Updated: Oct 24
In this post we are initiating the conversation about the concept of detoxification, otherwise known as detox, and how it relates to The Livy Method. To better understand what detoxification is and the relevance of how it impacts the weight loss process, let’s take a deeper dive into the concept of detoxification, and what that actually means!
What is detoxification?
Detoxification, or detox, has become pretty popular in the discussion of health in mainstream media over the years. However, this is not a new concept at all!! In fact, people have been trying to relieve their bodies of “toxins” for thousands of years. A toxin is defined “as a substance that is synthesized by a plant species, an animal, or by microorganisms, that is harmful to another organism”. However, toxins can also include chemicals like pesticides, pollution, plastics, as well by consuming processed food which can include artificial ingredients, colours, and preservatives from the foods that we eat!
Some examples of traditional “detox” practices that have existed for centuries include bloodletting, enemas, sweat lodges, fasting, and drinking detoxification teas and tonics. Many of these practices were even used as medical treatments up until the early 20th century, however you still hear about many of these detox practices today. Those promoting these diets and products often imply and claim that by following their specific diet or by using their special products, your body will be rid of “toxins”, thereby improving health and promoting weight loss.
A typical detox diet may involve a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet of fruit, vegetables, fruit and/or vegetable juices, and water. Sometimes a detox also includes herbs, laxatives, diuretics, teas, supplements, and colon cleanses or enemas.
These claim to:
Rest your organs by fasting
Stimulate your liver to help it rid of toxins
Promote toxin elimination through stool, urine, and sweat
Provide your body with healthy nutrients that it needs to help detox
Change the PH of your body making it more alkaline in nature
These diets also claim to help with various health problems including obesity, digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, allergies, bloating, and chronic fatigue.
However, human research on detox diets is lacking, and the handful of studies that exist are significantly flawed. In fact, popular detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove or the mechanism by which they supposedly eliminate them. There is also little evidence that supports the use of these diets for toxin elimination or sustainable weight loss.
The other concern is the potential for harm. Although some countries have strict regulations of supplements and products that are made available to consumers, many dietary supplements and detox products are not as strictly regulated in other countries. In fact, in the U.S, The FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) often finds “detoxifying” weight loss products contain dangerous drugs and chemicals not advertised on the packaging. These are listed on the FDA website. While some detox teas for example may contain natural tea ingredients like tea leaves, others could contain toxic or allergy-triggering substances, including drugs and medications! The other issue is that with today’s technology, we are able to acquire these products for purchase online with just the click of a button. With the ease of online shopping, we are able to purchase pretty much any product from any country, so it can really be difficult to know what is in the products we buy.
Check out this link from the FDA showing the list for supplement advisories
Check out this list for Weight Loss and Detox tainted products
For Canadians, check out the Natural Health Products Database
This is the main page for Canadian consumers and those in the industry
Is there anything we can do to facilitate detox?
Now it's time for the good news! Your body is very well-equipped to eliminate toxins on its own without the extra help from special diets or expensive supplements and products. Your body has a very self-sufficient and comprehensive way of eliminating toxins that involves the liver, kidneys, digestive system, skin, and lungs. However, it is only when these organs are healthy, that they can effectively eliminate unwanted substances.
Furthermore, you can enhance your body’s natural detoxification system. In fact, by following The Livy Method, you are setting your body up for success in supporting your body’s own detoxification pathways.
In order to understand the concept of detox, let’s discuss some of the common misconceptions reviewed by Healthline, how our body naturally detoxifies itself, and how by following The Livy Method we can enhance and support our body’s own detoxification system.
Can we target the elimination of toxins?
As discussed above, detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove. According to Healthline, the mechanisms by which they work are also unclear. In fact, there is little to no evidence that detox diets can remove any toxins from your body.
Furthermore, your body is capable of cleansing itself by utilizing the liver as the primary detoxification organ, and through the elimination of stool, urine, breath, and sweat.
The liver initiates this process by transforming the toxic substances to a less harmful form, then ensures that the substance is eliminated from the body by way of the lungs, skin, kidneys and/or digestive system.
However, there are a few chemicals that may not be as easily removed by these processes, which can include persistent organic pollutants (POPs), phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) found in plastics, and heavy metals.
These materials tend to accumulate in fat tissue or blood, and can take years for your body to eliminate. However, as we have gained an increased awareness about the harm that these compounds cause, many of these materials have been removed or limited in commercial products produced today. That being said, there is little evidence that detox diets help eliminate any of these compounds.
How effective are these diets?
Some people report feeling more focused and energetic during and after detox diets.
However, this improvement in well-being may simply be due to the elimination of processed foods, alcohol, and other unhealthy substances from their diets. They may also be receiving the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that they were lacking before, thus resulting in feeling better.
