These days, "detox" has become nearly synonymous with juicing - diet culture would have us believe things like "your liver needs a rest" or that if you just pump it full of fruit and vegetable juice, you're giving it the nutrients it needs to work better. Alternatively, some cynics will say that if you've got a liver, you don't need to do anything else to properly detox. But neither one of these perspectives gets it quite right. Today we'll dig into the truth of detoxing and how to do it optimally, plus what it means for your hormone health, signs you might need some extra liver support, and some basic steps to you can start implementing now to ensure a good foundation for detox.
So what is detox and why do we need it?
Detoxing is the body’s process of converting toxic compounds into less toxic ones, then packaging them up. From there, these packages have to be safely removed from the body via one of your drainage pathways – poop, pee, or sweat. The job of turning those toxic compounds into safer ones and packaging them up belongs to the liver.
This process is especially necessary in today’s world, where we are exposed to toxins from seemingly every angle. These include our food (think pesticides, hormones, heavy metals), prescription and OTC meds, alcohol, nicotine, plastics, household and beauty products, our water, and even the air we breathe. Beyond these external sources, our body also must mitigate the burden of internal chemicals such as excess hormones (estrogen is a biggie) and any pathogens we are harboring (like candida, H. pylori, parasites or bacterial overgrowth).
I love the analogy of a toxin "bucket." Each toxin exposure contributes it's own drops of liquid into our toxin bucket. We can manage a certain level, but when that bucket is overflowing, that's when we run into problems.
Hormone health and your liver
The liver plays a major role in hormone health for two reasons.
First, it keeps hormone levels in check by detoxifying what we don’t need – including sex hormones (like estrogen), cortisol, and thyroid hormones. The issue that I see most is that, due to the overall toxic burden that the liver has to deal with, estrogen does not get properly metabolized and then is recirculated in the body, contributing to higher than optimal levels. Not having a bowel movement daily will cause the same thing, since poop is the ultimate exit for estrogen. Too much estrogen circulating in the body causes symptoms such as heavy periods, tender breasts, moodiness, long periods, and fertility issues.
Another big way the liver plays a role in hormone health is that, if the body has only a limited supply of nutrients, those will all go toward liver detox, and be shunted away from reproduction needs. Remember, reproduction is a function that we don’t NEED to survive, so it is always the body’s last priority. Many of the nutrients needed for liver detox are the same ones needed for good egg health and reproductive function, so it's important to be mindful about nutrient adequacy.
If I have a liver, why should I care about detoxing?
Yes, the liver does a great job at detoxing, but it requires specific nutrients to carry out this function properly. There are 2 phases of liver detox, and each phase is selective about which nutrients it needs in order to carry out it's job.
More about the phases of detox (if you wanna get a little nerdy)
Phase 1 - Enzymes break down toxins and create even more toxic, fat soluble free radicals (read: highly toxic end products). Nutrients needed for this phase include B vitamins, folate, glutathione, and flavonoids.
Phase 2- The highly toxic molecules from phase 1 are joined by larger molecules to produce waste that is less toxic, water soluble, and easier to eliminate. We need amino acids such as glycine, taurine, cysteine, and methionine; as well as magnesium, choline, and glutathione and vitamins A, C, and E to carry this phase out properly.
Interestingly enough, most of the nutrients I just listed are not found in juice :)
Phase 3 is elimination, where the compounds formed in phase 2 leave the body via poop, pee, or sweat.
It’s important to note that there is a strategy for the order in which order to support these phases. We always want to support them from last to first. (this always makes me think of FIFO from accounting lol ) so that we aren’t stirring up a bunch of toxins that then have nowhere to go. We will always want to support the drainage or exit pathways (like pooping) first before getting into phase 2 and then phase 1 liver support. Your body will tell you if you're moving too quickly and need to back up.
Signs that you might need to pay extra attention to elimination first
Not having at least one bowel movement daily
Inability to sweat
Highly sensitive to caffeine or alcohol
Poor tolerance to supplements or a kill protocol
Headache, brain fog, and fatigue
Skin reactions like rashes, eczema, acne
Fluid retention & difficulty losing weight
There is a lot that goes into proper liver detox. Diet, toxin exposure, and genetics all play a role. And then there are certain times that might warrant showing your liver a little extra love.
When might you need extra emphasis on liver support?
Coming off (or long term use of) hormonal birth control
Chronic prescription or OTC med use
Doing any sort of protocol that involves killing
Laying a good foundation to optimize your body's detox capacity involves a few simple steps you can start implementing, some immediately and others over time. I recommend choosing one to focus on at a time, moving along to the next when you're comfortable. These foundational steps include:
Reducing toxins into the body
o Minimize processed foods
o Choose organic/grass-fed meats, diary, and produce when able
o Using glass or stainless steel for food storage/heating and water bottles instead of plastic
o Using a good quality carbon filter for your water
o Cleaning up personal care products & make-up
o Reducing alcohol and nicotine
o Being mindful of prescription & OTC meds
o Choose organic/grass-fed meats, diary, and produce when able
Ensure you're having at least one bowel movement daily
Aim for 80-100 grams of protein daily
Eat the rainbow of fruits & veggies (beets & lemons are especially liver-supportive)
Get at least 25 grams of fiber daily
Tools such as castor oil packs and supportive supplements can be in order once the foundations are in check.
At the end of the day, our liver does A LOT for us, and, like anything that we value, it deserves proper care and nourishment. Cheers to healthy livers!