Throughout our bodies, our organs are continuously helping remove toxins without any interventions. That being said, certain supplements can support this process by enhancing the metabolic pathways associated with the detoxing process by providing cofactors or sufficient levels of nutrients to maintain healthy processes.
Toxins are substances that can come from our environment, the foods we eat, or microscopic organisms that get into our bodies. Some toxins are even produced inside of our bodies as byproducts of metabolic processes. Because toxins can damage cells, organs, or entire systems, our bodies have natural defense mechanisms that help manage oxidative stress and eliminate substances safely through urine and bowel movements.
The kidneys and the liver are the primary detoxing organs. Other organs contribute to detox processes, too. The process of the liver altering substances to make them less toxic is known as metabolic detoxification. Our skin, bowels, lungs, and other organs also help with the detoxification process.
The three phases of detoxification are:
The body is well-equipped to remove toxins from the body on its own. That’s important to understand since many supplements and over-the-counter products make dramatic detox claims. Your body doesn’t need these to maintain its process of ridding the body of toxins. However, there are numerous supplements that can support the body’s detoxing organs and systems and boost your body’s normal detox response.
Looking to help give your body a boost when it comes to detoxification? Some vitamins, minerals, and herbs can help the body in its detoxing activity. While no supplement alone can completely detox the body, the following supplements have been shown to assist with the process.
Free radicals in the body are caused by a variety of factors, from environmental pollution to sun exposure. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress that damages DNA cells and can be a factor in aging. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a powerful water-based antioxidant that can help manage oxidative stress from intermediate metabolites from the detoxification process and oxidative stress in general. It’s also important for collagen production and helps keep our levels of vitamin E in proper balance. Women should consume at least 75 mg of vitamin C a day, while men should aim for at least 90 mg.
Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to UV B radiation from the sun. Although it's widely known for promoting bone health, vitamin D is also needed for proper immune functioning, and it helps manage oxidative stress when present in adequate levels. Although the sun is our primary source for producing vitamin D, supplements can be taken with recommended daily allowances between 15-20 mcg, with 100 mcg being the upper dosage limit.
Vitamin E is a fat-based antioxidant that appears in eight different varieties that all help manage oxidative stress. For supplements, it’s helpful to look for one that contains mixed tocopherols. Since it can thin the blood, it’s important to consult your physician before beginning any supplement regime. Healthy adults should consume around 15 mg of vitamin E per day.
Magnesium is a micronutrient that plays a key role in the glucuronidation phase of detoxification in the body. In fact, magnesium is needed for over 300 enzymes and metabolic functions in the body. Men should consume between 400-420 mg daily, while women should aim for between 310-320 mg.
Glutathione is made from amino acids like glycine, cysteine, and glutamine. It’s a strong antioxidant that can help manage oxidative stress from reactive oxygen species like free radicals and heavy metals. It’s found in high quantities in cells in the body. Some foods can help boost glutathione levels naturally, such as cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous veggies contain sulforaphane which can contribute to glutathione formation.
L-glutamine can help with the cleansing of ammonia from the body while supporting proper digestive functions which move waste out of the body. L-glutamine is also one of the amino acids used for glutathione formation. L-glutamine is found in many foods, including eggs, dairy, and grass-fed beef. It’s also found in plant-based foods such as spirulina, tofu, spinach, and beans. Since it is produced by the body and found in foods, there may not be a need to supplement with L-glutamine. If you are interested in adding more to your daily consumption, talk to your doctor and discuss potential risks and side effects.
Activated charcoal is known for its ability to filter out contaminants when used in water filters. It does this by binding to toxins and absorbing them onto its porous surface. There are many factors that determine charcoal’s ability to detoxify, including particle size and the pH of a substance. Activated charcoal can be found in supplement form and some claim that it can help with digestive gas. However there is stronger research for other supplement options like prebiotics that can help ease bloating while balancing good bacteria in the gut. The research to support activated charcoal use is outdated and new research is needed to determine if there is any efficacy. Activated charcoal should not be used without guidance from your doctor as it can bind to and negatively impact medications and supplements.
Probiotics are bacteria that are consumed to introduce additional microorganisms to the gut biome. These microorganisms can support healthy digestion as well as the immune system. They may provide support to maintain a strong intestinal barrier that keeps toxins from entering other parts of the body while also allowing for proper nutrient absorption from foods. There is some evidence that probiotics can help manage oxidative stress as a biological detox tool when the body is exposed to food chemical contamination. There are also certain strains of probiotics that can boost antioxidant levels and manage oxidative stress.
