By Tereza Hubkova, M.D.
Oxidative stress is made worse by exposure to environmental toxins. That is why it is not only a good idea to minimize toxic molecules, antibiotics and hormones in your diet (by eating mostly organic, antibiotic free and hormone free food), but also to maximize your body’s ability to rid itself of the toxins that have already made their way into your system. This process consists of detoxification and elimination.
We all have the ability to get rid of toxins in our body. That includes both the toxins our bodies’ produce (our own waste products) as well as the toxins that we ingested, breathed, or applied to our skin. Without this bodily ability we would all be poisoned very quickly.
To get rid of toxins, our body needs to repackage them (neutralize them) and prepare them for disposal. Most of these processes happen in our liver, the actual disposal then happens through our kidneys and intestines (as well as our lungs and skin, to lesser degrees).
Everyone has differing abilities to detoxify. Some of us are lucky—we inherited great detoxification genes—some of us did not. That’s why some people get away with smoking, drinking in-excess, and living next to a factory, without ever worrying about organic food, while others may get sick merely from the smell of fresh paint. And while some have a great ability to detoxify, they still can be overwhelmed by the shear amount of toxins exposed to.
Some signs of excess toxins in our body and poor detoxification are: fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headaches, insomnia or sleepiness, etc. Unless we really try to minimize toxic exposure and maximize detoxification, we are increasing and accumulating our oxidative stress— thereby aging quicker.
Toxins have been suspects in many neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, obesity, diabetes, and even osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.
Liver detoxification happens in two phases, both equally important. Phase one changes many of the toxins into so called intermediary metabolites, which then get attached to other compounds in phase two—making them ready to be excreted out of the body. Phase one could be compared to bagging your household garbage into your trash cans; phase two is analogous to taking the trash out of your home.
If either phase isn't working well, you won’t be happy. The garbage men need to come pick it up. That is your elimination (regular bowel movement, good kidney function). Without that your garbage would accumulate on the curb, attracting all kinds of insect and rodents that could bring diseases back to your house. Simply put, we need both phases of detoxification and elimination to work in harmony.
All the waste and toxins that our body produces, that we are exposed in our environment, that we inhale with the air we breathe, drink with our water and other beverages, or ingest with our food, all eventually pass through our livers. Within your liver is where these toxins are repackaged (neutralized) and prepared for disposal (via kidneys and intestines). This process involves two stages (phases), which both have to work efficiently in order for us to be able to get rid of toxins.
Phase I changes many of the toxins into so called intermediary molecules, which then go through phase II which attaches them to other compounds that help them to get excreted out of the body. The phase I could be compared to bagging your household garbage into your trash cans, phase II is getting the trash outside of your house on the curb, where it will be picked up and removed by garbage men.
If either phase doesn't work well, you won’t be happy. If phase I doesn't work, it is as if you didn't have enough plastic bags for your trash and rotting food and trash would be scattered around your house. If phase one works, and you have enough plastic bags for your garbage, but phase II doesn't, if would be as if nobody took the full trash bags out of the house. The food would keep sitting in your house, smelling and causing discomfort and eventually disease. If both phases work, your trash gets packed in plastic bags, it gets taken to the curb, but something else still needs to happen. The garbage men need to come pick it up. That is your elimination (regular bowel movement, good kidney function). Without that your garbage would accumulate on the curb, attracting all kinds of insect and rodents that could bring diseases back to your house.
So what are some of the foods that help with balanced detoxification?
Onions and garlic, leeks, cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, watercress, rutabaga, etc.), citrus fruits, green tea, curcumin, many amino acids such as glycine, glutamine, methionine, cysteine, etc.
Fiber helps as well because it stimulates elimination. Ideally, you want to have one or two bowel movements a day. Fiber also helps to regulate your blood sugar. Beneficial probiotic bacteria from fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso will (in addition to the beneficial effects on your digestion and immune system) help to protect the integrity of your intestinal lining (thus minimizing absorption of toxins).
Finally, even the way you wrap, store and cook you food affects the amount of chemicals that can get into your body. We have dedicated a chapter to healthy storage and cookware as well.
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