What is Detoxification?
Detoxification is a natural process that happens in the human body to get rid of harmful substances known as toxins. The buildup of toxins can lead to an imbalance in the body, giving rise to diseases. Our bodies have the capacity to rid of these harmful substances through detoxification pathways. Detoxification has a significant impact on human health.
We get exposed to chemicals via the air we breathe, medications we take, cleaning products we use, personal care products we put on our skin, and several other products we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Types of Toxins that Require Detoxification
There are two types of toxins in the body: Exogenous and Endogenous.
Exogenous Toxins: These are absorbed by the body from external sources like water, air, food, or direct contact. Drugs, chemicals, and microorganisms are examples of exogenous toxins.
Endogenous Toxins: These toxins are produced in the body as by-products of metabolism. Endogenous toxins also include the metabolic by-products of the bacteria that live in our bodies.
What Is The Need For Detoxification
Toxins are naturally fat-soluble and, therefore, cannot be eliminated from the body easily. Due to this characteristic, toxins have an affinity for the fat cells in the body and can be stored in them for years.
How is Detoxification Done?
The usual sequence of events in the detoxification process is as follows:
- When toxins enter the body, the body identifies these toxins and flags them as "dangerous" to trigger the detoxification process.
- They are directed to the liver, where they get activated (which makes them potentially harmful).
- The activated toxins are converted into water-soluble molecules, making them easy to transport.
- These water-soluble molecules are then excreted via sweat, feces, or urine (this step occurs in the intestines and the kidneys).
- The liver is the primary site for detoxification. However, the gastrointestinal tract also plays an important role in eliminating toxins.
The Three Phases of Detoxification
The detoxification process can be grouped under three important phases – Bioactivation, Conjugation, and Antiporter Activity.
Phase 1: Bioactivation
In phase 1 detoxification, the toxins are prepped for phase 2. This phase of detoxification is performed primarily by the Cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes.
The side-effect of this stage is the formation of free radicals, which are reactive molecules that can harm the body.
Phase 2: Conjugation
Conjugation occurs in six stages. In this phase, the toxins are deactivated and made more water-soluble to facilitate easy excretion via bile (small intestine) or via urine (kidneys). This phase of detoxification is governed by various enzymes, including the glutathione transferases and UDP-Glucuronosyltransferases(UGT). Some genes that play an active role in the conjugation phase include SULT1A1, n-acetyltransferase genes, and COMT.
Phase 3: Antiporter Activity
Phase 3 of detoxification is the excretion phase that takes place in the liver, kidneys, and intestines. During this phase, the water-soluble toxins are transported across membranes of the cells in the liver, the gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys, and the blood-brain barrier. This phase of detoxification is governed by the ATP-binding Cassette protein (ABC) and the Solute Carrier (SLC10) gene families.
The ABC family of genes is primarily involved in influencing the absorption and outflow of the processed toxins from the cells. Two genes from the SLC family are involved in the production, absorption, and excretion of bile salts (the main pathway for excretion of toxins) out of the body via the small intestine.
Detox Genes and Impaired Detoxification
The inability of the body to detoxify efficiently is termed impaired detoxification. Studies have linked impaired detoxification to health conditions like certain types of cancer, autism, Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, and immune dysfunction syndrome.
The NFE2L2 gene regulates the activity of the NRF2 gene that produces the NRF2 protein. This protein plays an important role in the body's detoxification process. The NRF2 gene activates four other genes that produce proteins required in the detoxification process.
Some abnormal changes in the NFE2L2 gene reduce the expression and activity of the NRF2 gene. Reduced NRF2 activity impairs the body's ability to detox and defend itself from oxidative stress.
How to Boost your Detoxification System
There are many ways by which you can boost your body's detoxification process. Some of the most effective ones include:
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption
- Staying hydrated
- Eating a nutrient-dense diet
- Having an active lifestyle
- Avoiding foods with preservatives
- Fasting occasionally
- Reducing stress in your daily life
Video: Check Your Detox Genes
Use our free Gene Tool to check your detox gene variants.
- Detoxification is a natural process that helps get rid of harmful substances or toxins from the body.
- There are two types of toxins in the body– exogenous and endogenous toxins.
- Toxins that enter our body cannot be directly eliminated as they are fat-soluble in nature.
- Detoxification comprises a chain of reactions that are broadly grouped under three phases – Bioactivation, Conjugation, and Antiporter.
- The liver is the primary site of detoxification, but the gastrointestinal tract and the kidneys also play important roles in the process.
- Each phase of the detoxification process is governed by a set of genes and enzymes.
- Impaired detoxification results in diseases like cancer, Parkinson's, autism, fibromyalgia, and others.
- Detoxification can be improved by avoiding alcohol and smoking, avoiding foods with preservatives, and getting a minimum of 30-minutes of exercise every day.