When our hormones are wild (think PMS, mood swings, low libido, weight loss resistance, acne, hair loss) we become desperate for relief. I mean, who can live with symptoms like that?
Unfortunately, that desperation can lead us to try out some of the less evidence-based ideas the internet has to offer – take a hormone cleanse or detox, for example.
Quick survey: When you hear the words “cleanse” or “detox” what comes to mind?
Nibbling on ice chips when I get hungry.
Drinking copious amounts of lemon juice and cayenne.
Those were just a few of the answers I got to a recent survey of my Instagram followers. In essence, for most women “hormone cleanse” is just another way to say “going hungry”.
What’s the Best Way to Support Detoxification?
What if I told you that the best way to help improve your body’s ability to detox is actually to add foods into your diet, versus taking them away? Mind blown, right? Let me explain.
Detoxification is a something that our bodies do without being told. It’s not as if toxins or hormones just sit there until we decide to try the juice fast/hormone cleanse our co-worker keeps raving about (thanks, Karen). It’s something that our body is working at constantly.
That’s not to say that everyone’s body detoxes well. Factors like our genetics, toxin burden, gut health, and *yes* lack of nutrition can impair detoxification. These are very real things that can impact our health in a variety of ways – for example, we know that hormones impact the health of our hair. But hormone imbalances are often linked with inefficient detoxification. In that way, we can draw a pretty clear line between our ability to detoxify and how healthy our hair might be.
How Detoxification Works IRL
Detoxification is not a passive process. It involves different organs, it costs our body energy, and needs lots of different nutrients to make it happen. Our liver and gut are considered to be the key detox organs, so I’m going to spend the rest of this blog series talking about how we can support detoxification through those pathways.
To understand how our liver and gut work together on detoxification, it might be best to think of it as an assembly line. Toxins (and spent hormones) come in at the beginning of the line. Workers in phase 1 take the toxins and prep them for other workers down the line by breaking them up and changing their structure. Next, the toxins enter phase 2 where the toxins can be further processed and neutralized. I like to think of phase 2 as the part of the assembly line where the toxins are getting packed up in a little box, ready to ship out in phase 3. Our gut can be thought of as the third phase of detoxification because this is where the toxins that were packed in phase 2 get shipped out, off-loaded into the toilet when we have a bowel movement.
Read: Why constipation is the enemy of detoxification
Check out this graphic that shows how phases 1, 2, and 3 all work together and the nutrients that each step needs:
Before you rush right out and order all of these nutrients in supplement form (as I know some of you may be tempted to do), it’s best to understand how your body’s detoxification pathways are already functioning. When we work together, I help clients understand the signs and symptoms of impaired detoxification and guide them to the best lab tests for their unique situation.
Remember how I told you that the best way to help improve your body’s ability to detox hormones is to actually add foods into your diet versus doing a hormone cleanse? Get ready to feed your detox! Here are key nutrients we need at each phase of the detoxification process and where to find them:
Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Eggs, organ meats (like liver), meat, asparagus, broccoli
Niacin (vitamin B3): Beef, chicken, pork, fish, nuts, beans
Pyroxidine (vitamin B6): Chicken, fish, organ meats, potato
Folate: Beef liver, green leafy vegetables
Vitamin B12: Beef and beef liver, clams, fish, eggs
Cysteine: Pork, beef, chicken, tuna, lentils, oatmeal
Glutamine: Bone broth, meat (beef, venison, turkey), fish
Glycine: Bone broth, meat (pork, beef, chicken, lamb)
Methionine: Eggs, fish, meat (elk, chicken, turkey)
Taurine: Meat, fish, dairy
P.S. In case you don’t fancy yourself someone who eats liver (your girl, right here) you need to try out this recipe! It’s seriously very tasty, especially served on thinly sliced green apples.
I know that by now you already get it, but just to reaffirm: Even though the idea to do a hormone cleanse or detox sounds like a good idea, typically they are limiting our access to nutrients needed to actually detoxify.