This idea of erasing all of our bodily sins in a couple of days is mighty appealing, but is it actually possible? Before you lay down your credit card for that beautifully packaged “miracle cleanse,” we’ll explain the scientific facts and let you decide for yourself.
The Organs Of Detoxification
When talking detox, people typically think about the liver, which is the body's primary organ of detoxification. But, our bodies are designed to detox via multiple pathways, including the skin, the kidneys, and the colon, says Russell Jaffe, MD, PhD. The skin, the body’s largest organ of detoxification, absorbs the toxins you put on it and eliminates them through sweat. Your kidneys filter your blood and excrete toxins through your urine, and the colon is the “end of the line” where the toxins that are metabolized within the body are packaged up with fiber and sent out in the form of waste #2.
If the "exit doors" are blocked, such as when you’re constipated, there’s nowhere for the toxins to go but back inside, says Dr. Jaffe. This is why, with any attempt at detoxification, you need to make sure you’re getting the fiber and water needed to flush out your system.
“Detoxification is a nutrient-dependent process,” says Alisa Vitti, founder of FLO Living and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. “Detoxing the wrong way can actually wind up doing more harm than good,” she says, pointing out that many of the popular juice-based or starvation-geared “cleanses” lack the nutrients required to carry out the three-phase process detoxification requires.
Phases I, II, And III Of Detoxification
The liver screens every molecule that circulates in our bodies and transforms the toxic ones into harmless, biodegradable substances in Phase I of detox, says Dr. Jaffe. According to Vitti, even “good” molecules like hormones are constantly being broken down in the liver. She notes that if you’re struggling with issues like infertility, acne, bloating, breast tenderness, low sex drive, or feeling “stuffed," it could be because you are – stuffed, that is, with hormones that aren’t being properly recycled or eliminated.
Some of these compounds can go straight to Phase III for elimination, while others require a second breakdown: Phase II. In Phase II, Dr. Jaffe explains, intermediate compounds are bound to molecules like glutathione, glycine, and sulfate, creating nontoxic substances that can be eliminated. During Phase II, free radicals (those bad, cancer-causing things we always hear about) are also produced as a byproduct. But, they can be neutralized if you’re eating healthy levels of antioxidants.
All the elements mentioned above – enzymes, glutathione, glycine, sulfate, antioxidants – enable detoxification and come from food. “Two of the biggest misconceptions about detoxing are: one, you have to starve yourself; and two, you have do it once or twice a year,” says Vitti. In reality, science shows you need to eat in order to detox — and you can, and should, be doing that every day.
According to both experts we interviewed, there are certain nutrients that facilitate Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III of detox — and we need to eat them all in order to make sure the process runs smoothly. If you eat too many foods that speed up Phase I but lack the nutrients for Phase II, then you're in trouble. The same goes for folks who are exposed to environmental toxins, cigarette smoke, and alcohol. Why? Toxins from Phase I can get backed up in your system if Phase II can’t keep up.
The key nutrients required for Phase I are: folate, Calcium, and vitamins B3, B6, B12, A, C, and E. The best sources of these are fruits, veggies, soaked whole grains, and — interestingly enough — organ meat. The latter delivers, ounce for ounce, the highest concentrations of some of these nutrients — especially folate and vitamins A, B12, B6, and E.
Detoxing also requires sulfur and selenium, which Vitti recommends getting from a couple of double-duty proteins: eggs (for sulfur) and fish (for selenium). Brazil nuts are also a good source of selenium, while sulfur is highest in raw garlic, onions, and cruciferous veggies (such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), says Dr. Jaffe.
So, organ meats, eggs, and raw garlic – not exactly the foods you might think of when it comes to “cleansing.” But, when you get down to the science of detox, these are the foods that do the job. They may not come in fancy packaging, but you can find them nearly anywhere, and the only "food processor" they require is you.