Have you ever been to the hospital because you didn’t feel quite good, but after several tests, nothing seemed to be wrong with you? Perhaps it was a headache? Perhaps fatigue?
Sometimes when you feel tired or sick, it doesn’t always mean that you need medicine. Perhaps what you need is detoxification.
When you consume food for example or other substances that enter into your body, biochemical reactions are triggered which may result in the production of free radicals such as hydroxide ion instead of water (after the Electron Transport Chain, ETC reaction). Free radicals are chemical substances which have uneven numbers of electrons and are therefore highly reactive. When these free radicals react with other substances in your body, more of them (free radicals) are produced, resulting in a condition called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is hazardous to the body as it damages healthy cells and components of the DNA, resulting in inflammation.
In other words, you need to detox.
What does it mean to detox?
Detoxification is the removal of toxins from the body. These toxins are chemical substances that have either stored up over a period of time from metabolic processes or are just freshly consumed, having the potential to cause harm to the body.
The liver and its role in detoxification
The liver is the largest internal organ in the body. It accounts for about 4% of a person’s body weight at birth and weighs about 1.4kg when healthy. It is found in the upper part of the stomach. It is also one of the most active and vital organs in the body. It plays so many roles some of which include formation of bile and excretion, fats, carbohydrate and protein metabolism into carbon dioxide, water and energy as well as nitrogenous waste in the case of proteins (ammonia and urea), storing glycogen, bilirubin, cholesterol and drug excretion, etc., activation of enzymes, excretion of hormones and production of albumin and clotting factors. The liver is so vital in the body’s metabolic functions as well as the immune system that without a functioning liver, a person may not survive.
The liver’s primary function is to filter everything and anything that enters the body, it removes unwanted substances and send the filtered portion back to the rest of the body via the hepatic vein, a type of blood vessels that transports deoxygenated and for blood from the liver to the inferior vena cava and then to the heart. i.e deoxygenated blood and filtered blood is transported from the liver to the rest of the body. It is essential to know that the liver is connected to blood vessels that either transport blood and other materials to and from the liver. The blood vessels include the hepatic arteries, the hepatic veins as well as the hepatic portal veins. The liver receives blood from both the hepatic arteries as well as the portal veins. This is called a dual blood supply. While the hepatic arteries deliver oxygenated blood to the liver, the portal veins deliver filtered blood to the liver.
(The hepatic arteries transport oxygenated blood to the liver from the aorta of the heart while the portal vein functions by transporting filtered blood (deoxygenated blood) from abdominal contents into the liver).
So the liver plays a vital role in cleansing the body of unwanted or foreign bodies. Another critical role that the liver plays is in detoxifying the body. This is a crucial role that must be played by the liver. The liver works to eliminate toxins by performing either of two steps;
- It could convert toxins to be removed via urine or as bile by combining it with amino acids. Or
- It could burn and break down the toxins by the action of enzymes or oxygen.
The conversion of these toxins into non-toxic matter depends on the nature of them. For example, fat-containing toxins such as heavy metals and chemicals like benzene must be converted to water-soluble metabolites in order to be eliminated. This kind of elimination is more complicated. A functioning liver converts toxins successfully so that they don’t build up in the body. However, when the liver becomes worn out, it becomes slow and these toxins are not converted as quickly as is required.
Therefore, when you notice frequent nausea and loss of appetite, it is important to see a doctor. Prevention is always better so taking care of the liver by avoiding alcohol and eating healthier meals may protect against liver failure. This is also a way of detoxifying the liver as harmful substances are stored up over time when taken in excess. The debilitation of the liver is gradual and therefore, can be checked. An example of food that may contain toxins includes red meat which could absorb polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) when grilled. The PAH are said to cause cancer. Other examples of foods containing toxins are excess sugar and refined vegetable oil.
Why do we need to detoxify our body?
Toxins affect your body’s normal metabolic functions such as digestion, cell regeneration and rejuvenation, etc. causing your organs to work slower than usual. Detoxification helps to remove these toxins from the body and thereby improves the functions of your body organs in order to maintain robust body systems. When we detox, we assist our bodies’ normal functioning.
The organs involved in the body’s natural detoxification process include, but are not limited to the liver, kidney, skin and lungs. Detoxification purifies these organs so that although they are healthy, toxins that may have stored up in them are expelled.
Another important reason why we need to detox is to boost our body’s immune system. When reactive oxygen species cause oxidative stress, damaging some cells, inflammation occurs when cytokines are released in response to the inflammation to promote healing in the damaged. But sometimes these cytokines are proinflammatory and may cause even more damage.
