(Last Updated On: )


The average newborn baby already has 287 known toxins in his or her umbilical cord blood. 80,000 toxic chemicals have been released into our environment since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In our modern world, we can’t keep these exposures from affecting us. The good news is that we can take positive steps to protect our bodies and detox. Clients often ask me how detoxification works in our body. It’s an extremely complicated process, but I’ll do my best to outline it here.

Most of our body’s toxic waste goes through 3 specific phases. Phase 1 and 2 get a lot of attention in the medical literature, but many are starting to realize Phase 3 is just as important.

Phase 1 is the first line of defense against toxins. It uses a group of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450 family. These enzymes protect cells from damage by converting toxins into smaller substances, making them water-soluble in order to enter the next phase. This is done by oxidation, which results in free radicals. This is potentially harmful if they don’t keep moving through the detox pathways to be eliminated from the body.

During this phase it can be important to increase antioxidants as protection, especially polyphenols and flavonoids. I typically recommend eating at least 7 servings daily of a wide variety of COLORFUL fruits and vegetables, such as red peppers, carrots, dark green leafy veggies, blueberries, or beets. The wider variety of colors, the better; as this will likely provide the nutrients you need. Supplement additions such as resveratrol, CoQ10, vitamins A and E, selenium, copper, zinc, or glutathione (liposomal is best absorbed) could be a good addition in protection as well.

Phase 1 is activated by many toxins such as alcohol, paint fumes, dioxin, pesticides, and some medications.

Phase 2 takes water soluble metabolites from Phase 1 to be conjugated using 6 different pathways. Then, these metabolites are taken out of your body through bile, urine, and stool. This phase requires sulfur (garlic, onions, egg yolk, cruciferous veggies), amino acids, B12 vitamins, and molybdenum (green leafy vegetables). If you are not sure of your nutritional status, I highly recommend seeing a holistic or functional provider to do some lab testing which will provide info on your mineral and essential nutrient status.

It is very common for Phase 2 to be suboptimal, typically because of the lack of sufficient intake of the above nutrients. This can be dangerous because the metabolites of Phase 1 need to be moved out.

You may activate Phase 1 easily by your morning cup of coffee or your evening glass of wine. However, if you have a suboptimal Phase 2 conjugation, you could suffer the results of these toxins still being in your system hours later with diverse symptoms such as insomnia, brain fog, or even hot flashes.

The final phase, Phase 3, is basically transportation of the Phase 2 conjugates to your kidneys and then out of your body via urine; or out with your bile into your small intestine, and down for elimination via stool. Phase 3 requires good hydration and proper function of your GI system. If you are not having a daily bowel movements without constipation or diarrhea, there is a reason, and this should be worked up. You could have underlying causes such as gut dysbiosis, lack of dietary fiber, or a mineral deficiency.

Be sure you have proper and healthy elimination in order before doing a detox or cleanse. Otherwise, it is not worth the potential damage! You don’t want to push your body into detox if Phase 2 and 3 are not working well.  

Proper detoxification is extremely important when it comes to overall health. Too much toxin exposure, not enough nutrients, or not having proper elimination can cause symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, hormonal imbalances and others. I highly recommend being sure these 3 detox phases, especially Phase 3, are in prime working order!

Learn more healthy living tips from the Shift Functional Medicine blog!

Leave a Reply

Shift Functional Medicine