The Role of Detoxification
Every day, your body is exposed to harmful chemicals. Your liver, kidneys, large intestine, lymphatic system, and sweat glands work together to reduce the buildup of these chemicals. This process is called detoxification, or detox. Of these organ systems, the liver plays one of the largest roles. The liver performs hundreds of functions and is needed to process nutrients and hormones, as well as remove waste products created as the result of normal body functions.
The liver also aids in breaking down and removing external toxins (naturally occurring) and toxicants (man-made):
- Pesticides on our food, farm chemicals sprayed on crops, air pollutants and chemicals from many personal care products, hair dyes, especially with black pigments being particularly troublesome, home cleaning products
- Both prescription and over-the-counter medications including paracetamol and the “pill”
- Food additives, colourings, flavour enhancers, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners
- Volatile organic compounds such as those found in fragrances and air fresheners, dry-cleaning fluids, paints, glues and adhesives etc.
Phases of Detoxification in the Liver
Phase I Liver detoxification is the first line of defence against toxins/toxicants. Phase I functions as a result of a group of enzymes known as the Cytochrome P450 family. These enzymes help neutralise substances such as caffeine and alcohol, and also help convert chemicals into forms that can be more easily removed from the body. If these toxic intermediates are allowed to build up, however, they can damage DNA and proteins.
Phase II Liver detoxification’s role is to help neutralise these intermediates and transform them to compounds that can be removed by the body through a process known as conjugation.
Supporting the Work of the Liver
In Functional Medicine, diet is used to support the work of the liver in its detox processes. Various nutrients are required to fuel detox pathways. A shortage or deficiency of any one of them could mean an increased body burden, or buildup of chemicals. Additionally, specific foods can support metabolic processes of changing toxic chemicals and waste products to less harmful forms and assist in their elimination. Therefore, the dietary plans to support detox generally focus on adding in natural and whole foods to support, regulate, start, or stop various processes related to Phase I and Phase II detoxification in the liver. For individuals with genetic variability in the Cytochrome P450 system, enzyme activity may be impaired or reduced. In these cases, detox food plans that improve Phase I metabolism and Phase II conjugation are recommended.
There is a multifactorial association of the CYP enzyme role in many different disease states, nutritional status, and environmental toxic effects.
Enzymes produced from the cytochrome P450 genes are involved in the formation (synthesis) and breakdown (metabolism) of various molecules and chemicals within cells. Cytochrome P450 enzymes play a role in the synthesis of many molecules including steroid hormones, certain fats (cholesterol and other fatty acids), and acids used to digest fats (bile acids). Additional cytochrome P450 enzymes metabolise external substances, such as medications that are ingested, and internal substances, such as toxins that are formed within cells. There are approximately 60 cytochrome P450 genes in humans and any of them can be mutated increasing ones susceptibility to poor detoxification and side effects of any number of chemicals and drugs.
CYP cytochromes also play a key role in cancer formation and cancer treatment as they activate numerous pre-carcinogens and participate in the inactivation and activation of anticancer drugs.
You can find out if any of your CYP 450 enzymes are over or under functioning by performing a genetic DNA test.
Sears ME, Genuis SJ. Environmental determinants of chronic disease and medical approaches: recognition, avoidance, supportive therapy, and detoxification. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:356798. doi:10.1155/2012/356798
Stavropoulou Elisavet, Pircalabioru Gratiela G., Bezirtzoglou Eugeni. The Role of Cytochromes P450 in Infection. Frontiers in Immunology, Vol 9. 2018.