What is the first phase of detoxification?

The body’s natural detox process is broken down into three distinct phases: modification, conjugation and elimination.

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The body’s natural detoxification process goes through three phases, two of which occur in the liver. Therefore, the liver is considered the most important organ for detoxification. The three phases are modification, conjugation and elimination.

Phase 1, is the modification phase, which is an oxidative process as it involves reduction and oxidation (REDOX) of molecules changing the number of electrons and consequently the chemical structure of the processed metabolite.

They key enzyme in this phase is cytochrome P450 and requires the presence of water and several cofactors – most importantly NADH, NADPH, B6 and Magnesium – to be able to biotransform toxic compounds into water-soluble compounds ready for elimination or into less toxic compounds to go through conjugation.

As a result of enzyme P450 activity, harmful molecules are produced; these molecules are called free radicals. In order to reduce the harmfulness of the free radicals, they need to be neutralised, otherwise they cause inflammation.

Many nutrients play a role in phase I and in the neutralising of free radicals, including a variety of B vitamins, amino acids, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, and flavonoids.

Even though the speed of modification is relatively controlled by genetics, it can be altered by both environmental and dietary changes. In addition, exposure to certain chemicals increase phase I activity, resulting into high production of phase I end products. If these products are not neutralised by phase II, they can be quite harmful to cellular DNA and RNA (modification is an oxidative process resulting in free radicals that are damaging to surrounding tissues). So while increasing the speed of this phase may seem like a good idea, it comes with some additional considerations, as the body's capacity to deal with the extra endeavour.

How can you speed up the first phase of detoxification?

The followings are substances which speed up the modification process:

  • Caffeine and Alcohol
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussel sprout because it is high in Indole-3
  • High protein diets 
  • Citrus fruits; oranges and tangerines with the exception of grapefruit
  • Vitamin B1, B3 & C
  • Pesticides, car fumes, paint fumes 
  • Caraway, dill seed

On the other hand, there are other factors and substances that contribute to slowing down the speed of modification. The followings are some examples:

  • Specific medications such as antihistamines and oral contraceptives. It is worth mentioning that some drugs enter the detox process via the liver; therefore, changes in modification speed can have a significant impact on drug metabolism. 
  • Heavy metals 
  • High levels of sugar and trans fats
  • Grapefruit juices, turmeric, curcumin, cloves and capsicums
  • Toxic compounds from the GI tract due to pathogenic bacteria and undigested/poorly food

Other factors that contribute to the slowing down of this phase is liver damage, nutrient deficiencies, and certain toxicants which can all impair the activity of p450 enzymes, reducing the ability of the liver to detoxify.

Besides, the activity of phase I detoxification enzymes decreases in old age. Ageing also decreases blood flow through the liver, further aggravating the problem. In addition to that, the lack of the physical activity necessary for good circulation puts the last straw on the liver's detoxification capacity.

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