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Detoxification of the Body Through Nutrition

By Jannell Baez, MS, RDN, LD/N

detox

Living in modern times provides us with many conveniences and technological advancements which make life easier for humans. On the flip side, the cost of having so many conveniences and human beings on the planet have increased the amount of toxic exposures we encounter on a daily basis.

There is pollution in the air and water.  Our homes may expose us to synthetic chemicals or gases.  We rely on pharmaceuticals and are exposed to chemicals in household and cosmetic products, plasticizers, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, alcohol, heavy metals such as Mercury or even mycotoxins from mold. There are pesticides, synthetic chemicals and genetic modifications in our foods, not to mention the toxic effect of the processed and chemically-laden foods in the standard American diet (SAD). Scientists are starting to link toxic exposures to many chronic illnesses from cancer to fibromyalgia and continue to investigate the role of toxic exposures in other conditions such as autism.

Studies estimate that the average adult carries at least 700 toxins and that a newborn’s body can contain over 200 toxins. These estimates are based on known toxins but our toxic load may be even higher given an average of 1,500 new chemicals are introduced into commerce each year.

Nutrients Needed for Detoxification and Where to Find Them

In order for your body to detoxify medications and toxins, it needs to have proper amounts of certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids. By eating a variety of organic whole unprocessed foods, one can promote these important chemical reactions can efficiently and effectively eliminate toxic substances from our body whether it is alcohol, blood pressure medication or pesticides. 

An example of foods that enhance detoxification pathways are the vegetables in the brassica family such as broccoli, brussels sprouts or asparagus. Their antioxidant and phytochemical content induce detoxification enzymes associated with CYP1A1 and CYP1A2 in the liver. A major contributor to detoxification of your body.

Choose foods listed below to support detoxification and pair with plenty of clean water throughout the day.

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Soybeans, spinach, tempeh, cremini mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, almonds, turkey                                             
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): Tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon, lamb, beef, sardines, brown rice
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6): Tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potato, sunflower seeds, spinach, banana                                               
  • Folic acid: Lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, turnip greens, broccoli
  • Vitamin B12: Choose methylcobalamin for supplemental source, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, beef
  • Glutathione: Undenatured whey protein, asparagus, curcumin, broccoli, avocado, spinach, garlic, foods high in vitamin C (i.e. Citrus fruits) and selenium (i.e. Brazil nuts)
  • BCAAs: BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids which are found in Whey  protein, chicken, fish, eggs
  • Flavonoids: Virtually all plant foods, including apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, tomatoes
  • Phospholipids:  Soy, sunflower seeds, eggs

 Support Your Liver with Good Nutrition

The liver is where most chemicals are processed for them to be eliminated from the body. This process is comprised of 2 phases, Phase I and Phase II.  Most pharmaceuticals and other xenobiotics are detoxified via Phase I by enzymes in the cytochrome P450 system. In this phase the toxin or drug is prepared for elimination by converting it into a molecule that can then continue onto the second phase of detoxification.

Phase II is where toxins are then conjugated or attached to another compound to stabilize it which allows it to be excreted safely via the urine, feces, or sweat.  All of these chemical reactions require sufficient nutrients to work optimally.

Phase I is dependent on adequate B vitamins such as Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and branched-chain amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. After Phase I, the toxins are highly unstable and must undergo conjugation in Phase II. Antioxidants help keep these molecules stable until they are conjugated in Phase II for elimination. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E/tocopherols, selenium, copper, zinc, manganese, CoQ10 and other phytochemicals are necessary to stabilize the intermediate metabolite between phase I and II to continue the detoxification process. Once the metabolite enters Phase II (conjugation), sufficient protein is needed to continue the conjugation process. Amino acids such as glycine, taurine, glutamine, ornithine and arginine are attached to the toxin and made water-soluble for excretion.  It is important to make sure you have adequate protein vitamin and mineral intake for the liver to efficiently detoxify the many toxins we are exposed to.

