Nutrients you actually need for a detox.


Nutrients you actually need for detox.

How is your January going? I don’t know about you but 2024 feels way different than 2023. I can see and feel it all around me, especially noticing it in others’ behaviours. Like real change is in the air for many people (in maybe a scary, but definitely optimistic way).

Last week I covered my top 10 foundational diet & lifestyle suggestions for supporting your body’s detox pathways. If you missed it, you can catch it here.

Today I want to cover what nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals) are required by your body to ensure these detox pathways are chugging along as they should be. Missing a key nutrient is like throwing a wrench in the works. Some steps just can’t move forward. We can get these nutrients through the foods we eat and/or supplementation when our diet alone doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. Let’s dive in.

Why should we care about supporting our detox pathways?

Because, we have a lot of chemical exposures nowadays. In the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, the many things we slather on our body or use to clean our home or clothing, and many of our household items from furniture to cookware to candles. These everyday chemicals include compounds like organophosphates, flame retardants, phthalates, formaldehyde and polychlorinated biphenyls. I’m not going to go into all the items in which these compounds are found – because it’s a lot and can feel overwhelming.  Just know that these chemicals are all around us and we can only minimize our exposures so much. Which is why supporting our body’s ability to deal with them is so worthwhile.

What are some of the symptoms associated with bogged down detox pathways?

While keeping in mind that some of the symptoms listed could very well be due to other causes (which, should be investigated, low iron as a simple example), some common signs or symptoms that your detox pathways could use some support include:

  • Fatigue, brain fog &/or sugar cravings. A stressed liver is less efficient at regulating blood sugar, which can lead to fatigue and sugar cravings.
  • Digestive symptoms such as IBS, loose stools, bloating or gas. When the liver isn’t working optimally, it may not be able to produce as much bile, which can make it hard to digest fats, absorb fat soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin D), and can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
  • Hormone imbalances. Many chemicals mimic estrogen in the body (in research they refer to these as estrogen-like endocrine disrupting chemicals, EEDC). These chemicals bind with estrogen receptors, essentially raising your level of estrogen. The liver is responsible for detoxifying these chemicals as well as any excess estrogen. If this isn’t happening, estrogen can essentially be recycled back into your bloodstream. For women, symptoms can show up as PMS, mood swings, painful or heavy periods, or migraines. In men, symptoms can include breast tissue development and low libido.
  • Skin problems. Acne, eczema, perioral dermatitis, psoriasis, accelerated signs of aging, etc. can be made worse when the liver isn’t working optimally. This can be due to blood sugar dysregulation, toxin build up triggering inflammation, and sex hormones not being as adequately deactivated and cleared from the body.
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight. Your liver plays an extremely important role in metabolism, regulating blood sugar balance in the body, as well as fat metabolism. When your liver is overworked, it can contribute to insulin resistance, which can lead to stubborn belly fat. When there are no readily available carbs to use, it is your liver’s job to convert stored carbs and fat into energy. An increasing body of evidence implicates that environmental chemicals are associated with the increasing epidemic of type 2 diabetes (Ling, 2023). In 2014, a multidisciplinary group of experts gathered in Parma Italy to address concerns about the potential relationship between environmental metabolic disrupting chemicals, obesity and related metabolic disorders like diabetes. Their consensus statement: that many endocrine disruptors can promote dyslipidemia (high cholesterol and/or triglycerides), abnormal glucose metabolism (i.e. insulin resistance), fatty liver, obesity, and diabetes in humans and animals.
  • Lastly, the liver is essential to your thyroid health, playing two critical roles: thyroid hormone conversion and transportation. The majority of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland is the inactive form, known as T4. It requires conversion into the active form, called T3. The liver takes care of approximately 60% of T4 to T3 conversion. When the liver is overburdened, it could lead to lower T3 levels. Then, for thyroid hormone to get to the cells where it is needed, it needs to hitch a ride on a liver made “bus” called (thyroxine-binding globulin, or TBG). An overworked liver could produce less “busses”, which equals less thyroid hormone making it to the cells to do its job. There is also research on how environmental toxins directly impair thyroid function. Let’s look at one example, Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs (a group of industrial toxins). Research indicates that PCBs disrupt thyroid function through a variety of mechanisms, such as: reducing the number of receptors that thyroid hormone can bind to in the body; binding to thyroid transport proteins, decreasing circulating T4; impairing liver enzymes responsible for converting T4 to T3; and have also been found to raise thyroid antibody levels and promote enlargement of the thyroid gland.

I could go on.I didn’t even touch on pharmaceutical use/impact on the liver (don’t stop your meds). As you can see liver cells are metabolic overachievers in the body!

This isn’t about crash fad/hypocaloric detox diets here, this is about supporting your organs so they can do their job properly. 

B vitamins are critical for our body’s detox pathways. Detox at the liver happens in 2 phases, aptly called phase 1 and 2. Phase 1 depends on B2, B3, B6, B9 (folate), and B12. B vitamins are also critical in different steps in phase 2, such as methylation and acetylation. If taking a B complex look for one that contains methylated or activated forms of the B vitamins.

Other key nutrients or co-factors involved in detox at the liver

  • Magnesium (citrate if needing the bowel support, glycinate otherwise); recap on the different forms of Magnesium here
  • Antioxidants, to reduce damage: vitamins A, C, E, Selenium, & Zinc. Very few companies make a handy handy blend like here.
  • Glutathione. A precursor to glutathione that you may have heard of is called NAC or N-Acetylcysteine
  • Flavonoids
  • Amino acids! Branched chain amino acids for phase 1; sulphur containing amino acids (cysteine, methionine, and taurine) for phase 2’s sulfation; methionine amino acid for phase 2’s methylation; amino acid glycine for phase 2’s glycination
  • Choline

Plus, remember the detox foundations we covered last week. If you’re not pooping or sleeping well, start with supports here, e.g. a fibre formula if needed, sleep supports which I’ve covered recently, here.

Remember, we can get these nutrients (or make them in the body) via the foods we eat. For example, ensuring we are getting enough good quality protein to get our sulphur containing amino acids (cysteine, methionine, and taurine) as well as glutamine and glycine. Eating sulfur rich foods like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage,  kale etc), allium vegetables (onions, garlics, chives, leeks, shallots), and eggs. Foods rich in glycine include collagen protein, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, eggs, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, soybeans, lentils, fish and lobster. Eat the rainbow: colorful fruits and vegetables provide nutrients the liver uses in both phases of detoxification. Omega-3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – from fatty fish like salmon or trout provide antioxidants that help neutralize damage to the liver from chemical exposure

This Kale Cauliflower Sausuage Bowl is both liver loving (with a good dose of cruciferous veggies & protein), fits into the Mediterranean diet, is a good source of fibre, and is warming for this time of year.

Click here to view the recipe.

Think of detox like a lifestyle rather than a program (although a detox program can make you feel 1000%, too, when a) it is executed correctly and b) your body has been adequately prepared and is ready to handle it).

Have questions about detox (or otherwise)? 

Click here to book an appointment.

- Dr. Willow

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I help women achieve optimal digestive and hormonal wellness through a root cause, individualized approach to medicine that utilizes functional lab testing, diet and lifestyle modification, nutritional and herbal medicine, and acupuncture to re-establish lasting health.


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