Effects on weight loss
Very few scientific studies have investigated how detox diets impact weight loss. While some people may lose a lot of weight quickly, this effect is likely due the loss of fluid and carbohydrate stores rather than fat. This weight is usually regained fairly quickly once one resumes their previous lifestyle. If a detox diet involves severe calorie restriction, it may allow for weight loss, but will unlikely be sustainable in keeping the weight off in the long term. In fact, this is a major factor in creating an environment that promotes the body to store fat.
Detox diets, short-term fasting, and stress
According to Healthline (Bjarnadottir, A., 2019, January), several varieties of detox diets may have effects similar to those of short-term or intermittent fasting. Short-term fasting may improve various disease markers in some people, including improved leptin and insulin sensitivity.
However, these effects do not apply to everyone. Studies in women show that both a 48-hour fast and a 3-week period of reduced calorie intake may increase stress hormone levels. Crash diets can be a stressful experience, as they involve resisting temptations and feeling extreme hunger, ultimately affecting the hormones involved in hunger and satiety as discussed in the science post on hormones! These diets often lead to over indulgence from the deprivation involved, and stimulate/increase the hunger hormones and negative feedback loops that these diets perpetuate.
Severe calorie restriction
Several detox diets recommend fasting or severe calorie restriction. Short-term fasting and limited calorie intake can result in fatigue, irritability, and other physical symptoms.
Long-term fasting can result in energy, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies, as well as electrolyte imbalances and major health consequences, even death.
Furthermore, colon cleansing methods which are sometimes recommended during detoxes, can cause dehydration, cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and the flushing out of the important bacterial microbiome that lives in the colon and is crucial to the digestive process.
Some detox diets may pose the risk of overdosing on supplements, laxatives, diuretics, and even water. There is a lack of regulation and monitoring in the detox industry, and many detox foods and supplements may not have any scientific basis on how their product is produced or manufactured.
In the worst and most insidious cases, the ingredient labels of detox products may be inaccurate. This can increase your risk of overdosing, potentially resulting in serious, and even fatal effects.
If you decide that you want to go down the path of a detox because it is something you choose to do, be sure to seek advice from a regulated health care professional, or Naturopathic Doctor that can oversee and monitor your health during the process!
So, after all this, how does the body detox?
The liver is such an amazing organ and does so much for our bodies! As discussed in the previous science posts, it has an important role in the digestive process and in storing and releasing energy in the form of glucose to the body! Let’s discuss this amazing organ in more detail!
The liver is your body’s largest solid organ. On average, it weighs around 3 pounds in adulthood and is roughly the size of a football. This organ is vital to the body’s metabolic, detoxification, and immune system functions. Without a functioning liver, a person cannot survive.
The liver’s position is held most prominently in the right upper region of the abdomen, just below the diaphragm. A portion of the liver is located in the left upper abdomen as well. The liver has two main segments, also called lobes. Each lobe is further divided into eight segments. Each segment has an estimated 1,000 lobules, also called small lobes. Each of the lobules has a small tube, a duct that flows into other ducts that join to become the common hepatic duct. This meets the cystic duct and then becomes the common bile duct.
Compared to the rest of the body, the liver has a significant amount of blood flowing through it, an estimated 13% of the body’s blood is in the liver at any given time.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the liver’s major functions are in the metabolic processes of the body, but is also involved in many life-sustaining processes, which include:
Creating immune system factors that can help the body fight against infection or pathogens in the body
Producing proteins in conjunction with vitamin K (that is produced largely in the colon) that are important in the blood clotting process, and an important part of healing
The liver is also one of the organs that help break down old or damaged blood cells and eliminate them from the body
From a digestive and metabolic standpoint, the liver produces an estimated 800 to 1,000 milliliters (ml) of bile each day. This yellow, brownish, or olive green liquid, is collected in small ducts and then passed on to the main bile duct which carries the bile to a part of the small intestine called the duodenum. The small intestine uses the bile to further help with the breakdown and absorption of fats. Any extra bile is stored in the gallbladder to be used later.
In the metabolism of carbohydrates, the liver helps to ensure that the level of sugar in your blood (blood glucose) maintains stability. As discussed in the science post on insulin, if your blood sugar levels increase, for example after a meal, the liver removes sugar from blood supplied by the portal vein and stores it in the form of glycogen. If the blood sugar levels drop or are too low, the liver breaks down glycogen and releases sugar into the blood to be used by the body as needed.
In addition to glycogen, the liver also stores fat-soluble vitamins and minerals such as copper and iron, and releases them into the blood when needed.
The liver also plays an important role in the metabolism of proteins. The liver cells change the amino acids in the foods we eat so that they can be used to produce energy, or make carbohydrates or fats for the body. A substance called ammonia is a by-product of this process which can be toxic to the body in large amounts. In order to prevent the ammonia from increasing to “toxic” levels, the liver cells convert the ammonia to a much less toxic substance called urea which is released into the blood. Urea is then transported to the kidneys and passes out of the body through urine.
The liver also controls the synthesis and removal of cholesterol in the body, which has a crucial role in the production of hormones.
