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Do I Really Need to Detox?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023








Is a cleanse a detox?

The term “detoxification” has become quite popular within health and wellness communities, gaining traction as participation in various “protocols” increases. However, it must first be noted that there is a stark difference between a cleanse and a detox, the first being more of a short term commitment, the second focusing on longevity. Both words seem to be used interchangeably, yet they carry many differences. A cleanse is akin to a weekend getaway, whereas a detox could be analogous to a sustainable life change.


The use of the term “detoxifying” has led to a vast spread of misinformation, generally benefiting companies in marketing campaigns for their spin on cleanses and supplements. From juice cleanses to liver cleanses, you can find a company selling a 3,5, or 7 day “cure all” detoxification program, promising outcomes that are simply not attainable in such a short timespan.


Unfortunately, the commercialization of the term itself has created some animosity, and to be honest, quite a bit of confusion. When we refer to detox at Gut Honest Truth, we are essentially highlighting the physiological processes involved in toxin elimination from the body. There are a number of organs involved in these processes, mainly the liver, digestive tract, kidneys, skin, and lungs. Each organ has a specific role, but together they carry the burden of eliminating harmful pathogens, particles, and toxins from the body.


Your liver is the star of the detox show, without it, your body is ill equipped to handle the burden. The liver has numerous jobs, but plays a critical role in metabolic function, digestive capabilities, immune system maintenance, and of course, detoxification.


Though the term itself implies that detoxification is a one-stop-shop, it’s actually a series of steps that work in congruence to achieve the final outcome: elimination. As we get into the phases, what they do, and nutrients involved, you’ll notice the discrepancy between mainstream media’s use of the word detox, and why it’s important to support it consistently.


Phases of detoxification

Detoxification is actually a multi-phase process, the liver housing phases one and two. Phase three is the excretion (elimination) or products formed in the first two phases. Both phase 1 and phase 2 have further reactions for the management of specific processes in the detoxification system. Additionally, both phase 1 and phase 2 rely on particular nutrients for adequate function.


Everything's better with an analogy, so let’s paint a picture, shall we?


  • Phase 1: Taking the trash bag out to the driveway every night.

  • Phase 2: The trash truck comes once a week to keep your driveway clean/rott free.

  • Phase 3 (elimination): The trash man ACTUALLY drives away with all the trash.


This is the perfect scenario. The trash gets taken out of the house, nothing piles up in the driveway, the entire load is eliminated from your driveway. The thing is, supporting each phase is key to the fluidity of this process. If you don’t adequately support each pathway, you could have a buildup of trash on your driveway which only invites the growth and presence of questionable insects, pests, and rodents. If we keep taking the trash out to the driveway (phase 1) but the dump truck only comes two times a month (phase 2), then we can’t properly eliminate all the trash (phase 3) because he can only take so much at once. This happens a lot in real life, people will support phase 1, but leave phase 2 unsupported. Just like that, you’re backing your system up (pun intended) and creating detoxification complications.


So what’s actually happening in each detox phase?


Phase 1 detoxification

In phase 1, compounds undergo a series of processes (oxidation, reduction, or hydrolysis) with the help of numerous enzymes housed in the liver cells (hepatocytes). These enzymes are called cytochrome P450 enzymes, and are specific to the liver. The objective of phase 1 is toxin breakdown for proper processing through phase 2. Toxins that are initially introduced to phase one are lipid-soluble; by the time they get to phase 2, they should be modified and partially water-soluble. Some of these particles (toxins) can become more toxic after phase one, with the potential to ensue more damage to the cells than in their original form. If unconjugated (not taken through phase 2), they can wreak havoc, causing damage, inflammation, increasing the risk of chronic disease, and the list goes on. Supporting phase 1 with adequate nutrients allows phase 1 to function at maximum capacity, decreasing the likelihood of toxic build up and potential harm to the body.


In order for phase 1 to run efficiently, it requires:

  • B vitamins (B2, B3, B6, B12)

  • Folate

  • Glutathione

  • Flavonoids

  • Amino acids

  • Phospholipids


Phase 2 detoxification

Phase 2 is the last step in the transformation of the toxins. There are multiple pathways within the phase 2 umbrella and most require energy. This step is known as conjugation and involves sulfation, glucuronidation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation, amino acid conjugation, and methylation. Basically, big words for different pathways for phase 2 to occur. In these reactions, another substance is being added (ex sulfur, glycine, or cysteine) to the toxin to prepare it for elimination. Phase 1 and 2 have very different jobs (remember, phase 1 is taking the trash out, phase 2 is the dump truck picking up the trash bags), and require different nutrients.


