Help Your Body Clean Itself

by Caleb Mok
03 Sep 2020

A dietician’s expert take on detox diets and fiber-rich food consumption.

We are exposed to various toxins in our surroundings every day – from the chemicals in skincare and cosmetic products that we apply, to those in the food that we eat, the containers we use to transport or keep our food, and the environmental pollutants. At the same time, our body produces endotoxins through metabolism. These toxins have to be constantly neutralized and removed to ensure uninterrupted bodily functions.

Detoxification is not just about juicing or liquid diet. It is also about supporting or even enhancing the body’s detoxification processes through whole foods, nutrients, and healthy lifestyle. These processes are essential to our body to optimize energy levels, maintain healthy cellular and organ functions, and protect the cells against DNA mutations, which can lead to severe conditions such as cancers.


Detoxification Processes

Our body removes toxins via a few channels. The liver is the master organ of detoxification in the body. As a primary defense against daily toxins, it filters the **** and captures the (mostly fat-soluble) toxins. There are generally three phases of detoxification happening in the liver and other organs.

In Phase I, various enzymatic reactions convert toxic chemicals to their reactive, unstable intermediate metabolites, which can also act as free radicals. Most reactions are governed by a family of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450s (CYPs).

In Phase II, the unstable metabolites are quickly rendered into water-soluble metabolites through enzymatic reactions like attaching, transferring, removing, and combining certain chemical groups so that they can be easily transported out from the cells.

In Phase III, the non-toxic water-soluble by-products of Phase II are forcefully pumped out from the cells where they can then be removed from the body through other organs: The large intestine (defecation), the skin (perspiration), the lungs and respiratory system (breathing), the urinary system (urination), and bile (excretion).


Promoting Detoxification

The diverse set of detox enzymes and co-factors require an array of nutrients from a variety of whole foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and beans are packed with a variety of nutrients. The nutrients and other antioxidants, phytochemicals, can switch on the detox genes, which in turn enhance the production of detox enzymes and co-factors. Being packed with fibre, they can promote regular bowel movement – an important channel for the removal of toxins from our body.

Besides a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and other whole foods are certain foods that can upregulate the expression of detox genes and enzymes that we can incorporate into our daily meals.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, siew pak choy, choy sum, kale, and Brussels sprouts, are rich in indole-3 carbinol (I3C), sulforaphane, glucosinolates, Di-indolylmethane (DIM), and isothiocyanate. These phytochemicals are among the most potent natural inducers of Phase II detoxification. Their fiber content maintains regular bowel movement, which is essential for toxin excretions via bile juice and stool.

High-quality proteins, often low in fats such as those from lean meat, poultry, eggs, fishes, soy, is important for Phase I detoxification because the complete amino acid profiles increase CYPs. Sulphur containing amino acids – methionine and cysteine – are required for the body to produce detox enzymes or co-factors, for instance, glutathione, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe), and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). Similarly, the B vitamins, especially B2, B3, B12, and folate, play pivotal roles in the production of various detox enzymes, as well as participating in the detox biochemical pathways.

Green tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) are rich in catechins, a group of polyphenols that promotes phases I and II detoxification.

Allium vegetables such as garlic, onions, leeks, and chives get their distinct flavor and aroma from sulphur-containing phytochemicals diallyl sulphate, allicin, and others. Besides providing antioxidative benefits, they improve the phases I and II detoxification.

Turmeric and artichoke have phytochemicals and antioxidants that stimulate bile excretion that in turn, improve this channel of toxin elimination. Healthy bile flow is a major carrier of toxins from the body. In addition to fat digestion in the intestines, bile juice that is left in the colon and excreted with the stool helps reduce the toxin load in the body. However, those with bile duct obstruction or gall stones should consult their healthcare professionals before consuming high frequencies and quantities of these.


Wholegrains, Beans, Legumes

Fiber-rich whole grains, beans, and legumes maintain one of the vital pillars of detoxification — defaecation. Also, they are rich in different B vitamins, too. Try taking half of your grains as whole grains daily.

Milk thistle extract has demonstrated benefits in defending the liver against toxins and oxidative stress formed during detoxification. This is attributed to the powerful blend of liver-protecting compounds in the extracts of milk thistle-like silymarin.

Fiber and probiotics can be grouped into either insoluble or soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and forms roughage in the colon that captures water in the stool for smoother defecation. Soluble fiber, such as beta-glucans, pectin, psyllium, gums, oligosaccharides, inulin, mannose, xylitol, and others, dissolves in water and forms a gel that can absorb bile juice in the colon and eliminate it together with the stool. Soluble fiber is also the food for prebiotics. Food that contains relatively higher soluble fiber includes certain reishi, shiitake, maitake, white button mushrooms, sea vegetables, microalgae (especially Euglena gracilis), cereals (oats, barley), and some fruits.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts at the right place, give health benefits. Though tiny, the healthy population and growth of this squad in the gut help to lower toxin exposure by trapping and breaking down toxins. When they feed on soluble fiber in the gut through fermentation, short-chain fatty acids are released. They stimulate glutathione production in intestinal cells.

Caleb Mok is the Representative Dietitian of PanAsia Surgery. Trained in a heart institute and an acute hospital, his focus is preventive and rehabilitative nutrition.