Detox Cleanses! What You Must Know (But Don’t)

Detox cleanses? It could be that you’ve done them a hundred times, but there’s a few things you need to know about detox cleanses that you probably don’t know. Learn about the three glutathione detox pathways, how to activate them, and why you must.

glutathione detox pathways

Updated on June 25, 2022 to include the recent banning of titanium dioxide in Europe, but not the USA.

Wanna bet that even if you’re an experienced detoxer, you have no idea what you’re actually doing?

Once upon a time if you were to challenge me with such a statement, I’d bombard you with all kinds of information about herbs, cleansers, absorbers, volumnizers, processes, purges and poop.

I’ve written about 30 articles on detox cleansing, and since 1985, I’ve probably have done 100 detox cleanses in some shape or form. And yet, as I recently discovered, if you were to challenge me about what’s actually going on when “doing” a detox, in terms of what’s being “detoxed”, I’d fumble the answer.

This fumbling became clear to me when reading an article debunking detox cleansing by medical debunker Stephen Barrett, M.D. on his website, Quackwatch. It occurred to me that my understanding of detoxification could not withstand his withering cross-examination.

So I dug in and found out what we all need to know about detox cleanses.

Take a breath and plunge in…


My Detox Cleanses Investigation

I knew from my own experience that by the time I reached the end of any of my detox cleanses, I had more energy, whiter sclera and less fat. But what was going on inside? Or more importantly, what was going out — was I really “detoxing” anything?

From a medical perspective, “detox” refers to the liver’s function. The primary function of the liver is to filter blood. Almost two quarts of blood pass through the liver every minute for detoxification.

Everyone agrees that filtration of toxins is absolutely critical given that the blood from the intestines contains high levels of bacteria, bacterial endotoxins, antigen-antibody complexes, and various other toxic substances.

What’s debatable is the claim that the average liver can actually clear 99% of the bacteria and other toxins during the first pass of blood filtering through it, or during any subsequent recycling.

My confusion about this became acute when recently gathering the research for an online video course I’m doing about increasing healthspan; I was determined to get the science right.

I poured through many PubMed briefs of scientific studies on the subject, read what experts had to say on the matter, and watched hours of video.

These are the basics of what I learned about detox cleanses:

  • Your various organs of elimination, particularly the liver, do a great job of cleansing and detoxing the body if every organ and system is functioning well; however…
  • For many of us in the industrialized world, pesticides, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, fungi and parasites (especially in the” third world”) are sufficiently ubiquitous that they can overwhelm our capacity to evacuate them from the body, particularly as we age; moreover…
  • Your level of toxicity is only a burden (that affects your health) if it’s too big for your detoxification system to clear out of your body, which can vary substantially from person to person; and…
  • There are three specific detoxification pathways that must work well, and work in concert with one another, in order to bind to toxins, mobilize them and evacuate them from our bodies; otherwise our health will gradually fail, and we’ll be sensitive to a whole host of chronic diseases, such as hypo/hyperthyroidism, adrenal fatigue, type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and cancer.

The rest of this article is going to explore the above four declarations, and then provide you with some resources to dig deeper into this detox topic.

Let’s begin with a look at how nature equipped us to detoxify our bodies.


The Standard Look At Detoxification

When someone says, “Let’s do a cleanse”, what image pops into your mind? Most likely it’s quaffing many cups of some sorta herbal tea-like brew, popping some supplements, anxiously abstaining from your daily comfort foods, and mapping out every toilet along the route of your day’s journey.

Yes, “cleansing” is often about abstinence, herbs and poo.

Gotta get all that toxic, impacted poo out of your colon because it clogs things up, makes you constipated and leeches toxins back into your bloodstream, say cleaning aficionados.

Some of that is right.

Although most proctologists and other medical doctors familiar with that geography of the body will insist that they see no impacted fecal matter clinging to your colon (they should now given those penetrating scopes and video monitoring); and despite the firm declarations that many gastroenterologist and liver specialist make that a healthy liver is quite able to detoxify whatever xenobiotic cocktail you throw at it — only some of that is right.

I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who have either seen in your own toilet or on the Interwebs those dark, slimy, smelly, knotted, all-out disgusting poop strings, and thought them to be evidence of what the magical potions you’ve been swallowing have washed out of your colon. (Those not prone to hurling can take a look here.)

Truth be told, much of that stuff was not in you before you quaffed the cleansers, absorbers and volumizers. Sure, there’s always some poo making its way through your colon. If you eat enough fiber and vegetable matter, and drink enough water, the poo in your colon won’t be there so long that it makes you toxic.

The fetid “poop strings”, typically, are not made up of old, crusty impacted poo that the magic potions scrapped away and evacuated. They are regular, on-their-way-out poo mixed in with the detox cleanse potion stuff. You’re actually pooping out the stuff you recently consumed: food and potions, both.

