Can nutrition be used to support the detoxification process that occurs naturally in the body, mainly in the liver? Detoxes and cleanses have been buzzwords for a while now. There are so many variations, and each one is advertised with many health claims and compelling testimonials. The question is: Do they improve skin and digestion, boost the immune system, increase energy, reduce inflammation, or cure diseases? Many times—even when they don’t explicitly say so—they’re code words for a calorie restricted weight loss diet. So what is the true meaning of detoxification, and what are some examples to help you better understand this process?
But, what effect can they really have on your health? How can you use nutrition to support your body’s detoxification (and overall health)?
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification is your body’s own process for breaking down and eliminating toxins. So, the meaning of detoxification simply means cleaning the body through the processes within the body, mainly through the liver.
We are all exposed to toxins every day through food, water, and the air we breathe. Toxins include those naturally found in tiny quantities in foods (e.g., methanol naturally occurs in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables—which are very healthy). There are also synthetic toxins found in medicines, pesticides, and preservatives (e.g., sulfur dioxide is used to preserve some fruits and vegetables).
In fact, the body makes its own toxins through normal everyday processes like digestion, metabolism, and physical activity (e.g., urea which is excreted in the urine).
The good news is that your body does a great job breaking down toxins and eliminating them.
Fun Fact: A toxicant is either a natural toxin or a human-made substance that produces negative effects. A toxin is a natural toxicant produced by living organisms like plants and animals. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the common word toxin, but we’re actually referring to toxicants (which are natural or synthetic). They are meaning the same thing when we discuss detoxification in the body.
Because the world is full of toxins that can affect us, we’ve evolved some sophisticated detoxification systems. Detoxification systems are mainly in the liver, but are also located in the kidneys, gut, etc. They help make toxins less dangerous and allow them to be excreted mostly through urine and feces (and also through breathing and sweating).
Example and Meaning of detoxification in the body Processes
Detoxification is the process by which the body eliminates toxins and harmful substances, allowing optimal health. It is a natural and essential function that takes place in various organs, including the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, and digestive system. Let’s discuss these examples of detoxification more in depth.
The liver plays a crucial role in detoxification, as it filters toxins from the blood and metabolizes them into less harmful substances that can be eliminated from the body. Another example of detoxification is that the kidneys help remove waste products and excess fluids through urine, while the lungs expel toxins through respiration.
The skin also participates in detoxification through sweating, which helps eliminate toxins. Additionally, the digestive system processes toxins and removes waste products through bowel movements.
There are various ways to support the body’s detoxification process, such as adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, sufficient hydration, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and adequate sleep. Additionally, certain foods and herbs, like cruciferous vegetables, garlic, turmeric, and milk thistle, can support the detoxification process.
Also, it’s important to note that the body has its own natural detoxification mechanisms, and there is limited scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of extreme detoxification methods or trendy detox diets. It’s always best to consult with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Remember, the body is a resilient and self-regulating system, capable of effectively detoxifying itself when provided with the necessary support and care.
What does this have to do with nutrition?
These detoxification systems are made from many biochemicals in our bodies, such as enzymes. Part of what makes enzymes work are key essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. So, getting quality nutrition helps your body maintain all aspects of your health—including detoxification.
What are “Detox Diets” and “Cleanses”?
Search the internet and you’ll find thousands of website pages and posts on these topics. There are so many different types of detox diets and cleanses being advertised. Also, many make bold promises of weight loss and improved health.
Detox diets and cleanses often include at least one of the following:
- Eating more nutritious foods.
- Reducing processed foods.
- Avoiding alcohol and/or caffeine.
- Eliminating some common allergens (e.g., wheat or dairy).
- Replacing meals with smoothies, juices, teas, or powders.
- Short or long-term fasting.
- Only eating/drinking a handful of recommended foods/beverages.
- Taking several dietary supplements and/or laxatives.
- Getting “colon cleanses” (enemas).
Some of these recommendations seem reasonable and healthy. It’s hard to argue that eating more nutritious foods or reducing processed foods isn’t a good step towards better health. However, some of the more extreme recommendations can pose a risk to people, including those with underlying health conditions, children, adolescents, athletes, older adults, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
As you can imagine, the more foods you eliminate from your diet, the fewer nutrients you will get. So, one of the risks of extreme diets in the long-term are nutrient deficiencies. Also, as we discussed, it’s counterintuitive to cut out too many foods because there are critical nutrients scientifically proven to be necessary for your body’s natural detoxification enzymes to work efficiently. Nutrition is key.
