Antioxidants And Detoxification Process.

Often, when people hear about “detox”, they think about diet or fasting, consumption of copious amounts of water and scary looking drinks of green colour and disgusting taste. While it might be true for digestive system detoxification, there is another detoxification process, which happens naturally every day. This is a complex process of “waste removal” that takes place in liver – our main trash processing organ – and requires a whole host of antioxidants working in and outside of our cells. This is commonly known as “liver detox”, although it involves much more than liver alone and it battles with free radicals instead of clogged colon.

In the previous post, I have mentioned that we are exposed to various toxins, fungi and bacteria on a daily basis. It comes from the food we eat, the air we breathe, the hygiene products and home cleaning products we use, etc. Not to mention normal biochemical reactions that occur in our bodies, i. e. fat or energy metabolism, that produce free radicals. Our immune system and organs such as liver do a very good job of processing and removing waste products from our bodies. However, sometimes it is not enough to just rely on your body’s natural processes. This is especially important for individuals with poor diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, those who exposed to pollution, those who take medication on a regular basis, etc. This is because the cumulative effect of the constant exposure to the above factors is a major part of ageing process and is linked to the development of chronic diseases. Thus, healthy eating and supplementation is important to support detoxification process.

The liver has three main detoxification pathways: filtering the blood to remove large toxins, enzymatically breaking down unwanted chemicals (Phase I and II), and by synthesising and secreting bile for excretion or fat-soluble toxins and cholesterol.

Blood detoxification is very important, because it is loaded with bacteria and other toxic substances. A healthy liver would clear almost 100% of bacteria and toxins from the blood before it enters the general circulation.

During enzymatic process, the body uses a system designed to convert fat-soluble molecules into water-soluble, so that they can be excreted through urine. This system requires certain substances that are derived from certain nutrients in the diet. The processes takes place in the liver in two phases. During phase I a family of iron-dependent enzymes perform the initial breakdown of the toxin. As a by-product of this process, free radicals are produced during this phase. This first step is depended on B vitamins, folic acid, carotenoids, vitamins C and E. Some other antioxidants and herbs like milk thistle are useful during this phase too. During phase II, free radicals are converted for final excretion from the body through the process known as the “conjugation pathway”, where liver cells add an amino acid, or glutathione, or a sulphur molecule – whichever is necessary – to a toxic chemical, so it becomes water-soluble. This second step is dependent on amino acids and sulphur phytochemicals (found in garlic and cruciferous vegetables).

During the third detoxification pathway, liver produces bile, that serves as a carrier to eliminate toxic substances from the body. Bile emulsifies fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the intestine, improving their absorption.

Free radicals (Reactive Oxygen Species) are unstable oxygen molecules. They play an important role in a number of essential biological processes. However, because of their reactivity, they can cause unwanted side effects that result in cell damage, known as oxidative reaction. Free radical exposure is linked to ageing process and diseases associated with it, such as cardiovascular disease, age related macular degeneration, male infertility and cognitive decline.  Antioxidants help to neutralise and eliminate these reactive free radicals, but during this process, antioxidants themselves can become free radicals that have to be regenerated or neutralised by other antioxidants. It is a bit of a vicious circle unfortunately, but it happens because there are two different types of antioxidants and they work differently. There are water soluble (hydrophilic) and fat soluble (hydrophobic) antioxidants. Hydrophilic ones neutralise free radicals in the blood and in the free space inside the cells. Hydrophobic antioxidants on the other hand, help to protect the fatty (mucus) membrane that surrounds the cell.

There are also two different classification of antioxidants: those produced by the body (i. e. glutathione) and nutritional antioxidants provided by the diet. Both types work together, but antioxidants created by the body dependant on certain nutrients in the diet. In other words: if you don’t have a good diet – you won’t produce your own antioxidants.

  • Zinc, copper and manganese are required for the production of powerful anti-ageing antioxidant Superoxide Dismutase otherwise known as SOD.
  • Selenium is required for the production of Glutathione Peroxidase in liver
  • Iron is required for the production of Catalase

Primary dietary antioxidants (either from food or from supplements):

  • Vitamin C – as an antioxidant, it is concentrated in the adrenal glands (which control the stress response), pituitary gland (which regulates hormones), spleen (filters the blood) and the lens of the eye. Found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamin E family (mixed tocopherols) and CoQ10 are working within mucus membrane that surround cells. Vitamin E also donates hydrogen molecule to free radicals, stabilising them. It is found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. CoQ10 is found in meat and organs, sardines, peanuts, walnuts and pistachios, parsley and  avocado.
  • Carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, astaxanthin and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants that protect mucus membranes of cells and organs. They are found in yellow, orange and red colored fruits, vegetables and berries and some green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
  • Flavonoids also have a strong antioxidant effect and found in green tea, red and purple fruits and berries, cocoa, etc.
  • Folic acid and vitamin B12 are responsible for methylation and utilised in second stage of liver detoxification process, that makes toxins water-soluble so that they can be excreted from the body.

Antioxidants work together in supporting one another’s mechanism of action and by recycling other antioxidants. For instance, vitamin C recycles vitamin E, whereas vitamin C is recycled by Glutathione, which needs selenium in order to be produced by the liver; anthocyanidines (responsible for the purple colour of certain berries) recycle glutathione, and so on.

Apart of those who smoke, drink and exposed to high levels of pollution, individuals who engage in regular intense exercise and those who fast or overeating are in increased need of antioxidants. Exercise is good, but regular strenuous physical activity does increase oxidative stress further, so physically active people need to take extra antioxidants through supplements. Fasting or nutritionally poor diets result in chemical production during starvation state, due to toxins released from fat cells as they are broken down to produce energy. In addition, due to inadequate nutrients intake, step two of liver detoxification is impaired. On the other hand, our body produce waste and toxins through every day process of metabolism. The more we feed into our system – the more “by-product” is coming out as a result of metabolism. Thus overeating produces a lot of free radicals. I will write about digestive system detox and why it is important in later posts. Excessive stress and prolonged exposure to sunlight also increase the production of free radicals.

Supporting liver detoxification by adequate intake of antioxidants and lesser food consumption can hep to achieve healthier ageing, longer lifespan and prevent diseases. Below is the list of free radical fighting antioxidants that are available through diet or as a supplements. It is not necessary to take all of them of course, but it is good to know what’s available and I will write about each and every one of them in my future posts:

  • Astaxanthin
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Beta Carotene and vitamin A
  • Bilberry fruit or extract
  • Blackcurrant fruit or extract
  • Broccoli sprout or extract
  • Vitamin C
  • Co-Enzyme Q10
  • Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols)
  • Glutathione
  • Grape Seed Extract
  • Green Tea
  • L-Cysteine and N-Acetyl-Cycteine
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin
  • Lycopene
  • Pycnogenol (Pine Bark Extract)
  • Riboflavin
  • Selenium
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