Practical Tips to Minimize Intake of Toxic Substances

  • Choosing lean meats over fatty animal foods, as pesticides concentrate in fat
  • Buying organically-grown animal products (e.g., meats and dairy)
  • Peeling off the skin or remove the outer layer of leaves of some produce (e.g., lettuce, cabbage)
  • Removing surface pesticide residues, waxes, fungicides, and fertilizers by soaking the food in a mild solution of additive-free soap (pure castile soap or biodegradable cleanser)
  • Cutting away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating food
  • Washing produce before peeling it so dirt and contaminants aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable
  • Consulting the current versions of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” (foods that are high in pesticide residues) and “Clean 15” (foods that are typically low in pesticide residues) lists
  • Avoiding foods that contain preservatives such as BHT, BHA, benzoate, and sulfites; food colorings such as FD&C yellow #5, #6, etc.; or artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame
  • Limiting exposure to canned foods (e.g., meat, fish) and plastic bottles/containers of water and high-acid foods due to the presence of toxins like bisphenol-A and other plasticizers that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine gland function
  • Avoid eating large fish that tend to be high in Mercury such as Tilefish, Swordfish, Shark, Bluefish, Grouper, Mackerel, Chilean Seabass, Orange Roughy and Tuna (Albacore is higher in Mercury than light tuna)
  • Cooking with non-toxic pans, skillets, and pots that aren’t worn or scuffed so as to minimize any release of problematic compounds while cooking
  • Ensuring that drinking and cooking water is filtered
  • Check Environmental Working Group website for “clean” personal hygiene products and cosmetics.

Chemicals not produced by the body that come from the environment are known as xenobiotics. Exposure to chemical substances in our environment is unavoidable in the world we live in today with evidence of environmental chemicals such as glyphosate (a common herbicide) being found in newborn babies. The good news is that the human body is equipped with several detoxification systems that help eliminate xenobiotics. Someone’s ability to detoxify their body is dependent on their environment, lifestyle, and genetic individuality. These detoxification systems require adequate nutrition to support the biochemical processes needed to eliminate waste and toxins. In this article, I will review some basic nutrition strategies to support your body’s natural detoxification systems as well as some lifestyle habits that also help keep the body’s self-cleaning processes humming.

The organs involved in detoxification include the liver, kidneys, large intestine, lymphatic system, and sweat glands. Eating the right foods can support the body’s detox systems by providing the nutrients needed for natural detoxification to occur. Although it is impossible to avoid toxic exposures in modern life, what we choose to eat can influence our ability to get rid of toxins, hormones and chemicals we are exposed to daily.

Our Toxic Burden

Metabolic detoxification is an ongoing process in our bodies. The organs involved in detox are working everyday to eliminate environmental contaminants such as those from toxic bacteria, plasticizers, pollutants, pesticides, heavy metals etc. Exposures usually occur through ingestion of water, foods and air and from times spent at home and at work. Chemicals found in new construction materials, carpet, paint and new furniture can off-gas into the air.

Other sources can include household cleaners, personal hygiene products or cosmetics. Second-hand smoke and auto exhaust are also common exposures. A person’s toxic burden is a result of the amount of toxins they are exposed to, their genetic predisposition to effectively detoxify their body, and whether the person’s diet provides the right amount of nutrients and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) to support the body’s detoxification systems. Take Magnesium as an example. Most Americans are deficient in this mighty mineral, yet it is necessary in liver detoxification of hormones and other chemicals. A review of important dietary components for detox can increase your awareness of what you need to consume to support the detoxification process and empower you to help your body stay resilient amidst the sea of toxins we are exposed to each day.

Start With Clean Water

Purified drinking water is a good place to start when trying to support your body’s natural detoxification systems. Our kidneys help excrete toxins for elimination via the urine and benefit from having plenty of clean water to assist with this process. Consider a reverse osmosis water filter system for your home. These systems have become much more affordable and can be installed under your kitchen sink for drinking and cooking. There are also large systems to provide purified water for your entire home. Drink plenty of water to meet your needs. Calculate 2/3 of your body weight in pounds to find out your daily needs. If you weigh 175 pounds, multiply by 0.67 and you get 117 which is how many ounces of water you should drink daily. Avoid drinking out of plastic bottles or cups when able. Plastics leach chemical plasticizers and other endocrine-disrupting compounds into our bodies so it is best to minimize this by drinking out of glass or a stainless-steel water bottle to reduce exposure.

