There are many different supplements marketed as performance enhancers in the world of sports nutrition. With athletes trying to find an edge, and opportunistic companies selling the latest fad ingredients, it is very difficult to discern what natural substances are supported by sound scientific evidence and which ones are the flavor of the month. The reality is that many of these “natural” products have little or no evidence supporting their effectiveness or safety. At worst, they may be adulterated with dangerous and banned substances. Despite the pit falls in the world of sports nutrition, good evidence is emerging to show
In part five of our series on healthy elimination we are getting right into what detoxification really means.
The truth about detoxification
Unfortunately, detoxification has also become synonymous with cleansing – a term loosely used to describe all sorts of treatments aimed at purifying or purging the body. While the principles of purifying hold true many such treatments are unproven ( ionic foot baths anyone?), make little sense physiologically, and can even be dangerous. True detoxification begins at the cellular levels- specifically cells of the liver and kidney, and involves enhancing the body’s natural mechanisms for eliminating toxins and harmful substances.
The liver is especially important for detoxification, detoxification occurs in two phases, phase I where chemicals, from endogenous hormones and exogenous toxins, are broken down, and phase II where they are altered in some way (ie.adding various groups like methyl, glucuronide or sulphate etc) that facilitates their excretion. Our livers are generally well adapted to carrying out this process. However, the environmental assault of different toxins can block, prolong, or destroy part or all of this process. When individuals say they can’t go out because they are “detoxing this week” they may be achieving this in a number of ways. Through limiting toxin exposure. Through improving elimination pathways- notably improving bowel function. And they may detoxify by stimulating these phase II enzymes in the liver to drive cellular detoxification from the liver forward.
Promoting phase II detoxification is protective against the accumulation of molecules that have been implicated as risk factors for many cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke and hypertension, weight loss and endocrine disorders. Estrogen dominant conditions, for example, are related to improper elimination or metabolism of estrogens from the environment. Further, removal of carcinogenic compounds and toxic byproducts of cellular functioning reduced the risk for a number of diseases including cancers, and cardiovascular disease.
One does not simply turn on liver enzymes… or do they?
Many natural compounds have been shown to support the processes outlined above. Dr. Hrkal outlined some tips on how you can detox, but let’s take a closer look at the compounds that have been identified as phase II stimulants. The most potent inducers of phase II detoxification includes isothiocyanates which are derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and bok-choy and are further converted in the body into sulforaphane. Among these compounds are sulforaphane, and D-Glucarate.
D-glucarate is a naturally occurring compound that plays a very important role in the detoxification of toxins. One very important detoxification pathway in the body is the glucuronidation pathway. Through glucuronidation, toxic chemicals and even excess levels of some hormones are neutralized, and then eliminated from the body. This important detoxification process can be disrupted by the enzyme beta-glucuronidase, which acts to reactivate the neutralized toxins.
The Benefits of Sulforaphane
The consumption of leafy green vegetables has been associated with a reduced incidence of cancer. Sulforaphane glucosinolate is one such isothiocyanate as mentioned above. This natural compound found in broccoli has been shown to inhibit tumor formation and support healthy detoxification.
Sulforaphane is a potent inducer of phase II detoxification enzymes, greatly assisting the body in reducing the overall toxic burden as well as affording substantial other health benefits in immune function, heart health, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. The most widely studied aspect of sulforaphane is its potential as an anti-cancer agent. Sulforaphane’s anti-cancer effect is attributed to the stimulation of phase II enzymes, apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, reduction of the metastases and the inhibition of angiogenesis.
Sulforaphane also has powerful antioxidant effects, and can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation, support cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure and lessen allergy symptoms.
Get support from your gut
And finally when discussing detoxification it is important to have healthy excretion. This is another area that probiotics shine they make the digestive lining less leaky so it doesn’t absorb potentially allergenic and toxic molecules.
Bifidobacterium longum (BB-536)
This highly beneficial probiotic strain has been shown to help promote detoxification and to help to promote normal cell growth. Evidence has shown that this bacteria acts to enhance the immune system, suppress the growth of harmful bacteria that secrete toxic substances, bind and eliminate toxic substances, and secrete health protective compounds. Many probiotics have been shown to reduce beta-glucuronidase activity in the colon, thereby preventing the reactivation of dangerous compounds. While Bifidobacterium is naturally present in breast milk it can also be found in fortified yogurt and even infant formula.
Dr. O’Brien said it best, “for natural detoxification, you essentially want to encourage the function of your organs (i.e. liver, lungs, bowels, kidneys and skin)”.
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