So you’ve decided to go on a detox cleanse.

Maybe you’re starting a seven-day cleanse.

Or you’re going on a juice fast.

NEWSFLASH! Neither of these methods are true detoxification, the kind that can remove harmful toxins from your body. 

Don’t get me wrong. Both seven-day cleanses and juice fasts can have real benefits. Seven-day cleanses are great for people who are generally healthy and who want to reset their bodies. Juice fasts give your gut a break, and you’re boosting your antioxidant intake.   

But if you’ve been exposed to toxins and really need to detox your body, those strategies aren’t going to work. 

In this blog post, I’ll go into what detoxification is and what it isn’t. But before we go there, let’s review the red flags that suggest you need to detoxify in the first place.


Common Symptoms of Broken Detox

The only way to know for sure if you need to be on a detoxification program is to work with your functional medicine provider to order the right tests (more on this later).

But there are some symptoms of toxin exposure that can clue you in that you need detox. For example:

  • Autoimmune problems
  • All over joint and connective tissue pain
  • Brain fog
  • Flare ups of latent viral infections (loss of immune tolerance). For example, your herpes infection comes out of hiding after 10 years and causes you to suddenly get cold sores. 
  • General malaise
  • Random headaches
  • Rapid skin aging
  • Resistant weight loss
  • Skin breakouts like eczema, acne, rashes
  • You just don’t feel as well
  • You react to everything around you: food, chemicals, environmental exposures like pollen, the fact that it’s Wednesday. ☺

But you don’t have to be a complete mess to have a detox problem. In many cases, the full ramifications of having toxins build up in your body doesn’t show up until years later. 

A lot of people are overburdened with toxins and don’t know it because symptoms haven’t showed up yet. 


Sources of Toxin Exposure

Toxins are all around us in the food, air, and water supply. Here are some of the more common ones we’re exposed to daily:


Toxins show up in places you’d never think about—like the disposable plastic lid on that almond milk latte you just grabbed to go. Some common places that you’ll encounter toxins include:

  • Seafood (mercury)
  • Non-organic fruits and vegetables (glyphosate, pesticides)
  • Water-damaged buildings (mycotoxins). Half of all buildings in the United States are water damaged, so mycotoxins are a common problem.
  • Items not labeled BPA-free: Linings of cans, cash register receipts, toothbrushes, cloudy plastic containers. However, even items labeled BPA-free can contain BPS. This is another type of chemical that is just as toxic or more so than BPA.
  • Personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers (phthalates)
  • Pesticides and herbicides sprayed on your yard or around your office (glyphosate and others)

You can’t get away from these environmental toxins, so your best bet is to get tested to make certain your detoxification is working like it’s supposed to do. With those results, a detox program can be tailored to your needs. How do you do that? By working with functional medicine providers like me to order the right tests and design customized protocols.


How To Test for Toxins in Your Body

Before starting a detox cleanse, it’s critical to get tested to see if you have a detox problem and how severe it is. 

Patients who have had an obvious exposure should definitely get tested. For example, if a person grew up in an agricultural area, or near a coal plant, or worked in a hair salon, it’s a safe assumption that a detox treatment is needed. 

Sometimes, however, it’s not so obvious. Exposure can come from working in the garden, eating food that’s not organic, drinking tap water for years, living or working in a building with water damage, and the list goes on and on. 

We often see patients who are loaded with really nasty toxins. 

Testing not only helps us understand how well your detoxification is working—it also helps us establish a baseline, so we can get a snapshot of whether detox treatments are working by retesting again after treatment.

The tests I use to tell how well your detox pathways are working are reviewed in the next section. But popular detox cleanses and juice fasts miss all of this. They don’t address how well your body’s detoxification- your unique biochemistry- is actually working.


Common Detox Tests

Your body cleanses itself of toxins using glutathione, sulfation, methylation, and a few other pathways. So, I always run tests to tell me how well these detoxification pathways are working in your body. 

We want to know whether you have a glutathione deficiency as indicated by urine pyroglutamate and sulfate tests. Low sulfate levels show the body is using up glutathione faster than it can make it due to the high burden of toxins. 

When you run out of glutathione, it leads to a high level of oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between damaging free radicals and beneficial antioxidants. The body needs some oxidative stress, but when there’s too much of it, cells become damaged. Tissues can be harmed. Disease processes can be triggered and aging speeds up.

My favorite antioxidant test? Urine 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine, or 8-OHdG for short, is a marker of DNA damage due to free radicals. If that marker is 3.5 or higher it means your detoxification is shot. Your rate of all-cause mortality just went up significantly, you have a greater chance of getting cancer, and you’re aging faster. But there’s good news. We can balance your DNA damage by boosting levels of glutathione and antioxidants.    

Detox tests often measure levels of the following markers: 

  • Pyroglutamate – High levels mean that your body is detoxing vigorously and needs glutathione support. 
  • Sulfate – Low levels indicate your body is running out of what it needs for detoxification, especially sulfation and glutathione.
  • 8-OHdG – High levels indicate your detoxification is weak and antioxidants are out of balance.
  • P-hydroxyphenyllactate – High levels of this marker show that your antioxidant levels are getting too low. You may need vitamin C.
  • Hydroxymethylglutarate – High levels show you’re not getting enough of the antioxidant and energy producer, coenzyme Q10.
  • Methylmalonate – High levels show you’re having trouble with your methylation detoxification pathway. You need vitamin B12. 


What a Detox Program Is Not

First, going on a juice fast is not detoxing because it’s low in protein. All the detox pathways need amino acids. And where do we get amino acids from? You guessed it: protein. 

The best way to ruin your body’s natural detox abilities is to go on a protein-deficient diet. That’s why we see a lot of vegans or vegetarians who can’t carry out detoxification. Many of these patients haven’t developed a comprehensive nutrition plan to make sure they get enough protein, because creating this type of plan is labor intensive. And carrying through with it is even more difficult!

Going on a vegan or vegetarian diet often comes from a place of compassion and doing what seems best for your health. But there are some risks.  

It is very hard to get all of the nutrients you need on a meat-free diet. Vegans and vegetarians who aren’t getting the nutrition they really need and who have protein malnutrition can be highly toxic. Sure, they eat a lot of antioxidant-rich plant foods. But due to the lack of protein and impaired detox, they can ironically have a lot of oxidative stress. Remember, oxidative stress results when detox mechanisms aren’t working and it damages tissues and cells and speeds up aging.

We find that vegans and vegetarians can also have problems with an important process known as methylation. Healthy methylation is involved in so many processes in our bodies, including detox. Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient for methylation, but vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in this vitamin.  

Having said all that, a plant-forward diet is something everyone should be on for good health regardless of what other diet criteria you choose. 


A Real Detox Cleanse Takes Time

A real detox program is stretched out over time. It’s not the same as a seven-day detox cleanse. If your glutathione levels are depleted and you notice your aging is accelerated it’s going to take three to six months, or more in some cases, to get your detox tests in the normal ranges. It might take a year to get your glutathione levels up to where they need to be. 


How To Detox Your Body

The first step is to work with a functional medicine provider to help you personalize an effective protocol. When a patient needs to undergo a detox program, I always start with what’s going on in the gut. Often, the gut is the main source of toxins and oxidative stress. That’s why in most cases, I clean up the gut first.

In regards to dietary supplements, it’s really important that you address both Phase I and Phase II liver detoxification pathways. 

In Phase I, the liver breaks down toxins and makes them less harmful and water-soluble. This process creates a large amount of free radicals, which leads to excessive oxidative stress. 

In Phase II detoxification, another molecule is linked to the toxin to make the toxin less harmful. This is known as conjugation.     

Herbal combos that include dandelion, milk thistle, and artichoke leaf really just emphasize Phase I liver detox. If you’re taking supplements that address only Phase I and not Phase II,  you can go into what’s called pathological detox. This means your efforts to detoxify are actually backfiring. You’re not effectively getting rid of toxins. You’re making yourself more toxic.

When a patient feels bad during detox it’s often because the patient is doing pathological detoxifying by only supporting the Phase I pathway.  Or, in some cases, the patient doesn’t have enough bile flow to move the toxins out.  

Here are the detox supplements I often use in my patients to make sure I’m supporting both a patient’s Phase I and Phase II detoxification:

Coffee enemas can also promote bile flow.


Don’t Go It Alone

Your body’s detox can break in so many ways. That’s why a detox cleanse is going to be more effective if I customize a detox protocol designed especially for your needs. I do this based on testing to find out how well your body is—or isn’t—getting rid of toxins.  Book a free 15-minute troubleshooting call with me to find out the best course of action. 

If after the call you come on board as a patient, I’ll order the right tests for you. I’ll also support your gut health and your body’s unique biochemistry to address the root causes of your detox problems. If the tests warrant, I’ll put you on a cleansing detox program that supports both Phase I and Phase II in order to eliminate uncomfortable detox symptoms. The goal? Make your body as clean and pure as possible so you’ll feel your best once again.