In conventional medicine, “detoxification” refers to the treatment of drug or alcohol addiction or acute poisoning, but it’s taken on a broader meaning elsewhere. Hundreds of products and protocols now claim to promote detox, cleansing, and the removal of toxins from the body.
Some detox programs are based on special diets, juices, or modified fasts, like the celebrity-endorsed Master Cleanse (10 days of maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice). Others involve supplements such as laxatives for colon cleansing or herbs for liver protection and support. Adhesive patches, ionic footbaths, skin brushes—there’s no end to the detox gizmos out there.
Vitamins for Detox: The Missing Piece
The purpose of this article is not to promote or discredit any of these detox programs, although I must say that fasting, cleaning up your diet, supplements for enhancing liver health, as well as physician-administered therapies like chelation to remove lead, mercury, and other heavy metals have proven benefits, while many aggressively hyped detox programs have no scientific basis.
But there’s an integral aspect that most of these programs and products miss. Detoxification in its most fundamental sense isn’t something you do periodically, like washing your car or shampooing your carpets. Every second of every day, your body’s internal detox mechanisms are blocking, filtering, neutralizing, and excreting hazardous chemicals and compounds, as well as harmful byproducts of normal metabolism. It’s an ongoing process and optimal health depends on it.
That’s why daily detox must be part of your health regimen—and a primary component should be a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Multi’s for Daily Detox
I’ve been a vigorous proponent of multivitamins ever since I discovered the scientific literature on vitamins and minerals as a medical resident 40-some years ago, and I prescribe a high-potency daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to all my patients at Whitaker Wellness, regardless of their health status or medical conditions. It provides insurance against the nutritional gaps that exist in even the best of diets, as well as coverage against increased vitamin and mineral requirements created by illness, stress, medications, lifestyle indiscretions, and aging.
However, robust levels of minerals, antioxidants, and B-complex vitamins present in a high-quality daily multi also serve another purpose: They help clear toxins from the body, facilitate enzymatic reactions required for daily detox, and keep the liver and other organs in tip-top shape.
Detox Programs Nurture Your Liver
Although detoxification takes place throughout the body, the primary organ of detox is the liver. In a complex, three-phase series of biochemical reactions, the liver transforms fat-soluble toxins into less harmful water-soluble compounds that can be transported to the kidneys and intestines for elimination from the body.
Each phase of detoxification is fueled by specific enzymes, and these enzymes are dependent on nutritional cofactors. Deficiencies in B-complex vitamins, folic acid, vitamins A, C, and E, and a handful of minerals can impair their activity and ability to neutralize pesticides, drugs, heavy metals, and other toxins.
Why Antioxidants Help With Daily Detox
Antioxidants are also important because many of the intermediaries formed during the first phase of detoxification are highly reactive. Staunch antioxidant defenses not only help neutralize toxic compounds, but they also protect the liver against oxidative damage.
Chief among antioxidants for liver support is selenium. Selenium plays a central role in the formation of selenium-dependent enzymes, particularly glutathione peroxidases. These antioxidant enzymes work with glutathione—the most abundant antioxidant in the liver—to convert reactive oxygen species to innocuous compounds. Vitamin C and vitamin E are also important vitamins for detox, not only for their antioxidant effects but because they also recycle and reactivate glutathione.
Antioxidant activity actually extends far beyond the liver. Many environmental toxins exert their adverse effects in tissues throughout the body by provoking oxidative stress, and supplemental antioxidants provide some protection.
Minerals Protect Against Toxins
Adequate intake of magnesium, calcium, zinc, and other minerals also facilitates daily detox, especially in regards to toxic heavy metals. For example, acute exposure to cadmium seriously damages the kidneys and weakens the bones. But recent research reveals that even high–normal blood and urine levels increase the risk of vascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and nephropathy. Because cadmium is present not only in tobacco smoke but also in shellfish, organ meats, leafy greens, whole grains, and root vegetables, we’re all exposed to this toxin and elevated levels are not uncommon.
Zinc supplementation protects against cadmium toxicity by inducing proteins that bind to and render this heavy metal harmless. Furthermore, zinc, calcium, and magnesium impede the absorption of dietary cadmium in the intestinal tract.
Minerals are also required for the optimal functioning of virtually every cell in the body as well as thousands of enzymatic reactions, including those involved in detoxification.
Our Imperfect World: The Reason We Need Daily Detox
In a perfect world, we would eat unprocessed, organic food, drink purified water, breathe clean air, and be free of environmental pollutants. But that’s not the reality.
Some people, of course, carry a heavy toxic burden and need intensive daily detox support. But we should all protect ourselves by minimizing exposure to additives, pesticides, and other pollutants, living the healthiest lifestyle possible—and making a multivitamin with robust levels of vitamins and minerals our foundation for daily detox.