to a state where it’s able to focus on eliminating ones you’re exposed to each day.
This is where undertaking a detox program can help immensely.
However, most programs fall short on supporting the entire detoxification process (the above is but a simplified overview of a rather complex process!), and myths abound with what people think a detox program involves!
So in the next and final article in this series, I share the myths and common mistakes people make when it comes to detox programs. Knowing this is key to detoxing safely and effectively.
To your health!
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