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When we hear the word “detox,” we automatically think of substances taken to initiate the process of toxins elimination. For some people the word “detoxification” can trigger negative responses because they know they consume poor quality products, including food and personal care items. These people know that getting out of their comfort and zone to improve health is a challenging process, so they are stuck behind the fear. We all know people who can share their detox story using different methods, including juice detox, fasting, herbal detox and so on.

Detox is a natural process

In reality, our bodies are programmed to detox naturally. We do it 24/7 without even thinking about this automated process. The detoxification, the built-in complex process, is the cleaning system that enables us to remove foreign substances. These are non-nutrient chemical elements that have a negative impact on our health. These are introduced into our bodies through food, personal care items and environment. Additionally, our bodies also produce lots of toxic bi-products as a result of chemical reactions, and these have to be eliminated as well.

At the core of every illness is “Total Toxin Exposure” that has overwhelmed the body’s homodynamic mechanisms. It would be a very difficult task to compile the list of harmful toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis, which have no place in our body. Here are some stats on toxic exposure:

  • Since WWII, between 75,000 to 80,000 new synthetic chemicals have been released into the environment; less than half have been tested for potential toxicity to adult humans.
  • Over 4 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the U.S. This amounts to 8 pounds for every man, woman, and child (EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, 1999)
  • Current law allows 350 different pesticides to be used on the food we eat.
  • The average home contains 3-10 gallons of hazardous materials.
  • 400 synthetic chemicals can be found in the average human body.
  • “Of the roughly 900 pesticide active ingredients registered in the U.S., more than 160 have been classified as known or suspected carcinogens by the U.S. EPA.”

Toxins and their effect on health

Accumulation of toxins is connected with a number of chronic health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetesautoimmune disease, reproductive disease and infertilityneurological diseasesdepression and anxiety, and also ADD/ADHD/Autism. Not only we need to appreciate our natural detoxification ability, we need to make those work at the capacity so we can protect ourselves against multiple health conditions.


The detox process happens, essentially, in two phases called Phase I and Phase II, with the combined purpose of converting the fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble compounds that can then be excreted by the body.


In Phase I, a set of enzymes called cytochrome P450 enzymes (CYPs) are responsible for the oxidative metabolism of the toxins. These enzymes transform the toxins into a water-soluble form that can then be metabolized by the phase II enzymes, and eventually excreted out of the body. CYP enzymes, mainly located in the intestines and the liver, are non-specific and can recognize countless toxins. They are responsible for the majority of phase I drug metabolism reactions. Several other enzymes, including flavin monooxygenases (FMOs), alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenases, and monoamine oxidases (MAOs), also contribute to phase I detoxification when faced with nicotine, alcohol and antidepressant drugs, respectively.


In Phase II reactions, the toxins are conjugated to the water-soluble constituents, which increase their solubility and enhances secretion. Some of the phase II enzymes include UDP-glucuronlytransferases (UGTs), catalyze some drugs and environmental toxins, glutathione-S-transferases (GSTs), and sulfotransferases (SULTs). Each enzyme catalyzes a different type of conjugation reaction. In summary, phase I converts the toxin into a water-soluble compound and phase II helps conjugate the compound, preparing it for excretion.

Ideally, Phase I and Phase II enzymatic processes should function optimally to succeed in eliminating multiple unwanted substances. Sometimes, however, our bodies are not ready to detoxify the toxins. A nutritional deficiency can make the detoxification difficult, because vitamins and minerals act as co-factors in the enzymatic pathways of Phase I and Phase II. In one study, the detoxification of a common toxin, Bisphenol A, was found to be dependent on retinoids (natural derivatives and synthetic equivalents of vitamin A). The enzymatic activity necessary to eliminate BPAs required retinoid storage in the liver, and the extent of the damage from BPA toxicity was affected by retinoid administration and liver stores of vitamin A.

Additionally to nutrient deficiencies, some people have genetic polymorphisms that make detoxification process more challenging or simply an overflow of toxins in the system, rendering it impossible for their bodies to achieve.

Take, for example, Tylenol® popular pain reliever, or specifically its active ingredient, acetaminophen, which is rated as a most common cause of liver toxicity (acetaminophen toxicity) in the U.S. This has been identified as a Phase I/Phase II imbalance. Ideally, most of this drug is detoxified by phase II UGT and SULT enzymes (see above). A small portion of it, however, is first transformed into a toxic metabolite, N-acetyl-p-benzoquinoneimine (NAPQI) by Phase I CYP enzymes, and then conjugated with glutathione using GST during Phase II. In cases of toxic burden, what can happen is that the system gets overwhelmed and the UGT and SULT enzyme activity gets diminished. This forces the drug to undergo the mechanism whereby it first gets converted into NAPQI and then uses glutathione for conjugation. Eventually the glutathione stores get depleted, and the rising levels of NAPQI in the liver cause widespread damage.


To counteract the rising level of NAPQI, glutathione or N-acetyl-cysteine (a precursor to glutathione), is often administered after an Acetaminophen overdose. So much success was found in the administration of NAC to reverse the hepatotoxicity from acetaminophen that NAC is now being used to reverse non-acetaminophen liver failure.

Take away message

Our bodies have natural intelligence and can handle the occasional xenobiotics and other toxins entering the body. However, when much of what we eat, drink and breathe is laced with toxic elements, our bodies need an additional nutritional support to strengthen our natural detoxification pathways.