Nutrients needed for phase 2 detoxification:

  • Carnitine

  • Choline

  • Vitamin C

  • Magnesium

  • Amino acids (taurine, glutamine, cysteine, methionine, glycine)

  • Sulfur containing compounds like SAM-E

  • B5

  • B12

  • Glutathione


Phase 3 detoxification

The elimination stage (or the trashman actually clearing those trash bags off your driveway). In phase 1 and 2, your body spent time sifting through and properly packaging toxins so they would be easily eliminated. These processes require adequate functioning and nutrient availability. Once you get to phase 3, your body finally disposes of these toxins. Some are returned to the blood, sent to the kidneys, and released in the urine. Some are attached to bile, passed to the intestines and eliminated through your stool. Others are disposed of via sweat. You can see how adequate hydration, proper digestion, and daily movement are so vital to well-being now, can’t you.


The inability to properly eliminate these toxins (using phase 3 pathways), could lead to a slowing of the whole detoxification system, and potentially the re-release of the toxins your body just spent so much time packaging up for you. This is what we mean when we say you’re having detoxification problems. This is commonly seen with inappropriately metabolized drugs, or the occurrence of estrogen dominance or high sex hormone binding globulin.


This isn’t something celery juice for 3 days can fix. It requires an understanding of which processes are being affected, what nutrients need to be replenished, where you require support, and which systems/phases will be impacted. Just focusing on phase 1, when you’re really having a problem moving things through phase 2, is likely to cause more harm than good. Opening up all the detoxification pathways is essential for proper healing.


Ensuring you have adequate fiber and water intake are two of the best ways to build a foundation for efficient elimination. Detox teas and other popular products are more of a laxative than anything, stimulating defecation, but not at all targeting proper elimination. More often than not, these products are just expensive poop.


Foods to support liver / detoxification

The case for increased variety of all foods (especially plant foods, and protein diversity) is evident here as we just discussed the number of nutrients required for this system to function at top speed. Different foods have different nutrient profiles, so exposure and consumption to a variety is your best bet. “Focus on the rainbow”, as cheesy as it sounds, is the easiest place to start increasing your diversity.

RED- Beets, radishes, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, apples, bell peppers, cranberries, rhubarb, cranberries


BLUE/PURPLE- Eggplant, grapes, pomegranate, purple potatoes, plums, blueberries, cabbage


ORANGE- Oranges, butternut squash, peaches, sweet potatoes, carrots


YELLOW - Lemon, squash, nectarines, bananas


GREEN- Dandelion green, arugula, kale, swiss chard, spinach, green beans, kiwi, grapes, pears, apples


WHITE- Potato, cauliflower, garlic, onion, mushrooms, turnips, daikon


PROTEIN (remember, amino acids are vital for liver detoxification)- Mix up your sources


Practical ways to implement variety and support detoxification at the same time:

  1. Aim for 7-10 plant foods per day

  2. Focus on minerals and micronutrients, not just the macronutrients

  3. Increase antioxidant consumption

  4. Up your sulforaphane game (the cruciferous family is the MVP here)

  5. Use cilantro in your cooking

  6. Choose honey as your sweetener

  7. Spice up your life (cook with a variety of spices)

  8. Eat something green everyday


Non-dietary supportive measures:


If you recall, the liver’s detoxification system isn’t solely processing toxins present in food; it’s

processing any toxin that’s made its way into the body. That being said, there are numerous ways to modify your environment, daily products, and overall toxic burden:


  • Switch from plastic to glass

  • Decrease your exposure to fragrances (candles, perfumes, etc.)

  • Swap your cleaning supplies

  • Opt for stainless steel or ceramic cookware

  • Consider an air and water filter


What to do next:


Some final thoughts.There is power in a convincing claim, and it’s unfortunate that the word detox one gets thrown around so often. Detoxification is vital for your well being… but extreme diet, cleans, and new fasting protocol might not be the answer you’re looking for. There are ways to support proper detoxification via nutrient intake, decreasing toxin exposure, pampering your liver, balancing blood sugar and of course, focusing on your gastrointestinal health.


Three focal points of detoxification:

-Supporting your detox organs (liver, kidneys, skin, gut)

-Poop everyday. Yes, everyday.

-Lower your toxic burden through lifestyle choices


Changing some of the daily habits/exposures can do a number on your healing process. The goal is healing, not expensive bandaids.


We know that the “new year, new me” vibes are right around the corner and are going to come at you full swing. You do not need to do a 5 day juice cleanse to get ready for the new year. You could probably use some TLC for your liver and detoxification system.


We will be running a detoxification program starting January 2nd 2022 so be on the lookout for more information coming your way!


Katie Morra MS, RD, LDN, IFMCP is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in gut and hormone optimization. Katie runs a fully virtual functional medicine practice, Gut Honest Truth, based out of Maryland. Katie focuses on the root causes of inflammation, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities, hypothyroidism, hormone imbalance, adrenal dysfunction as well as other chronic disease states.​

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