Milk thistle is a plant that contains silymarin and silibinin, which are polyphenols with powerful antioxidant-like properties. It promotes liver health and can also support healthy levels of glutathione, an antioxidant produced by cells that plays an important role in the detoxification process.
Turmeric contains high quantities of the nutritional substance curcumin, which has been shown to have antioxidant-like properties that may protect the body against oxidative stress. One study found that when lab rats were exposed to the toxic element mercury, those rats who were supplemented with curcumin had greater protection due to the antioxidant-like properties associated with curcumin. Additional human studies need to be completed before any conclusions can be drawn.
Dandelion greens may show promise as hepatoprotective agents. One study showed that dandelion leaves were able to promote liver health in animal models when combined with chicory root. A similar study suggested that the leaf extract from dandelions may have stronger hepatoprotective abilities than the root extract. Just be mindful when consuming dandelion greens and roots, as they also have diuretic properties.
Because green tea is one of the most unprocessed types of tea, it contains large amounts of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants in the body. A study found that green tea supplementation boosts the total antioxidant capacity of blood plasma.
Psyllium husk comes from the outer layer of the seeds of the psyllium plant, Plantago ovata. Packed with fiber, psyllium husk holds a multitude of detoxifying benefits, such as promoting healthy bowel movements. The high fiber content of psyllium husks promotes regular healthy bowel movements, which help move toxins out of the body.
Spirulina, which is a type of blue-green algae, is known for its large numbers of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fatty acids. However, researchers are starting to focus on the high number of bioactive compounds that Spirulina contains – such as polyphenols – that may have important antioxidant-like properties which can also support detoxification pathways by managing oxidative stress.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor to the amino acid, L-cysteine. Once ingested, it transforms into glutathione, which we’ve already mentioned is one of the body’s master antioxidants. NAC has been noted to support healthy oxidation responses, but its effects on general detoxification support haven’t been clinically verified.
Nonetheless, NAC has been shown to protect cells, support a balanced immune system, and support healthy responses to reactive oxygen species, such as free radicals and oxidative stress with its antioxidant-like properties.
Although some supplements can help support the metabolic functions that provide a detox to our bodies, the most important foundational things you can do to aid this process include:
Some lifestyle adjustments can also help, including:
Before making any dietary changes such as intermittent fasting be sure to talk to your doctor or a Registered Dietician.
Consuming foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds can be extremely helpful in supporting the body’s detoxification processes. Here’s a breakdown of some of the foods rich in certain detoxifying nutrients:
[Vitamin C](https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/ "Vitamin C"): An antioxidant that can aid in managing oxidative stress and neutralizing free radicals.
[Vitamin D](https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ "Vitamin D"): Essential for calcium absorption, immune function, and antioxidant related genes.
[Vitamin E](https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/ "Vitamin E"): Protects the body's cells from oxidative stress.
[Magnesium](https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ "Magnesium"): Supports numerous biochemical reactions in the body, including those in the detoxification process.
[Glutathione](https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/glutathione "Glutathione"): One of the body's main antioxidants. It's synthesized when we consume the amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine. Foods that can boost levels include:
[Glutamine](https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0899900701007973 "Glutamine"): Supports the formation of glutathione and essential for phase 2 of the detoxification process.
[Probiotics](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36940875/ "Probiotics"): These are beneficial bacteria that aid digestion and support gut health and nutrient absorption.
Prebiotics and Fiber: Nourishes the good gut bacteria, thereby supporting the digestive system.
Other Detoxifying Foods:
The body has many metabolic pathways to protect itself from the harmful effects of toxins. Although most of these processes happen automatically without any need for intervention, there are some ways to provide additional detox support.
Some vitamins, micronutrients, and food ingredients are high in antioxidants and other detoxification supportive properties. Adding these to your routine can be beneficial to supporting optimal detoxification. Following general healthy lifestyle habits, like drinking adequate quantities of water, eating a healthy diet, and getting proper amounts of sleep, can also support the body’s natural ability to detoxify. If looking for ways to support your body’s detoxification process, talk to your doctor to create the best plan unique to you.