Sometimes detoxification also helps in boosting our energy as metabolic processes become faster, and foods are easily and quickly broken down to release energy.
Some of the many other benefits of detoxification are to renew cells in the skin and hair promoting shiny skin and healthier hair. It also helps in the brain to improve cognition.
There are several different ways in which to detoxify the body without having to take pills or drink some detoxifying fluid. Most of the time, effective detoxification comes from controlling our diet as the body has its own natural detox process, the ‘detox-diet’ aids in this.
Related article: Neurodegeneration and brain disorders
Some practical ways to detox include;
- Avoiding alcohol: This has the potential to save the liver from extra work. the liver metabolizes everything that enters the body, food, fluid, drugs, etc. however in alcohol consumption, the liver does not only convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, which is a cancer-causing toxin but also, recognizing the toxin, converts the acetaldehyde to acetate. In the case of excess consumption of alcohol, fats build up and accumulate in the liver. More toxins are released and oxidative stress occurs. The liver overworks itself and may not work properly.
- Drinking of water: Other than aiding digestion, water has several other health benefits and plays many significant roles in our body. One of these involves detoxification. Water transports waste products to be excreted at different sites through sweat, urine or gas. The excretion of these waste aided by water includes excretion of toxins or converting harmful reactive oxygen species into harmless substances.
- Adequate sleep and rest: When you overwork your body, its processes become slow. Your body is more complicated than your mobile phones and computers. And even those need rest. Sleep helps to rejuvenate the brain so that it does not store toxins that could be hazardous to the brain cells. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep has the potential to affect mental health. For a person with bipolar disorder, for example, severe manic phase could be triggered by lack of sleep. During sleep, the brain expels toxins that are accumulated during daily activities such as beta amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Exercise: There is no better way of burning fat and calories than exercising. Engage your body in physical activity such as walking, running or hiking. Many research has proven that inactivity may be the cause of cardiovascular diseases as well as diabetes. Exercising also helps in reducing inflammation by modulating the release of glucocorticoids, adrenalins and norepinephrine, which in turn helps to bring the body back to homeostasis. However, exercise should be controlled so that overexertion of the body does not occur.
- Eat healthily: Eat less sugar as they could cause diabetes, hypertension and other life-threatening cardiovascular diseases. These diseases such as coronary heart disease are as a result of the accumulation of plaques and result in oxidative stress. An increase in food high in fat may increase one’s risk of heart attack, especially when already diagnosed with Coronary Heart Disease. Consumption of fruits, vegetables and other foods rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants can help remove excess free radicals from the body.
- Fasting: Fasting is basically abstinence from food and (in some cases), water for a period of time. This process can be an effective tool for detoxifying the body. Some scientists think that fasting may not have as many health benefits as people claim. But continuous research has proven that not only does fasting help in regulating sugar level in the blood, it also aids in removing toxins that cause oxidative stress as well as regulate cholesterol levels in the body. How? When we eat, our glucose levels build up in the blood. Insulin is then activated and the excess glucose is converted to glycogen and fats. This means that the more food you eat, the more fat and sugar is being stored in your body. During fasting, the blood glucose level decreases as it is immediately used up. It also helps in regulating blood pressure and other cardiovascular-related problems as well as fat and cholesterol levels in the blood. In a 2019 study by F Wilhelmi de Toledo, the study showed that fasting led to the decrease of blood glucose levels in all groups consisting of 1422 subjects. The type of fasting that was carried out is called Intermittent Fasting or alternate-day fasting. Fasting is also said to improve the health condition of people with Insulin-independent Diabetes Mellitus or Type 2 Diabetes for some patients. However, this is still under review as more studies are being conducted on it.
In conclusion, fasting is one of many ways in detoxifying the body, but as the subject of its health benefits especially for those with life-threatening illnesses is still under debate, it is advised that if you must fast, do so under close monitoring and regulation and with the permission of your doctor.
Detoxification is a smart way to live a better life. Getting rid of toxins that may cause harm to your body is one of the best ways to prevent diseases. So making it a habit to detox every once in your life should be an excellent way to start living a healthier life. Remember, you can always make your own ‘detox-diet’ without the need to detoxifying drugs that may or may not be helpful in your detoxification journey. There is no magic to it. The solution is in regulating what you consume.
Marni N. Silverman and Patricia A. Deuster (2014) Oct 6; 4(5). Biological mechanisms underlying the role of physical fitness in health and resilience. Interface Focus. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2014.0040.
Gavin Van De Walle. (2019) Mar 11. Full Body Detox: 9 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body. Healthline.
Kim Bengochea. (2019). Blood supply and innervation of the liver. Kenhub.com