Enhancing your body’s detox support is something that can be beneficial all year round—not just as a short-term new year’s resolution! You probably do not realize it but you are exposed to heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, molds, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) regularly in the environment, drinking water, foods, and cosmetics. They are pretty much impossible to escape!

The escalating rates of environmental pollutants are contributing to an increase in diseases such as neurocognitive disorders, inflammation, gut dysfunction, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. A new study published in March 2019 showed that air pollution is killing more people every year than smoking. The researchers estimated that air pollution was associated with 8.8 million extra deaths in 2015, compared to approximately 7 million deaths that are associated with smoking each year.[1] I also explained in a recent article that exposure to heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic can be detrimental to a person’s health.[2]

Until there are more regulations in place that protect from these toxins, it’s important to understand how you can enhance your body’s own detoxification system. Here’s the best news: research shows that nutrition can act as a modulator which can decrease risk of health issues that are associated with environmental pollutants.[3] How cool is that!? In this article, we will review the top nutrients that help to protect against environmental pollutants by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, and supporting your liver.

As I mentioned in a previous detox article, your body detoxes naturally through the liver, with support from the gut and kidneys.[4] Many people just need that extra support. The natural detoxification process involves two phases which help to break down toxins into a form that can be eliminated from the body. In phase one, toxins that are fat-soluble, meaning they can be stored in the body’s fat tissue, are converted into substances that make them slightly more water soluble. The next step is phase two. This step involves further converting these molecules into water soluble toxins. This is key because it allows for molecules to be removed from the body through the urine, sweat, and stool.

Most heavy metals and toxins are stored in your fat tissue, hence why they are labeled as ‘fat-soluble’. When these toxins are released from the fat tissue, they undergo a series of complex reactions to turn into molecules that are more water soluble. The complex reactions necessary to convert the solubility of the toxin molecules are very heavily supported by a number of nutrients, namely B vitamins, glutathione, branched-chain amino acids, flavonoids, and phospholipids. These toxins must become more water soluble in order for them to be removed from the body. However, once the toxins have been processed into intermediary metabolites that are more water soluble, they can actually become more toxic if you do not have adequate nutrients onboard. These metabolites can act as free radicals that travel more freely and cause damage to the cells with which they interact.[6] This is why antioxidant rich foods in the diet are so beneficial.

Once the toxins have been converted into metabolites, they undergo another series of complex reactions to be converted into fully water-soluble components that can be removed through urine, feces, and sweat. Phase two should go swiftly to reduce any issues, because a buildup of metabolites can cause damage to the cells in the liver. Mainly, the nutrients that are used to facilitate this are amino acids such as glycine, taurine, glutamine, n-acetylcysteine, cysteine, and menthionine.[7] 

Before diving into the nutrients that support detoxification, it is important to note the master antioxidant that is produced by your body: glutathione. Glutathione is made of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. It gets this reputation of being the master antioxidant from its ability to defend against free radicals and regenerate in the liver. Furthermore, it helps to bind with toxins before they are excreted to ensure that they are not reabsorbed.[8] This antioxidant is not one that you get from food, though its production in your body is greatly supported by what you eat. Thus, many of the foods below play an important role in detoxification because of their ability to support glutathione production. See below for the best nutrients that support detoxification.

 

Amino Acids

It is crucial that you consume enough protein to keep your detox system running optimally: think small servings of protein rich foods that are spread out to 3-5 times per day. Protein is made up of 20 different building blocks called amino acids, 9 of which you can only get from food. These nutrients play a critical role in phase two of detoxification by binding to toxins in the liver so they can be carried out of the body and by supporting methylation which in turn supports the production of glutathione.[9] Methylation—the process of adding a methyl group of carbon and hydrogen atoms to another molecule—supports cell repair and is a crucial step in producing glutathione. The amino acid methionine specifically plays a large role in methylation.

You can get methionine in foods such as eggs, chicken, fish and beef. Some people may benefit from additional supplementation, up to 3 grams. Finally, N-Acetyl Cysteine is heavily involved in glutathione synthesis so supplementing with 3-4g/day may be beneficial.

 

Sulfur containing vegetables for Glutathione

There are so many benefits to consuming sulfur-rich vegetables! First, they help the body produce more glutathione, that amazing antioxidant. These vegetables contain glucosinolates which are required for the synthesis of glutathione. Second, they contain plenty of fiber which plays a large part in the excretion of toxins from phase two. Finally, they contain powerful antioxidants that are able to protect cells against the oxidative damage of the free radicals produced after phase one.

