Enzymes in your body use many of the minerals, vitamins, and other phytochemicals to catalyze chemical reactions inside your cells. In interdependent series of such reactions, called metabolic pathways, particular chemicals are modified, either by breaking them down or synthesizing them into new molecules. Your body uses metabolic pathways to maintain homeostatic balance.
Toxins are poisonous compounds produced by living organisms. Man-made chemical compounds with toxic potential are more properly called toxicants. Toxins and toxicants can hurt your health in several ways. Some cause DNA damage or mutations, which can lead to cancer; others can disrupt specific metabolic pathways, which can cause your body’s systems, such as your nervous system, liver, or kidneys, to function poorly.
Detoxification is the metabolic process of removing unwanted compounds from your body. These “unwanted” compounds can be created by your own body (such as excess hormones) or they can be foreign (such as an environmental toxicants). While your liver is your predominant detoxifying organ, detoxification reactions occur throughout your body.
Detoxification reactions follow three steps or “phases” that convert toxins into inert, water-soluble forms for excretion:
- Phase I reactions transform the toxin into a chemical form that can be metabolized by the phase II enzymes.
- Phase II reactions conjugate (attach) the toxins to water-soluble substances to increase their solubility. Each of the different types of phase II enzymes catalyzes a different type of conjugation reaction.
- Phase III detoxification involves the transport of the transformed, conjugated toxin into or out of cells. Different phase III transport proteins work in concert to shuttle toxins from different parts of the body into bile or urine for excretion.
The products of phase I metabolism are potentially more toxic than the original molecules, which does not present a problem if the phase II enzymes are functioning at a rate to rapidly neutralize the phase I products as they are formed. This, however, is not always the case. Factors that increase the ratio of phase I to phase II activity can upset this delicate balance, producing harmful metabolites faster than they can be detoxified, and increasing the risk of cellular damage, including:
- Diet (too much protein, and some foods and supplements increase phase I enzyme activity)
- Smoking and alcohol consumption (both induce phase I)
- Age (which can decrease phase II activity)
- Sex (premenopausal women show 30-40% more phase I activity than men or postmenopausal women)
Following detoxification reactions, the toxins are removed from the body by excretion:
- Products of liver detoxification are often secreted in bile into the intestines, where they are excreted, but your liver can sometimes transport toxins into your bloodstream for processing by your kidneys.
- The cells that line your intestines can process toxins as they are absorbed, and release them back into your intestines for excretion.
- Your kidneys can filter and further process toxins from your blood, excreting them from the body as urine.
The foods you eat can affect the detoxification process.
Several nutrients affect phase I processes:
- Protein-deficient, high-carbohydrate diets can decrease the activity of a major phase I enzyme, while high protein, low-carbohydrate diets increase it. Sulphoraphane, found in broccoli sprouts, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, collards, Chinese broccoli, rapini, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, and watercress, also decreases this major phase I enzyme. Remember, reducing phase I activity is not necessarily a bad thing, as phase I detoxification activities can produce worse toxins than they transform.
- Deficiencies in vitamins A, B2, B3, folate, C, E, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium, selenium all decrease the activities of one or more phase I enzymes.
- The quercetin derivatives isoquercetin and rutin, found in apples, onions, horse chestnut, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s Wort, uva ursi, licorice, fennel, rooibos, hops, and mulberry, increase intestinal and liver phase I enzymes; while quercetin itself has no effect on them.
- Some flavonoids that mildly inhibit phase I enzymes include genistein, diadzein, and equol from soy, and theaflavins from black tea.
Some nutrients affect both phases I and II:
- Flavonoids lower the activity of a major phase I enzyme, and increase several phase II enzyme activities, while inhibiting another. Naringenin (the principle flavonoid in grapefruit) also inhibits a major phase I enzyme, which is why doctors recommend that you avoid grapefruit when taking certain prescription drugs.
- Green tea extracts and the quercetin derivatives isoquercetin and rutin are an exception to most other flavonoids; green tea tannins can increase phase I enzyme activity and also increase phase II activity.
- Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), metabolized from a substance called glucobrassicin, found in chopped raw or lightly steamed cruciferous vegetables, including watercress, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, horseradish, kale, turnip, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, and cauliflower, are strong inducers of many phase I and II enzymes, and are among the most well studied phytochemicals for detoxification, as well as cancer prevention.
- D-limonene (from citrus oil) may have anticancer activity, partly due to the induction of phase I and phase II enzymes.
- Allyl sulfides from garlic stimulate both phase I and phase II enzyme activity.
- Chlorophyllin, found in green leafy vegetables, is a chlorophyll derivative that inhibits phase I activity, and stimulates phase II activity. The unique chemical structures of chlorophyllin and chlorophyll enable them to bind and “trap” toxins, including environmental carcinogens, in your digestive tract, preventing their absorption and accelerating their excretion.
Phase II enzymes require many essential nutrients, especially B vitamins, as cofactors:
- Indoles such as indole-3-carbinol (I3C), metabolized from a substance called glucobrassicin, found in chopped raw or lightly steamed cruciferous vegetables, including watercress, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, horseradish, kale, turnip, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, and cauliflower, are among the most potent natural inducers of phase II detoxification enzymes.
- Isothiocyanates, found in green tea, grapes, wine, berries, citrus fruits, apples, whole grains, and peanuts, are also hydrolyzed from glucosinolates, metabolized from sulfur-containing chemicals in cruciferous vegetables such as raw or lightly steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Isothiocyanates derived from glucosinolates are reactive sulfur compounds with potent chemopreventive properties; the most notable isothiocyanate is sulforaphane, found in broccoli sprouts, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, collards, Chinese broccoli, rapini, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, and watercress, because it exhibits strong anti-cancer and antimicrobial properties.
- Some phase II activities depend on adequate intake of sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine or cysteine), vitamin B6 for the conversion of methionine to cysteine, as well vitamins B2 and B3.
- Some phase II reactions depend on folate and vitamin B12; others depend on vitamin B5, using enzymes that themselves depend on multiple B vitamins.
- Several phase II reactions require the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and these ATP-mediated reactions require magnesium.
- Many phytochemicals with chemopreventative and antioxidant abilities also activate an essential phase II protein and directly increase the activity of phase II enzymes. These include:
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), found in green tea
- Resveratrol, found in grape skins, red wine, peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries
- Curcumin, found in turmeric, and its metabolite tetrahydrocurcumin, which has greater phase II activity
- Cinnamaldehyde, found in cinnamon
- Caffeic acid phenyethyl ester, found in a variety of plants
- Alpha lipoic acid, found in spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- Alpha tocopherol (vitamin E), found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach, broccoli, kiwifruit, mangoes,and tomatoes
- Lycopene, found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava, and persimmons
- Chlorogenic acid and phloridzin, polyphenols found in apples
- Gingko biloba
- Chalcones, found in apples
- Capsaicin, found in hot chile peppers
- Hydroxytyrosol from olives
- Allyl sulfides from garlic
- Chlorophyllin,found in green leafy vegetables
- Xanthohumols, from hops
- Compounds from the Japanese horseradish Wasabi japonica
- Benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC) from cruciferous vegetables
- Calcium D-glucarate is found in many fruits and vegetables, and can be produced in small amounts in humans. When activated in your intestines, it inhibits beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme produced by colonic bacteria and intestinal cells. In your intestines, beta-glucuronidase removes (deconjugates) glucuronic acid from neutralized toxins. Deconjugation reverts the toxins to their previous dangerous form, and allows them to be reabsorbed. Elevated beta-glucuronidase activity has been associated with increased cancer risk.
- Certain strains of probiotic bacteria may minimize toxin exposure by trapping and metabolizing foreign toxins or heavy metals. Examples include the detoxification of aflatoxin and patulin (two toxins produced by Aspergillus, a type of mold) and the binding of lead and cadmium. Additionally, the production of the short chain fatty acid butyrate by lactic acid bacteria (from the fermentation of dietary fiber) stimulates phase II enzyme production, which may also contribute to some of the anticarcinogenic properties of dietary fiber.
- Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), the most well-researched plant in the treatment of liver disease, contains a mixture of several related polyphenolic compounds called silymarin. Silymarin promotes detoxification by several complementary mechanisms. The antioxidant capacity of silymarin can lower the liver oxidative stress associated with toxin metabolism, particularly lipid peroxidation, which has the effect of conserving cellular glutathione levels. Silymarin can protect against acetaminophen toxicity (possibly by preserving glutathione levels).
Phase III transporters, while important for removing toxins from healthy cells, can also decrease the effectiveness of drugs by increasing their clearance. This can be especially problematic with chemotherapy drugs, to which phase III transporters enable cancer cells to become resistant. Therefore, stimulation of phase III activity may not always be desirable. Dietary factors can have differing effects on phase III transporters:
- Apple polyphenols and sulforaphane (at levels equivalent to about two servings of broccoli) both stimulate the activity of the phase III proteins.
- The curcumin metabolite tetrahydrocurcumin (from turmeric) decreases the activity of the phase III transporters in human cervical carcinoma and breast cancer cell lines.
- Resveratrol, found in grape skins, red wine, peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries, decreases phase III protein synthesis which may prevent certain leukemia cells from becoming resistant to chemotherapy.
- Silibinin, the chief constituent of milk thistle, is also a phase III inhibitor.
As a major carrier of toxins from the body, proper bile flow is a critical final step in the metabolic detoxification process. Impairment of bile flow (cholestasis), resulting from dysfunction within the liver or blockage of the bile duct, can result in the buildup of liver toxins and liver injury. Cholestasis can also be the result of the detoxification process itself; there is increasing evidence that the detoxification and excretion of drugs into the bile can produce cholestatic liver disease.
- Artichokes have been used for centuries in folk medicine as a liver protectant and to stimulate bile flow (choleresis), and is the best-studied herbal choleretic agent. Artichokes contain several antioxidants that can protect against oxidative liver damage, as well as caffeoylquinic acids, which stimulate bile flow.
- Caffeoylquinic acids may also be responsible for the choleretic properities (increasing the volume bile and solids secreted from your liver) of yarrow, fennel, and dandelion.
- Andrographis, garlic, cumin, ginger, ajowan (carom seed), and curry and mustard leaf also stimulate bile flow or bile acid production.
To help eliminate toxins from your body, you should also lighten up your toxin load. Eliminate cigarettes, refined sugars, animal products, and saturated fats, all of which act as toxins in the body and are obstacles to your healing process. Limit your coffee intake to 7 ounces or less per day. If you use alcohol, limit your intake to one small glass (150 ml) of organic red wine per day. If you don’t use alcohol, don’t start. Also, avoid using chemical-based household cleaners and personal health care products (cleansers, shampoos, deodorants and toothpastes), and substitute natural alternatives.
Another deterrent to good health is stress, which triggers your body to release stress hormones into your system. While these hormones can provide the “adrenaline rush” to win a race or meet a deadline, in large amounts they create toxins and slow down detoxification enzymes in the liver. So it’s a good idea to detox stressful life situations along with detoxifying your body. Yoga, massage, and meditation are simple and effective ways to relieve stress by resetting your physical and mental reactions to the inevitable stress life will bring.
You can help cleanse your body daily through diet, supplements and lifestyle practices.
- Eat plenty of fiber, including brown rice and organically-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Beets, radishes, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, and sea vegetables are excellent detoxifying foods.
- Drink at least two quarts of water daily.
- Get plenty of vitamin C, which helps your body produce glutathione, a liver compound that drives away toxins.
- Exercise to allow oxygen to circulate more completely through your system and eliminate wastes through perspiration.
- Transform stress by practicing gratitude, yoga, meditation, and massage.
- Cleanse and protect your liver with herbs such as milk thistle, and by drinking green tea.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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