Another risk with certain detox supplements or teas are serious side effects. You may have heard about cases of unsafe ingredients or contamination that have harmed people.
Research of Evidence to Support Detox Diets?
Overall, there is a lack of good quality research into detox diets and cleanses, as most studies have been done on animals, not people. As Dr. Robert H. Schmerling from Harvard Health says, “It’s not even clear what toxin or toxins a cleanse is supposed to remove, or whether this actually happens.”
There’s no evidence that detoxes or cleanses actually help your body remove more toxins than it normally does. However, a few studies show they can help with initial weight loss, but experts believe that’s due to a reduction in calorie intake. In addition, the weight lost is often water and carbohydrate (not fat), so it’s easily regained as soon as the dieting stops. There are no studies of the long-term effects of detox diets or cleanses.
Some people claim to feel better and more energized when they’re on these diets. This may be because they’re eating more nutritious foods and fewer processed foods high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
Having said this, there may be medical conditions for which eliminating certain foods is recommended. For example, if you have a food allergy or intolerance or if you need to be on a low-fiber diet due to digestive issues, you have a valid reason for eliminating certain foods. Before jumping into a detox diet or cleanse, it’s best to speak with your doctor first.
Nutrition plays a vital role in your body’s ability to naturally detoxify and eliminate toxins. (And you don’t need to follow an overly restrictive or extreme detox diet or cleanse to support them.)
How to use nutrition to support your body’s natural detoxification?
You probably don’t need to eliminate a long list of foods from your diet. In fact, getting enough of your daily nutrients can help ensure your detoxification enzymes have what they need to keep up their ongoing important work.
Here are a few simple detoxification examples you can do every day to “detox” yourself:
- Don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to toxins in the first place. Avoid things like tobacco and alcohol.
- Stay hydrated by drinking enough water (this promotes excretion via urine).
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
- Include a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. These contain compounds that help support detoxification pathways.
- Get enough dietary fiber by eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. By promoting bowel regularity, these help eliminate toxins from the body via the feces.
- Another natural way to support detoxification is through this easy example. Enjoy some naturally fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These promote digestive health and support your gut microbiome.
- Consume lean protein. Protein is needed for many things, including sustaining optimal levels of a “master” detoxification enzyme called glutathione.
- Consult with a nutrition professional to see if you may be lacking in key nutrients. Follow recommendations to eat more or less of a certain food or nutrient, or take high-quality supplements.
Final thoughts on Detoxification Processes by the Liver
Nutrition is a key aspect of detoxification. Your body’s own natural detoxification pathways in the liver, kidneys, etc. include many enzymes that require vitamins and minerals to function properly. By getting enough of your essential vitamins and minerals, you’re supplying your detox enzymes what they need to work. Our bodies are intelligent enough that the detoxification by the liver takes place naturally, meaning it’s not necessary to do a detox diet or cleanses.
The meaning and examples of detoxification diets or cleanses that you see promoted online are usually different. They often oversell their abilities to improve health. There are almost no quality human studies showing benefits, and there are no long-term studies. I recommend speaking with your doctor before starting a detox diet or cleanse. If you are looking to lose weight, consider a nutritious and varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduced portion sizes, and be active every day.
In addition, if you have questions about diets, nutrition, detoxification, or weight loss, consult a nutrition professional who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals. I can help. Here is my link to book a chat about meeting your dietary needs.
Want to know more about how you can get the nutrition your body’s detox pathways need? Looking to lose weight without trying an overly restrictive detox diet or cleanse? Need nutrition support because you have an underlying condition, are an athlete, or are pregnant or breastfeeding? Book an appointment with me to see if my programs and services can help you.
So, Let’s Discuss Detoxification Processes by the Liver
Were you surprised at the examples I provided on how the body naturally performs the detoxification process? Did the meaning of detoxification surprise you, as most people have a different view of how the body detoxes? Share your experiences in the comments below? If you want to support your body through natural detoxification and learn about healthy eating, join the featured nutrition challenge.
You can also connect with me @Eat_Your_Nutrition on Instagram. I love seeing your photos. #EatYourNutrition #LauraVillanueva