In 1984, Michael Jordan received the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and an Olympic gold medal. It was a good year. He wore a pair of pinkish Converse tennis shoes at some point that year, supposedly even in the Los Angeles Olympic games. Decades later, when the shoes went up for auction, they were expected to sell for $100,000. Amazingly, someone paid $190,373 for them! We are willing to invest time, effort, and money in that which we think is highly valuable. Obviously, someone found a lot of value in a worn-out pair of pink Converse tennis shoes because of who wore them.
How valuable do you think detoxification is? While you can’t purchase the detox process, it’s extremely valuable and worthy of time and effort to keep it in full function. Detoxification could be considered costly, as it requires significant energy and nutrients. It is complex, as many steps and reactions are essential. Furthermore, as we age it becomes even more valuable to our health.
Last month we began to look at the initial steps and necessary nutrients needed for balanced detoxification to occur. We learned that detoxification has steps or phases in which it accomplishes the feat of eliminating hazardous material or toxins from the body. We learned how important it is for these phases to be in sync with each other. If the first phase of detoxification is outpacing the second phase, significant stress and cell damage can occur. I find it fascinating that it is possible to regulate the phases. For example, some notable nutrients that balance phase I and phase II enzymes include ellagic acid from pomegranates, catechin from decaffeinated green tea, and glucosinolates from watercress. Simply supporting phase II and its nutrient requirements can go a long way in keeping the steps balanced. Let’s begin by identifying what occurs in phase II of detoxification.
In phase II of detoxification, the process of toxin biotransformation continues by combining the partially processed toxin with a carrier. Remember, the aim is to take a toxin and transform it into a molecule that is not so toxic, which can be eliminated from the body through the stool, sweat, or urine. However, the intermediary product that is formed after phase I of the detox process can be much more dangerous than the original toxin and needs to be neutralized by antioxidants and escorted out of the body. Here again we see enzymes playing a very important role. Enzymes attach this intermediary product to substances such as proteins, which serve as bodyguards as it were. The proteins attach themselves to the transformed toxin and usher it out of the body. One very important bodyguard is glutathione.
If the first phase of detoxification is outpacing the second phase, significant stress and cell damage can occur.
Glutathione is a protein that performs numerous valuable roles in the detox process. It is often referred to as the master or mother antioxidant of the body. As a powerful antioxidant, it can fully disable the intensified toxin after it has gone through the first phase of detox, protecting the body against oxidative damage. It can also function as an enzyme that aids in reconstructing the toxin. It also serves as the main bodyguard, escorting the transformed toxins out of the body. Because glutathione can perform so many roles, it can become depleted if overused. For example, if an individual does not consume enough antioxidants in the diet, glutathione will have to perform that role, perhaps leaving less glutathione to function as bodyguards. Glutathione needs to be replenished. Rather than taking glutathione supplements, the best way to support and increase glutathione is to ingest the nutrients the body needs to produce it.
To support healthy glutathione levels, try the following:
- Consume sulfur-rich foods, as glutathione contains sulfur. These include garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.).
- With intentional detox, try taking N acetylcysteine (NAC), a supplement that has great success in boosting glutathione levels. “Thirty days of NAC supplementation were sufficient to restore baseline glutathione concentration, reduce systemic oxidative stress and improve erythrocyte glutathione metabolism in a low glutathione group.”1 Supplementing with NAC results in increased glutathione effectiveness. Consuming the amino acid cysteine in the diet enhances glutathione. Plant foods that are rich in cysteine include soy, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, beans, and oats.
- Ensure you have adequate amounts of protein in your diet, as you can’t make glutathione without it. Detoxification is actually very dependent on protein status.
- Include selenium, another building block for glutathione, in your diet. Brazil nuts are a rich source, but selenium can be found in various foods.
- Look into taking a-Lipoic acid supplement, which has been observed to markedly enhance intracellular glutathione levels. Undenatured whey protein was also found to increase cellular and plasma glutathione.
- Make sure to get enough vitamin B6. Marginal deficiency of vitamin B6 is associated with lower glutathione enzymes.
- Try taking vitamins C and E, which have glutathione boosting effects.
- Get plenty of antioxidants. As mentioned, a diet high in antioxidants will spare glutathione so it can perform its other valuable roles and doesn’t become spread too thin.
There are multiple ways to support glutathione and they are worth incorporating. While glutathione is the master antioxidant and an extremely important ally in the detox quest, it is one among many others. There are other protein building blocks and substances that serve as bodyguards that need our support. They all contribute to the value of the detox process.
Our increasing exposure to hundreds of chemicals in our environment, probably never before seen by man, has perhaps heightened the value of our detox system. Its capacity to adapt to our need reveals wisdom behind its design. Becoming more familiar with how our body detoxifies and with my great need of being detoxed has dramatically increased its value in my estimation. Just like that worn out pair of sneakers, its true worth is derived from whom it belongs to, which in this case is you.
I see spiritual lessons encased in the detox phases and steps. Taking the toxin to the final step where it is dealt with reminds me of the One who attached Himself so tightly to our sin that Scripture says He became sin itself. He took on Him the sin problem of the whole world and sacrificed Himself for its ultimate removal. Jesus is the only one who could dismantle the power of this toxin permanently. No other way can we be purified.
- V. Paschalis, et al., “N-acetylcysteine supplementation increases exercise performance and reduces oxidative stress only in individuals with low levels of glutathione,” National Center for Biotechnology Information Free Radic Biol Med, Feb. 1, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29233792.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.