As I mentioned in my video overview of detoxification, there are loads of different nutrients needed to ensure the detoxification pathway can complete successfully. You see, micronutrients and phytonutrients are cofactors in enzymatic reactions, and without them these enzymes don’t function properly. Oh, wait… that’s probably not clear as a single sentence. So, let me explain further.
Changes or reactions happen in the body when a trigger of some sort, whether external or internal, is encountered. Once triggered, a chain reaction of events occurs and many of these chemical reactions are facilitated by catalysts called enzymes. In order for those enzymes to work, they often need helpers called cofactors.
To illustrate this, let’s say you are going to have a friend over to your house (the change). Your friend arrives and knocks on your door (the trigger). You go to the door (the enzyme) to let her in. Without the doorknob (the cofactor) on the door, it is very difficult for the door to work correctly and for you to achieve the change you want of having your friend in your home for an evening of chatting, laughing and sharing delicious food.
As mentioned in the video, there are several reactions that occur in each detox phase. In addition to the phase 1, 2 and 3 reactions that are typically considered part of detoxification, there are also antioxidant driven reactions that must quench the free radicals produced during the detoxification process. And once all of these reactions are complete, the newly benign substances must be carried out of the body in your feces or urine (i.e, elimination).
Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are the doorknobs (or peepholes or deadbolts or doorstops, depending on their purpose) that allow enzymes in your body to function properly. From the calcium needed for muscle contraction to the pantothenic acid needed for neurotransmitter creation, these tiny nutrients are required for pretty much every chemical reaction that occurs in your body.
As well, protein, or more accurately amino acids, are sometimes one of the substrates (the substance on which the enzyme acts) in the detox reactions. Especially in phase 2, amino acids are often conjugated (joined) with the metabolite that came out of phase 1 to create a truly inert substance that can be excreted from the body, as shown here:
This is why part of efficient detoxification is ensuring you have all of the nutrients necessary to complete the dozen or so reactions required to turn toxins into inert substances that can be eliminated from the body. Without them, your body simply cannot do what it needs to do to keep you healthy and thriving.
Okay, now that you understand why these nutrients are crucial to successful detox, here are the nutrients needed for each of the steps of detoxification. (If the following information is too much, just skip to the bottom where I give you the executive summary.)
Note: some of the links are to supplements; please read the end of the post for info about why I am linking them.
Detox phase 1 is carried out by cytochrome P450 enzymes and includes dehalogenation, hydrolysis, hydration, oxidation and reduction reactions. The nutrients needed for these reactions are:
- Vitamins: (Here is an active B complex supplement that I like, if a supplement is recommended.)
- Riboflavin (aka, B2)
- Niacin (aka, B3)
- B6 (aka, pyridoxine)
- Folic acid (aka, B9)
- Glutathione (comes from the amino acids glycine, glutamine and cysteine or N-acetyl cysteine)
- Branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine)
- Flavonoids (from each of the families: flavonols, flavan-3-ols, flavones, flavanones and anthocyanidins)
Detox phase 2 is done via conjugation pathways meaning that the substance that came out of phase 1 (the intermediate metabolite) needs to be hooked onto another substance in order for it to be completely inert (as shown in the above diagram). These reactions include acetylation, amino acid conjugation, glucuronidation, glutathionation, methylation and sulfation. The nutrients needed for these phase 2 reactions are:
- Amino acids:
- Pantothenic acid (aka, vitamin B5)
- Choline (and its derivative betaine)
- Folic acid
- Carnosol (from rosemary)
- Curcuminoids (from turmeric)
- Sulfur containing compounds from the onion and cruciferous vegetable families
- Essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA and ALA)
- Other nutrients:
The information about detox phase 3 isn’t clear, if I’m being honest, but there appears to be an additional reaction that occurs. Some people describe phase 3 as further metabolism of glutathione conjugates from the output of phase 2 reactions. Other people say that phase 3 occurs directly in the intestine by joining a toxic substance to glutathione so that the toxic substance isn’t ever absorbed into the bloodstream. Either way, the outcome of phase 3 is to make the substance excretable. (I’m actually not sure if that’s a word! Hopefully, you know what I mean!)
As far as I am aware, there are no specific nutrients required for phase 3 detoxification beyond glutathione, which is needed for phases 1 and 2.
Antioxidant reactions ensure that free radicals (aka, reactive oxygen species, ROS) are re-balanced by receiving an electron. The nutrients that are needed to protect the body from the intermediate metabolites and free radicals that come out of phase 1 are:
- Vitamins: A (as carotenoids), C, E
- Minerals: copper, manganese, selenium, zinc
For more information on antioxidants and food sources for many of the above, check out this blog post.
Nutrients that Help with Elimination
The final step of detoxification is carrying the toxic substance or the detoxified benign substance out of the body. These nutrients can act in the body to help the liver or the kidneys eliminate the substance or they can work in the intestines to carry the offender out of the intestines during a bowel movement. These nutrients include:
- Dietary fat
- Cilantro, chlorella and other dark leafy green vegetables for the chlorophyll
- Alginate from seaweed
- Burdock root
I realize that is a long list of nutrients needed for your detox pathways to work. And it may seem like you need to do a ton of planning to be sure you are getting all of them. But before you try to figure out specific foods that contain each of the nutrients, consider that, as long as you are eating a wide variety of whole foods and following my basic rules for healthy eating, you may get all of the nutrients that you need.
Now, I say “may” because it is possible you (like me) have a genetic susceptibility to inefficient detox pathways or have been exposed to a high number of toxins that are hanging out in your body. In these situations, people often benefit from targeted eating habits to ensure certain foods are being included on a regular basis or a supplement regimen that can help move toxins out of the body quickly and efficiently. (Some of the supplements that I have used and recommend are linked above to identify some nutrients that are beneficial to supplement in some situations.)
If you want to know which supplements I keep in my rotation to help me detox, check out my video. If you are interested in doing a cleanse or a detox, but aren’t sure what to do, join one of my group programs. Or if you are interested in a personalized approach to detoxing, contact me to talk about how I can help you one-on-one.
If you want to order from my list of trusted supplements and support my business (i.e., I get a small commission if you order from me) use the Nutrition QED – Supplement Ordering Instructions – NP Script and this link which will take you to the partner that I have chosen for order fulfillment. As always, consult with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement
— Axe J. What is Betaine? Benefits, Signs of Deficiency and Food Sources. Accessed on May 31, 2016.
— Hyman M. How to rid your body of heavy metals: A 3-step detoxification plan. May 19, 2010. Accessed May 31, 2016.
— Institute for Functional Medicine. Managing Biotransformation:The Metabolic, Genomic, and Detoxification Balance Points. 13th International Symposium of The Institute for Functional Medicine. 2006.
— Mercola J. Chlorella: This single cell plant actually expels mercury from your body. In Health. July 3, 2010. Accessed on May 31, 2016.
— Minich D. Presentation: Toxins and Detoxification. In Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy, Track 2. Presented February 16, 2016.
— Linus Pauling Institute. L-carnitine. In Micronutrient Information Center. Reviewed in April 2012. Accessed on May 31, 2016.
— Pierini C. A health-destroying toxin we can’t avoid and must detoxify. In Digestive Health. Accessed on May 31, 2016.