From a chemical perspective, much of what goes on in the body is that substances are broken down, built up and turned from one thing into another. A good 80 per cent of this involves detoxifying potentially harmful substances. Much of this is done by the liver which represents a clearing house, able to recognise millions of potentially harmful chemicals and transform them into something harmless or prepare them for elimination. It is the chemical brain of the body - recycling, regenerating and detoxifying in order to maintain your health.
These external, or exo-toxins represent just a small part of what the liver has to deal with; many toxins are made within the body from otherwise harmless molecules. Every thought, every breath and every action can generate toxins. These internally created or endo-toxins have to be disarmed in just the same way as exo-toxins do. Whether a substance is bad for you depends as much on your ability to detoxify it as its inherent toxic properties.
Instead of thinking of certain substances as 'bad' for you, or provoking a reaction, think of them as exceeding your capacity to detoxify them. It's as if the body's metabolism represents a fire. The fire generates smoke that needs to be got rid of. Our metabolic fire - the burning of glucose to form energy - burns slowly and generates plenty of smoke. That's what the liver has to deal with - it's this smoke, not the substances themselves that often causes problems.
Skin problems are just one aspect in which a poor detoxification capacity may show up in the body. Chronic fatigue, multiple allergies, frequent headaches, sensitivity to chemicals and environmental pollutants, chronic digestive problems, muscle aches, autism, schizophrenia, drug reactions and Gulf War syndrome are just some of the other conditions that can be caused by a break down in the body's ability to detoxify.
Testing your detox potential
Here’s a simple questionnaire to test your detox potential:
- Do you often suffer from headaches or migraine?
- Do you sometimes have watery or itchy eyes, or swollen, red or sticky eyelids?
- Do you have dark circles under your eyes?
- Do you sometimes have itchy ears, earache, ear infections, drainage from the ears or ringing in the ears?
- Do you often suffer from excessive mucus, a stuffy nose or sinus problems?
- Do you suffer from acne, skin rashes or hives?
- Do you sweat a lot and have a strong body odour?
- Do you sometimes have joint or muscle aches or pains?
- Do you have a sluggish metabolism and find it hard to lose weight, or are you underweight and find it hard to gain weight?
- Do you often suffer from frequent or urgent urination?
- Do you suffer from nausea or vomiting?
- Do you often have a bitter taste in your mouth or a furry tongue?
- Do you have a strong reaction to alcohol?
- Do you suffer from bloating?
- Does coffee leave you feel jittery or unwell?
7 or more
If you answer yes to seven or more questions you need to improve your detox potential.
If you answer yes to between four and seven questions you are beginning to show signs of poor detoxification and need to improve your detox potential.
Fewer than 4
If you answer yes to fewer than four questions, you are unlikely to have a problem with detoxification.
If you have a significant score, it’s worth getting more information via a test to assess your biochemical detoxification potential. A nutritional therapist and some doctors can arrange a Hepatic Detox Profile test to check levels of certain markers (specifically D-glucaric acid and mercapturic acids) from the key liver detoxification pathways, which are described in more detail below. This can give an indication of how well these pathways are working, and where more support may be needed. A Hepatic Detox Profile test is, however, quite different from standard GP tests for liver function, which involve measuring levels of key enzymes GPT and GOT. If these are raised, it means your liver is really struggling. This is an indication of a chronic problem and while it is useful in pinpointing that a problem exists, it doesn’t really identify the best way to help recovery.
Detoxification – a two-step process
The main mechanisms for detoxification are carried out by your liver and involve a complex set of chemical pathways that have the ability to recycle toxic chemicals and turn them into harmless ones, in a process known as ‘biotransformation’. Each pathway consists of a series of enzyme reactions, and each enzyme is dependent on a number of nutrients that step by step, make your internal world safe to live in.
Detoxification can be split into two stages. The first, known as Phase 1, is akin to getting your garbage ready for collection. It doesn’t actually eliminate anything, just prepares it for elimination, making it easier to pick up. Fat-soluble toxins, for example, become more soluble. Phase 1 is carried out by a series of enzymes called P-450 enzymes. The more toxins you’re exposed to, the faster these enzymes must work to pile up garbage ready for collection. Often, the substances created by the P-450 enzyme reactions are more toxic than before. For example, many are oxidised, generating harmful free radicals.
Figure X – How the Liver Detoxifies
The function of P-450 enzymes primarily depends on antioxidants such as glutathione, n-acetyl cysteine, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, E, selenium and beta-carotene – although B vitamins, flavonoids and phospholipids are ......
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