The best food sources of sulfur are green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, and broccoli sprouts.[10]

 

B Vitamins

B vitamins facilitate methylation which, as mentioned above, is crucial for glutathione production. It is estimated that around 40% of people have a genetic mutation that prevents them from converting specific B vitamins into the usable form that is needed for methylation. Many cannot efficiently convert folate to the active form and cannot fully utilize vitamin B12.[11] Some people may need additional supplementation with folate and vitamin B12 to ensure that the body has enough.

 

Magnesium

Magnesium plays a large role in the synthesis of glutathione and thus supports phase two detox. In a study on children who supplemented with magnesium, those in the supplement group were shown to have much higher levels of glutathione and the magnesium was thus shown to have antioxidant properties.[12] Furthermore, supplementing with magnesium citrate can help produce bowel movements for those that have a tendency of constipation. Without proper elimination, everything from phase two detox remains in the body!

 

Selenium

Selenium is directly involved in carrying toxins out of the body. It has an affinity for binding to both cell receptor sites and to toxic metals. What this means is that selenium can both prevent heavy metals from entering cells and can help the body remove them by binding to them and preventing their reuptake. Selenium furthermore can incorporate itself into proteins to produce selenoprotein enzymes that act as antioxidants to counteract the chemical carcinogens of toxins. Finally, it facilitates the attachment of glutathione on damaged areas of DNA, helping it carry out its antioxidant capabilities.[13]

Brazil nuts are a super source of selenium, providing more than the daily selenium recommendation in just two brazil nuts. Start your morning off with 2 brazil nuts to ensure you are getting enough selenium. Other sources include chicken, sardines, wild salmon, shrimp, brown rice, and sunflower seeds.

 

Fiber

Fiber’s main role in detoxification is to cleanse the body of toxins. Fiber binds to these toxins and accompanies them as they are carried out of the body. Fiber is crucial in stage two because the more water-soluble the toxins are, the greater the chance there is of them being reabsorbed.[14] Finally, getting adequate fiber will help in having proper bowel movements. The time that feces stays in the colon gives the body more time to reabsorb toxins that you have worked so hard to eliminate, so making sure you are going at least once per day will prevent this reabsorption. You should aim to get 30-40 grams of fiber to ensure that your body does not reabsorb the toxins that you have tried so hard to expel. If you focus on eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds and legumes, you should be able to meet this goal.

 

Antioxidants (vitamin c and lipoic acid)

As discussed above, antioxidants prevent toxins from contributing oxidative damage to your tissues. Though glutathione is the “master antioxidant,” a few others can also help prevent the damage that is possible through the intermediary metabolites and water-soluble toxins. Both vitamin C and lipoic acid reduce the oxidative damage created by these toxins. Vitamin C helps to neutralize the oxidizing properties of free radicals and also helps the liver process different toxins. Lipoic acid is itself an antioxidant and also regenerates other antioxidants, doubling its properties as an antioxidant. It is a powerful metal chelator, binding to clear them from the body.[15] To maximize the benefits of both of these antioxidants you may want to take a vitamin C and lipoic acid supplement.

While the above nutrients are essential in proper detoxification, there are some additional activities that may support your detoxification. First, sweating through either sauna or exercise can speed the release of certain toxins, making sure that your body does not reabsorb them after they have been turned into water soluble molecules. Dr. Rhonda Patrick[16] recently linked to a 2011 study that found that heavy metals are excreted more prominently through sweat compared to —which makes a case for saunas, exercise, and hot yoga![17] 

In the same vein, be sure to drink enough liquids to make your urine clear. This intake will also ensure that more toxins are not reabsorbed by your body. Finally, pay attention to your bowel movements! Be mindful of when you need to up the fiber or magnesium citrate supplements (this would be if you aren’t having a bowel movement daily). By focusing on the nutrients above, you can ensure that your detoxification will go as smooth as possible.

Jamie Foti Contributed to this Article.

 

[1] https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/eurheartj/ehz135/5372326?redirectedFrom=fulltext

[2] https://beingbrigid.com/fruit-juice-added-to-the-list-of-foods-that-contain-concerning-levels-of-lead-arsenic-other-heavy-metals/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270432/

[4] https://beingbrigid.com/should-your-new-year-include-a-detox-diet-what-the-science-says/

[5] Pizzorno, J, Katzinger, J. 2012. Advanced Detoxification Support. Clinical Pathophysiology a Functional Perspective. 2012

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1749210

[7] Pizzorno, J, Katzinger, J. 2012. Advanced Detoxification Support. Clinical Pathophysiology a Functional Perspective. 2012 

[8] https://drhyman.com/blog/2010/05/19/glutathione-the-mother-of-all-antioxidants/

[9] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/why-you-need-protein-on-a-detox

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488002/

[11] https://drwillcole.com/the-definitive-functional-medicine-guide-to-methylation/

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18516713

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1304229

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654245/

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654245/

[16] https://www.instagram.com/foundmyfitness/

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21057782