Detox diets, juicing to colon cleanses are all the rage nowadays for those looking to kickstart a healthy lifestyle or lose weight.
But do they really work?
Detoxification (detox for short) is the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from your body, which is mainly carried out by your liver. It also involves your kidneys, gastrointestinal system and skin.
Detoxification is the synergy that results from the following:
The fact of the matter is your body has it’s own in-built detox system. Without which life would not be possible.
There is no scientific evidence to show that detox diets or juicing brings you health. Especially when you’re already on a healthy, balanced diet with regular exercise.
Since your body is always in a natural state of cleansing itself, you do not need to do a juice cleanse or follow a liquid detox diet to be healthy. If anything, the benefits of following these diets or juicing comes from cutting down on processed, refined foods and getting your essential nutrients.
Advocates for detox diets and juice cleanses usually describe your liver and kidneys as similar to how filters function. Whereby toxins and impurities are captured and retained in your body. Hence the rationale for periodically going on detox diets, etc to clean them out, like how you would clean your sponge or air-con filters.
But the truth is your liver and kidneys do not work like this. Your liver performs a series of chemical reactions to convert toxic substances into ones that can be eliminated in bile, or via your kidneys (urine). Your liver is self-cleansing – toxins don’t accumulate in it, (unless you have liver diseases such as hepatitis A, B, C, cirrhosis, etc). And it generally functions without any problem.
You might shed some pounds in the beginning of a cleanse. But this is mostly due to loss of water because you won’t be consuming much calories.
But that weight comes right back when you start eating again. Severe calorie restriction associated with these diets can also lead to muscle breakdown and feelings of extreme fatigue, as well as headaches, irritability, cramping and diarrhea.
These are ineffective as a long term solution to weight lose. You should instead opt for healthier, more sustainable alternatives to losing weight.
Your liver is one of the four major organs that eliminate toxins from the body. The other three organs involved are your kidneys, intestinal tract and skin.
Your liver plays several roles in detoxification: it filters the blood to remove large toxins, synthesises and gets rid of bile full of cholesterol and other fat-soluble toxins, and enzymatically eliminates unwanted chemicals.
Many of the toxins that enter your body are fat soluble which means they dissolve only in fatty or oily solutions and not it water. The first step in your body’s detoxification process is your liver has to convert fat soluble toxins into water soluble substances that can be excreted from your body.
The enzymatic process to dispose of toxins occurs in two phases: phase 1 (Oxidations) and phase 2 (Conjugation). Phase 1 neutralises the toxin or changes the toxic chemical to form activated intermediates which will then be neutralised during phase 2 of the enzyme system. This converts toxic chemicals into less harmful ones (using oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis reactions).
During this process, free radicals are produced and if if your cells cannot overcome them, it might damage your liver cells. That’s where antioxidant comes in, to reduce and neutralise the damage caused by free radicals. One important antioxidant for neutralising the free radicals produced in phase 1 is glutathione. This antioxidant is also required for key phase 2 processes.
Phase 2 is called the conjugation pathway because your liver cells add another substance such as cysteine, glycine, or a sulphur molecule to toxic chemicals to make them less harmful. What results are water-soluble toxins that can be excreted from your body via watery fluids such as bile or urine.
Glutathione (GSH) is found throughout your body. However it is particularly concentrated in your liver due to the important role that it plays in the detoxification process.
Detox via Direct conjugation
Glutathione works like a chelating agent. These are substances that are introduced into your system, so they can bind to the toxins and remove them from your body.
Glutathione does the same thing. It binds to the toxins in your system with an enzyme called conjugase, and this process is called direct conjugation.
“GSH has multiple functions in detoxification and its depletion has been associated with an increased risk of chemical toxicity. GSH can be depleted by different agents (and GSH) plasma levels vary with gender, age, race, and dietary habits.”
-D.P. Jones, L.A Brown, P. Sternberg (Emory School of Medicine)
Among some of the substances detoxified by GSH conjugation are:
Overcome free radicals
The by product of your body’s detoxification metabolic activities (or any other metabolic activity for that matter) is free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules. The instability is caused by a missing electron. In order to achieve balance, free radicals rip electrons from their surrounding neighbours. As a result, those molecules also turn into free radicals. This damage can eventually snowball and disrupt your cell’s integrity, causing it to behave abnormally.
Glutathione (GSH) is known as your body’s Master Antioxidant. This is because besides quenching free radicals on its own (by donating it’s electron). GSH also has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. After these antioxidants neutralise free radicals, they become unstable radicals themselves. GSH helps recycle these unstable molecules, returning them to active duty!
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