Evidence Based Detoxification

Are you feeling sluggish or lethargic? Have you put on a few extra pounds? Is your skin blemished?

Maybe you should invest in a detox program.

We are exposed  to toxins  from food additives, drugs, insecticides, pesticides, industrial chemicals, pollutants, heavy metals and even substances produced within our own intestinal tract.

Collectively, the term for these toxins is xenobiotics. Exposure to xenobiotics can compromise the function of our nervous, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, hepatobiliary and renal systems.

The mechanisms by which our bodies deal with xenobiotic exposure is through detoxification, a process strongly  influenced by our diet and nutrients.

The concept of “total load” of xenobiotics is very important in determining how effectively the body can handle the cumulative  exposure to  toxins.

If the “total load” of xenobiotics exceeds the body’s ability to process and eliminate them, then toxicity can ensue.

(Bland, 1995)


Detoxification is thought to occur through the  major organs of metabolism and elimination. These include:

1. Hepatic (Liver)

2. Renal (Kidneys)

3. Digestive system

4. Respiratory system

5. Integumentary system (skin)

Detoxification has become a “buzzword” among celebrities and some alternative providers, who promote various products or protocols that are claimed to detoxify and cleanse the body.

Many of these products include botanical laxatives and diuretics along with herbs that support  liver function.

Theoretically, these products can stimulate the organs of detoxification and elimination.

Rather than purchasing a detox kit from your supplement store, online, or from an infomercial, my preference is that you consider how you might be taxing your organs of detoxification  through the foods you eat and chemicals you are are exposed to and reduce your toxic load  by  adopting a diet and lifestyle that supports ongoing detoxification which can also reduce inflammation, the underlying mechanism of many diseases.

Liver support

The body has a very intricate system for the detoxification of xenobiotics.

Within the liver, there are 2 phases of detoxification.  Phase I takes place in the cytosol and involves oxidation, reduction and/or hydrolysis in an attempt to reduce the toxicity of the chemical.

A second phase of detoxification occurs in the cytochrome P- 450 system in the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum, resulting in conjugation. In phase II  a variety of compounds attach to  chemicals, altering their size, polarity and solubility so that they may be removed from the body.

(Rogers, 1992)

Phytochemicals founded in pigmented plant foods have been shown to support the detoxification process.

The main mechanisms of actions of phytochemicals are: antioxidant activities; modulation of detoxification enzymes; decreasing of platelet aggregation; alterations in cholesterol metabolism; control of concentrations of steroid hormones and endocrine metabolism; reduction of blood pressure; and antibacterial and antiviral activities.

Some foods high in phyochemicals include: Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and chard, berries, garlic, ginger and onions and phenolic compounds found in green tea.

(Ferrari, 2003) (Kensler, 2005)


Glutathione also plays a critical role in detoxification as a co-factor for many antioxidants as well as its role in mitochondrial function. Glutathione can be depleted by eating conventional foods that are high in pesticides and insecticides as well as with alcohol consumption. Glutathione can be increased by taking supplements such as Alpha lipoic acid and N-acetylcysteine (NAC).

Interestingly, those who practice meditation have 20% higher levels of glutathione, thus substantiating the mind-body connection and the effect of stress on our bodies.

(Pizzorno, 2014)


You lose water every day through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.

Scientific studies validating the common recommendation of 8 × 8 oz  of water are lacking. Individual needs should be determined based on  health status, diet, activity levels and the environment.

Optimum fluid intake has been shown to prevent certain types of Cancer, along with heart disease, and other conditions.

Other benefits include: weight loss, better bowel function and better glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which can equate to better kidney function.

According to the The Institute of Medicine, an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and  for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.

From a detoxification perspective, water theoretically helps by keeping your  bowels, kidneys and other organs functioning better.

(Valtin, 2002)


The Digestive system

Probiotics  may be useful in the detoxification process. These are live bacteria used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions,  particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract.

Examples of probiotics include Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria.

Probiotics may be valuable in detoxification by increasing phase II detoxifying enzymes in the body.

Some foods containing probiotics include:  Kimchi, yogurt and Kombucha.

(Brudnak, 2002)

The Respiratory system

Oxygen is one of the most important nutrients in the human body.

Inefficient respiration, can compromise tissue and organ function.