Do not Underestimate the Importance of Fiber

The typical American does not consume enough dietary fiber. It is recommended to consume at least 35 grams of fiber daily but many foods in the SAD are processed. During processing most of fiber, mineral and vitamins are stripped away leaving us with a food that is incomplete and lacking nutrition. Fiber is important in detoxification because it binds to toxins in the gut and helps excrete them via feces. For example, fiber is involved in estrogen metabolism by helping eliminate excess estrogen via the feces. If there is low fiber intake, estrogens as well as other toxins may be reabsorbed into the system instead of being eliminated therefore increasing the toxic burden of the body. Consume at least 6 cups of fiber rich vegetables, 1 serving fresh fruit and 2 small portions of whole grains daily to meet your fiber needs. Consider a fiber supplement powder as well to assist you in meeting your daily goals.

Can Stress and Negative Thoughts Be Toxic?

We have often been told that we should stay positive when we worry or encounter stressful situations. This is sometimes easier said than done. Studies have shown that our mind can influence our body and our health. When we think about an anxiety provoking situation, it is not unusual to feel it physically in our stomach and gut. If we are worried about a situation at work we may feel changes in appetite or sleep. These are clear indications of how our thoughts can influence us physically. Studies show that pessimism can negatively influence health outcomes. Pessimism appears to have more of an influence than optimism in health and was found to be more predictive of negative health outcomes. Pessimism was also found to be associated with a higher risk of all cause cardiovascular mortality. 

Being aware of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and trying to eradicate them when these thoughts come to mind is the first step in trying to reduce negativity and avoid the impact of these toxic thoughts on the physical body. Another study found that patient-perceived family stress was a risk factor for unfavorable health-related outcomes. So what do we do? Stress is unavoidable however there are ways of managing it. Stress management is different for each person. Some people find that exercising or going for walks in nature helps reduce stress while others enjoy meditation or listening to music. If you have trouble controlling your stress and anxiety on your own, it is sometimes helpful to speak with a therapist or trained healthcare professional to offer you tools for working through life’s challenges.

Be careful when using unhealthy or self-destructive ways to manage stress such as alcohol, drugs, binge eating or unhealthy relationships. These can often lead to a higher stress response and an inability to cope well with one’s stressors. Finding balance in our lives can often help ameliorate stress such as finding time to relax and do something enjoyable with family or friends. Taking a personal day may be just what you need to process emotions related to stress and allowing yourself a day off from the daily stress-inducing grind.

For more information or to request a consultation with Jannell, please use the REQUEST APPOINTMENT form or feel free to contact the office at 1-866-REZILIR.

Jannell Baez, MS, RDN, LD/N (bilingual Spanish/English) has been a practicing Registered Dietitian for over 20 years. She began her career as a clinical dietitian in the hospital setting, eventually specializing in nutrition support for intensive care unit patients. Following this, she practiced as a licensed dietitian in San Juan, Puerto Rico working with endocrinology patients and later assisting in the implementation of a government-sponsored weight loss program for obese children in the San Juan public school system.

Jannell went on to work as a consultant dietitian in 2005 providing nutrition services to patients as well as corporate accounts in the areas of bariatric nutrition, diabetes, weight management, cardiovascular disease, and wellness education. She participated in several clinical drug trials as a research dietitian, testing the efficacy of various weight loss and diabetes medications. For the past several years, Jannell has been pursuing a specialization in functional and integrative nutrition. This practice perspective for nutritional care and lifestyle changes is applied to all of our patients at Rezilir, using food as medicine to promote optimal healing and wellbeing to our patients.

Jannell is passionate about educating our patients and the community about the power of optimal nutrition and its influence on health and healing. Ms. Baez received her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida and a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Florida International University.

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