Let’s talk about the liver and detoxification
The liver has a primary role in storing and releasing energy, but let’s break down the vital role it plays in helping us eliminate toxins from our body.
The liver begins the process of making toxins less harmful to the body and removing them from the bloodstream, by receiving blood with nutrients from the digestive organs via a vein known as the hepatic portal vein. The hepatocytes (cells of the liver), accept and filter this blood. They act as little sorting centers, determining which nutrients should be processed, what should be stored, what should be eliminated via the stool, and what should be diverted back to the blood. In fact, as a last resort, the liver will even store toxins itself to protect the rest of the body!!
The liver filters toxins that enter or are produced by the body through an area called the sinusoid channels, which are lined with immune cells called Kupffer cells. These Kupffer cells engulf the “toxin”, digest, and excrete it. This process is called phagocytosis.
As many chemicals are relatively “new”, it may take thousands of years from an evolutionary standpoint before our body properly adapts to them. The main takeaway here is, if the liver cannot figure out what to do with a substance, it may simply store the substance(s), often in fat tissue, in other organs, or in the liver itself. This is potentially damaging to any of the tissues or organs involved in this process.
Check out these following videos for more information on how the liver functions and the detoxification process works.
For a deeper dive on the removal of xenobiotics (substances that are foreign to the body or to an ecological system), check out this informative video
So now, let’s break down detox even further. The detoxification of substances that require elimination or results in storage in the body is thought to take place in three phases.
Two of the key phases of detox, Phase I and II, occur in the liver.
The first phase of detoxification occurs mostly in the liver and helps to transform potentially harmful lipid soluble (substances that dissolve in fat) molecules, into less harmful substances that will be easier for the body to excrete. This must occur prior to proceeding to phase II of detoxification.
In Phase I, a group of enzymes called cytochrome p450 enables the transformation of dangerous substances into less harmful substances through the chemical processes of oxidation (oxidation is a process in which a chemical substance changes because of the addition of oxygen), reduction (when a chemical substance loses an oxygen), hydration (when a chemical substance mixes with water), dehalogenation (a process when harmful compounds known as halogens are removed and converted to a more stable product), and hydrolysis (a reaction where water is used to break down a substance further).
These chemical changes require the activity of cytochrome p450 enzymes, as well as a variety of nutrients, to both support the activity of enzymes, and neutralize harmful molecules known as free radicals formed as a result of these processes. If free radicals are not neutralized, they can result in inflammation in the body. Many nutrients play a key role in phase I and the neutralizing of free radicals, including a variety of B vitamins, amino acids, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, and flavonoids.
Genetic issues, liver damage, nutrient deficiencies, and certain toxins can all impair the activity of p450 enzymes, reducing the ability of the liver to detoxify. Exposure to certain chemicals increases phase I activity, leading to a high production of phase I end products. If these products are not converted by phase II, they can be harmful to cellular DNA and RNA, and may be linked to diseases such as Parkinson’s and cancer.
In phase II, the focus is on a process called conjugation. In conjugation, there is the addition of a chemical group to the by-product that was produced in phase I, making it water soluble and subsequently less harmful. Once the substance becomes water soluble, it can be excreted through the kidneys and intestines in the form of urine and bile.
There are many processes of conjugation. These include glutathionylation, methylation, glucuronidation, sulfation, and acetylation. Each of these processes involves the addition of a different substance to a phase I end-product, requiring specific nutrients, mostly amino acids, which must be obtained from our diet. Without these specific nutrients, phase II detoxification can be impaired. If phase II detoxification becomes impaired, an accumulation of phase I products occurs, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage in the body.
However, if phase I and II occur effectively, toxins can be eliminated by the kidneys and bowels via urine and stool. Although the liver is thought of as our primary detoxification organ, it requires a large variety of nutrients that must first be absorbed via the digestive system, in order to function optimally. Ironically though, the digestive system is also the initial site of exposure to ingested toxins. Due to these factors, it is recognized that there is an additional third phase of detoxification which occurs primarily in the digestive system.
The third phase of detoxification refers to a highly concentrated anti-porter (transport) system of proteins in the body. There are many anti-porters being researched, particularly P-glycoprotein, an anti-porter in the small intestine that moves toxins from cells into the gut. Another important protein known as blood-brain protein, is located in the kidneys, the blood brain barrier, and the liver. This transport system ensures the movement of harmful compounds out of the cell and into the detoxification organs.
A healthy diet and microbiome are key to the success of phase III, whereas digestive inflammation leads to the impairment of it. If phase III is compromised, an accumulation of toxins within the cell occurs. Errors in P-glycoprotein expression have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and suspected to play a role in stress management and inflammatory bowel disease.
Due to the importance of these three phases, inefficient detoxification in any of the three phases can be detrimental.
Because of the constant stress placed on our detoxification systems, following a plan like The Livy Method which consistently supports these three phases can greatly help to also support our detoxification system and help keep us healthy! Let’s talk more about strategies to best support our body in detox.