The Detoxification Process

by Savvas Ioannides N.D.

Parties, drinking the extra glass of wine, eating rich and fatty foods and foods that aren’t that healthy, sleeping less and sleeping at irregular hours, smoking or passively smoking are all factors leading to an increased toxic state. 


You may wonder, “What exactly is a toxin?” A toxin is defined as “any compound that has a harmful effect on cell function or structure”. There are different types of toxins as well as their place of origin.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and aluminium tend to accumulate within the brain, kidneys and immune system causing abnormal functioning. Common sources other than industrial pollution, include lead from pesticide sprays, tin cans and cooking utensils; cadmium and lead from cigarette smoke; mercury from dental fillings, contaminated fish and cosmetics; and aluminium from antacids, cookware and table salt. Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity may include headache, fatigue, muscle pains, indigestion, tremors, constipation, anaemia, pallor, dizziness, poor coordination and impaired ability to think or concentrate.


Bacteria and yeast in the gut produce toxins, which may be absorbed causing disruption of body functions. Toxins from microbial compounds include bacterial endotoxins and exotoxins, toxic amines, toxic derivatives of bile and various carcinogenic substances. Many gut-derived microbial toxins have been associated with liver disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, psoriasis, SLE, pancreatitis, allergies, asthma and immune disorders. In addition to microbial toxins, antibodies formed against microbial molecules can cross-react with the body’s own cells causing autoimmunity such as rheumatoid arthritis, myasthenia gravis, diabetes, and autoimmune thyroditis. Diet rich in fibre especially the water soluble fibres such as those found in vegetables, guar gum, pectin and oat bran will reduce the absorption of toxins from the gut by binding to toxins and promote their excretion.


Certain drugs, such as antibiotics, antiarrhythmics, antifungals and H2 blocking drugs, can alter specific isozymes of cytochrome p450. Medicated persons with agents that alter detoxification processes and consumption of a diet insufficient in nutrients necessary to support proper Phase I and II detoxification, may lead to signs of toxicity or undesirable side effects. This phenomenon may be exacerbated by fasting or alcohol consumption, which has been shown to render certain drugs significantly more toxic.

The detoxification process

One of the body’s primary self-defence mechanisms is the conversion and neutralization of xenobiotics into soluble and safe by-products, which can then be eliminated. The primary organs of detoxifications are the liver, intestines and kidneys and to a lesser degree the lungs and the skin.

The liver is the most important organ of metabolism and our health and vitality is inextricably linked to the health and vitality of the liver. The liver filters the blood to remove large toxins, synthesizes and secretes bile and deals with toxins that come primarily from chemicals, drugs, alcohol, solvents, formaldehyde, pesticides, herbicides and food additives. The toxic load the liver has to deal with every day is tremendous if you think that chemical exposure is constant. Symptoms of chemical toxicity include most commonly the psychological and neurological symptoms such as depression, headaches, mental confusion, mental illness, tingling in the hands and feet, abnormal nerve reflexes and other. In addition, people chronically exposed to chemical toxins are associated with respiratory tract allergies and increased rate of many cancers.

This enzymatic process usually occurs in two steps: the Phase I and Phase II. In the Phase I step of liver detoxification, the liver enzymatically (cytochrome p450 enzymes) modifies the chemicals mainly via oxidation reactions to make them easier to be detoxified by the Phase II enzyme systems via conjugation reactions and then excreted via the faeces or urine.


Nutrients Aiding The Detoxification Processes

The most important antioxidant for neutralising the free radicals produced in phase I liver detoxification is glutathione. The herb St. Mary’s Thistle has been shown to correct a glutathione deficiency and maintain its levels within the liver. Alcohol contributes to the up-regulation of one of the p450 isozymes, resulting in increased oxidative stress and depletion of liver glutathione stores, therefore making glutathione unavailable for detoxification via Phase II.

Dietary nutrients play an important role in modifying the activity of Phase I and II enzymes. For example the vegetables of the Brassicacea family such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower contain substances, which have a stimulatory effect on drug and xenobiotic metabolism.

Nutrients that are required for hepatic detoxification include vitamin C, bioflavonoids, cysteine, phosphatidylcholine, protein, the B vitamins, copper, magnesium, zinc, selenium, Brassicacea family vegetables, caraway and dill.

Activation of Phase II conjugation is dependent on adequate dietary levels of glutathione, glycine, N-acetylcysteine, cysteine, methionine, indole-3-carbinols and sulfurophane from Brassicacea vegetables, thiols from garlic and onion, limonene-containing foods such as citrus peel, dill and caraway seed oil, vitamin E, selenium and carotenes, lipotropic nutrients such as folate, B12, B6, choline, cysteine, methionine, and taurine.

Very important herbs that help and support detoxification processes include among other, Silybum marianum (St. Mary’s Thistle or Milk Thistle), Schisandra chinensis (Schisandra), Bupleurum falcatum (Bupleurum), Cynara scolymus (Globe Artichoke), Taraxacum officinalis radix (Dandelion root) and Curcuma longa (Turmeric).

Milk Thistle seed contains flavonolignans called silymarin. It has been shown to prevent liver damage and death from hepatotoxins including the Amanita phalloides mushroom, acetaminophen, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), the oral contraceptive pill and alcohol.

Schisandra has an effective hepatoprotective action. The hepatoprotection was associated with significant enhancement of the hepatic GSH (reduced glutathione) antioxidant enzyme system and increased stabilization of the hepatocellular membrane.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bupleurum has the action of ‘restoring normal function to the liver and gallbladder’, and is often combined with Licorice for hepatitis and Paeonia lactiflora for menstrual irregularities due to ‘obstruction of liver qi’.

Globe artichoke reduces cholesterol from the blood, increases bile flow, protects the liver and kidneys and has hepatoregenerative effects.Turmeric is described in TCM as a herb that promotes the ‘movement of liver qi’ and ‘benefits the gallbladder and reduces jaundice’, and it is often combined with Bupleurum.

Detoxification and healing happen when the body is at rest therefore it is important to support detoxification pathways with nutrition while the patient sleeps. Some herbal recommendations mentioned in this article are contra-indicated in certain cases especially when the person is medicated. Please consult your naturopath.

About Naturopathy by Savvas Ioannides
Savvas Ioannides is a Naturopathic, Herbal and GAPS Diet practitioner who studied at Nature Care College in Sydney. Savvas uses holistic and natural therapies including Herbal remedies and Nutrition to boost your vitality and help you achieve optimum levels of health.

3 Responses to The Detoxification Process

  1. Pingback: 5 foods for the liver | Naturopathy by Savvas Ioannides N.D.

  2. Pingback: Male and Female Infertility, Preconception Care | Naturopathy by Savvas Ioannides N.D.

  3. Pingback: The Detoxification Process | Naturopathy by Savvas Ioannides N.D.

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