Shallow breathing (chest breathing) results in decreased oxygen flow and delivery of nutrients to your tissues and waste products away

Conversely, diaphragmatic breathing provides more tissue oxygenation, invoking a relaxation response within the body. In addition, it helps  the lymphatics, you bodies waste disposal system, to carry away toxic substances

Supporting  the respiratory system can be done through regular exercise as well as deep breathing exercises.

In a study by Li, Qigong therapy, which incorporates breathing with movement, was found to be effective in heroin detoxification.

(Li, 2002)

The Integumentary system

Sweating is an excellent way to eliminate toxins through the skin. Exercise as well as  taking a sauna can promote detoxification through the skin.

Existing evidence supports the use of  saunas as a component of depuration (purification or cleansing) protocols for environmentally-induced illness.

(Crinion, 2011)

Macronutrients and fasting

Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrate and fat. High-protein diets appear to enhance rates of xenobiotic metabolism in humans. Carbohydrate intake also plays an important role in normalizing the detoxification process. The best form of carbohydrate to supply during a detoxification program are those that are readily absorbed and do not ferment in the gastrointestinal tract, such as rice. Specific types of dietary fat may improve hepatic detoxification, such as medium-chain fatty acids, found in coconut oil.

(Bland, 1995)

Adverse food reactions and toxicity

Food allergies or sensitivities can adversely affect gastrointestinal mucosal integrity, increasing gut permeability  to  food antigens, which, in turn, can produce systemic reactions by releasing  proinflammatory substances that alter hepatic detoxification.  There is a saying that “One man’s food is another man’s  poison”. If you have recurrent health problems, it may be worth seeing a licensed practitioners who can assess the possibility of adverse food reactions as a potential cause of toxicity.

(Bland, 1995)

A note on fasting

Fasting has been employed as a popular means of detoxification. Unfortunately, fasting can actually impair detoxification by depleting  critical nutrients such as glutathione, which are necessary for proper detoxification of xenobiotics. In addition, diets that are energy dense vs nutrient dense and are poorly balanced can deplete the body’s store of antioxidants and significantly increase the risk of oxidative stress.

(Bland, 1995)  (Pizzorno, 2014)


Detoxification should not be considered a cleanse or short vacation from a diet and lifestyle that leads you to thinking that you need to do a “cleanse”.

Instead, ongoing support of your detoxification system through diet and lifestyle modification, as well as identifying and limiting your toxic exposure, will likely be a  key to health and well-being.

Make sure to include regular exercise to encourage sweating and tissue oxygenation, saunas to promotes sweating, staying hydrated and lastly investigating the possibility for adverse food reactions.

The environmental working group is a great resource for discovering foods and pollutants that we are exposed to on a daily basis.


Dr. Geoff’s Detox Smoothie

2  cups water

1 cup organic berries

1 organic apple

1 cup organic kale

A few mint leaves

1 tsp raw ginger

2 tbsp hemp seeds

1 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil

Blend with ice and serve chilled


Bland, J. Food and Nutrient Effects on Detoxification. Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients. Dec 95, Issue 149, p40. 5p.

Brudnak, M. Probiotics as an Adjuvant to Detoxification Protocols. Med Hypotheses, 2002;58(5):382-385.

Crinnion, W. Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicant-induced and other Chronic Health Problems. Alternative Medicine Review. Sep2011, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p215-225. 11p. 2

Ferrari, CKB. Biochemical Pharmacology of Functional Foods and Prevention of Chronic Diseases of Aging. Biomed Pharmacother, 2003;57:251-260.

Kensler TW. Effects of Glucosinolate-Rich Broccoli Sprouts on Urinary Levels of Aflatoxin-DNA Adducts and Phenanthrene Tetraols in a Randomized Clinical Trial in He Zuo Township, Qidong, People’s Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2005; 14(11): 2605-13.

LI, M. Use of qigong therapy in the detoxification of heroin addicts. Institute of Qigong Research, Guangzhou University, People’s Republic of China. [Altern Ther Health Med] 2002 Jan-Feb; Vol. 8 (1), pp. 50-4, 56-9.

Pizzorno, J. Glutathione! INTEGR MED CLIN J, 2014 Feb-Mar; 13 (1): 8-12.

Rogers, S. Chemical Sensitivity: Breaking the Paralyzing Paradigm.  Internal Medicine World Report, February 1-14, 1992;7(3):1,15-16.     

Valtin, H. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” Really? Is there scientific evidence for “8 × 8”? American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Published 1 November 2002. Vol. 283no.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin