Detox? Or Not-To-Tox? Part 2: Detox De-Bunked!

In PART 1 of this series ‘THE DETOX TREADMILL!’ I talked about how tedious it is to keep getting onto the annual ‘detox treadmill’.  Most of us have been there … did you recognise yourself, or someone you know?

Year in, year out (and often twice a year) we get onto that penance treadmill of ‘putting-in-the-bad-stuff … feeling crap … doing-the-cleanse’.  So, here, in PART 2 of this series: ‘De-Tox De-Bunked’ we ask if the whole concept of ‘detoxing’ is valid.

The idea of getting rid of toxins in one fell swoop is compelling, but some argue that we don’t need to ‘detox’; they say that if we eat ‘not-to-tox’, our bodies will detox by themselves.  Detox is big business and detox therapies and products can be mega expensive – there’s a view that that the idea of detoxing is a myth put about “by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans”. Strong words! But are they fair?

Most detoxing and cleansing advocates believe the best way to remove toxins from the body is by severely restricting food intake to ‘rest’ the liver and give our system a chance to push out the accumulated toxins. It’s argued that juicing, broths and proprietary products aid the liver in this process. But is this wise? If we are to understand ‘detox’, we need to know a little about how our liver works.

The liver’s a clever critter!


Our liver is one clever little critter – it synthesises the proteins that the body needs and it makes bile so that we can digest our food. But its star role is to detoxify our blood.

Most of the digested food we eat, ends up going from the small intestine to the liver for sorting out. Our liver is like a dynamic ‘filter’ – our blood passes through the liver continuously and this super-clever filter takes out harmful chemical ‘nasties’ before they reach toxic levels, making them ‘water-soluble’ so they can be excreted in our sweat or urine.

However, many toxins are ‘fat soluble’ (stored in our fat) and some of this fat can be stored in the fat cells of the the liver.


What does the liver do?

In a healthy, well-nourished body, both water and fat soluble toxins leave the liver soon after they come in; they don’t stick around to ‘clog up’ the system; like a dustbin over-flowing with ‘trash’.

But, if we normally base our day-to-day ‘nourishment’ on:

– ‘Prepared’ and processed foods (sugars and salts, trans-fats, industrial seed oils, highly processed vegetable oils like rapeseed, corn, sunflower, safflower, margarine and fake butter spreads, soy, additives, fake food ‘analogues’)

– Intensively reared, grain-fed meats & poultry and their by-products (milk, butter, cream, cheese, eggs)

– Too many indigestible grains

– Animal and vegetable foods raised or grown on chemically sprayed pastures or soil

– Too much alcohol!

Our body receives these inputs as ‘trash’ and the more of these kinds of foods we input, the more our liver struggles to cope.

Detoxing: simply taking out the ‘trash’?

The take-away is that if we normally eat like this, and then do a ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ we’ll take out all (or even some) of the ‘trash’ for a week or two – and this, in itself, will allow our liver to work much more efficiently at getting the ‘garbage out’. So, we’re bound to feel better and lose weight.

Result! But the problem – and the detox treadmill begins – as soon as ‘normal dietary service’ is resumed!

Detoxing: taking out the heavy trash!

Again, in a healthy, well-nourished body, the liver is continuously discarding toxins. But, if we have stored our trash as well entrenched fat-soluble toxins – actually getting these out is not a simple process of a few days (or week) of juicing, consuming a ‘clean’ liquid diet, or severely restricting our food intake. If fact, it seems this approach may even starve the liver of the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to perform its function properly.

It turns out that we need to eat sufficient nutrient-dense foods to nourish the liver and support it to do what it’s meant to do – detox!

Detox or nourish? Let’s take a look at what happens!

Detoxification is a two stage process:

Stage 1 – Oxidation: This is the first stage of our liver’s daily toil to break down fat-soluble toxins to make them more water soluble for excretion. It’s a hellishly complicated process, so let’s cut to the chase: During oxidation, free radicals are released – this is not a good thing. To combat these we need to produce anti-oxidants. For this, we need sufficient amounts of the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D and E (rich in saturated fats).

So if, on a restricted ‘detox’ diet, we eliminate saturated fats it causes a problem for our liver.

Stage 2 – Conjugation: During this second stage, the liver needs to work even harder to make the toxins even more water soluble, for excretion via our urine or bile. For this we need sufficient amounts of sulphur (egg yolks, leafy greens, crucifers) and amino acids like taurine and cysteine (grass-fed meat and dairy products).

So, if on our restricted ‘detox’ diet, we eliminate egg yolks, dairy and grass-fed meat we’ll have a hell of job processing toxins from Stage 1 to Stage 2 so we can excrete them.

The result? An overload of highly reactive toxins circulating in our system – and creating a pathway to chronic health problems!


Chronic toxic overload

Eating healthy fats and cholesterol helps your liver!

When we eat fat, our liver releases bile to metabolize the fat. Bile is a crucial part of the natural detoxification process within our body, so if our bile levels are adequate, we’ll eliminate toxins efficiently. One of the ingredients in bile is cholesterol; if we don’t consume enough cholesterol, we can’t produce enough bile. And guess what? Grass-fed animal products contain healthy fats and cholesterol – so eating these foods is a natural and completely delicious way to help your body to detoxify.

But go gently – you’re not a machine!

Taking it slowly is the key to a healthy detox regime. Detoxing isn’t like draining off the dirty oil in a car and replacing it with clean oil – all done and dusted. Few systems in the body change instantly – our bodies tend to alter themselves incrementally. Overwhelming your body with a flush of toxins is not a good plan!

A better way to cleanse the liver is to ditch the processed foods, adopt a long-term habit of eating nutrient-dense food and healthy fats!

Next time……

In PART 3 of this series we’ll see how we can eat our way off that detox ‘treadmill’ – for life!



Tabitha Farr: Starve or Nourish? Weston A Price Foundation

Izabella Natrins

I'm here to inspire and support women at midlife and beyond to re-ignite purpose and meaning to take back control of their health and create the radical, resilient heath they want and deserve. As a whole-health expert with over 30 years experience in the field, a qualified Health and Wellness Coach and Ballymaloe-trained nutritional chef, my real food nutrition and lifestyle medicine programmes support women fighting fatigue, struggling with overwhelm, weight gain, sleep, energy and niggling or multiple diagnosed health issues. As an advocate for real food nutrition, regenerative agriculture and whole-health, my book 'The Real Food Solution' is an evidence-based treasury wisdom for energy, vitality and better health for people and planet and a call to action to change the way we grown, source and cook our food. As the CEO at The UK Health Coaches Association, I'm proud to continue the task of leading the first professional association for Health and Wellness Coaches in the world and the gold standard for the UK and Ireland.

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3 Responses

  1. A fantastic post with a great summary that really puts it all into perspective: “A better way to cleanse the liver is to ditch the processed foods, adopt a long-term habit of eating nutrient-dense food and healthy fats!” Wholeheartedly agree!

    The liver is such a remarkable organ that we often take so much for granted especially when we drink a too much alcohol. Reading this article gives us an understanding of all the work the liver does and why it’s important to focus on the longer term rather than short-term quick-fixes.

  2. Hi Izabella! I loved reading your article and I honestly learned a lot! I often have a red flag pop up in my brain whenever someone mentions “toxins” .. “detoxing” seems to be the all encompassing solution for just about any problem! Thanks for helping me to get clued up on this subject, I must revisit your post to ensure some of the finer points stick. Cheers!

  1. March 15, 2018

    […] is needed to fuel the liver’s detoxification processes – especially in Phase 2 – Conjugation. It’s used to make haemoglobin in the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body and give […]

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