The cleansers, absorbers and volumizers are important for proper detoxification to happen, but not for the common reasons espoused. It’s not all the toxins that originate in and hang out in your colon that you need to evacuate, but all the toxins that wind up in the colon from the rest of your body.

What’s often overlooked both by medical types and us weekend warrior detoxifiers is that, if your detox system is properly working, the poop transiting through the colon and out the anus is one of the most significant absorbers and evacuators of the xenobiotics prevalent in your organs and blood.

The other major absorber and evacuator is urine.

A “cleanse” or “detox” can refer to getting rid of parasites, mold, chemicals, heavy metals and pesticides. Parasites can live nearly everywhere – in organs, the gastrointestinal tract (particularly the colon), and even the brain – and they can be tough to get rid off. Tougher yet to extract are metals and chemicals, as they get into the cells and mightily resist getting purged.

A cell’s receptor site can have a thousand-fold greater affinity for a detrimental xenobiotic than, say, a beneficial metal like zinc. What happens is that any particular toxin, like mercury, binds to a receptor site. The mercury, or any other heavy metal, will tenaciously stick to the receptor site until something comes along and chelates, or binds to it, and then mobilizes it.

That “something” is glutathione, and sticking to the mercury is just the first part of what must happen to get rid of the mercury. What needs to happen next is for an enzyme to make the mercury mobile, such that it moves through the detoxification channels, typically via blood, liver, small intestine, colon and out through the anus; or via the kidney and urine.

Sounds straightforward, but this detoxification pathway gets tricky as we’ll examine further down, but first let’s establish why you should care about any of this.


Your Xenobiotic Load

Detox cleanses must get rid of xenobiotics

A xenobiotic is a foreign chemical substance found within an organism that is not normally naturally produced by or expected to be present within that organism. It can also cover substances that are present in much higher concentrations than are usual (1).

That xenobiotic definition covers a lot of ground, which is why I’ve been using it. When talking about detoxing, we want to address all the toxins residing in us that are unwanted, pernicious and harmful.

The stuff in umbilical cord blood, for instance.

Babies Are Born Polluted

You might have been born long ago, in a pristine environment, and were fortunate enough to inherit a robust detoxification system, but babies born these days are not so lucky, even if genetically endowed.

Even before birth a baby needs to contend with about 287 chemicals found in umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are toxic to the brain and nervous system, these among them (2):

Mercury (Hg) – tested for 1, found 1  Pollutant from coal-fired power plants, mercury-containing products, and certain industrial processes. Accumulates in seafood. Harms brain development and function.
Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – tested for 18, found 9  Pollutants from burning gasoline and garbage. Linked to cancer. Accumulates in food chain.
Polybrominated dibenzodioxins and furans (PBDD/F) – tested for 12, found 7  Contaminants in brominated flame retardants. Pollutants and byproducts from plastic production and incineration. Accumulate in food chain. Toxic to developing endocrine (hormone) system
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – tested for 12, found 9  Active ingredients or breakdown products of Teflon, Scotchgard, fabric and carpet protectors, food wrap coatings. Global contaminants. Accumulate in the environment and the food chain. Linked to cancer, birth defects, and more.
Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans (PCDD/F) – tested for 17, found 11  Pollutants, by-products of PVC production, industrial bleaching, and incineration. Cause cancer in humans. Persist for decades in the environment. Very toxic to developing endocrine (hormone) system.
Organochlorine pesticides (OCs) – tested for 28, found 21  DDT, chlordane and other pesticides. Largely banned in the U.S. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain, to man. Cause cancer and numerous reproductive effects.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – tested for 46, found 32  Flame retardant in furniture foam, computers, and televisions. Accumulates in the food chain and human tissues. Adversely affects brain development and the thyroid.
Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (PCNs) – tested for 70, found 50  Wood preservatives, varnishes, machine lubricating oils, waste incineration. Common PCB contaminant. Contaminate the food chain. Cause liver and kidney damage.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – tested for 209, found 147  Industrial insulators and lubricants. Banned in the U.S. in 1976. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain, to man. Cause cancer and nervous system problems.

According to Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the Environmental Working Group has also found 553 different industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in 149 Americans they tested in 27 different states.

In its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) reported that the people they studied had, on average, 212 chemicals in the blood or urine, 75 of which had never before been measured in the U.S. Population.

The chemicals included (3):

  • Acrylamide – formed when foods are baked or fried at high temperatures, and as a byproduct of cigarette smoke.
  • Arsenic – found in many home-building products.
  • Environmental phenols – including bisphenol A (found in plastics, food packaging and epoxy resins) and triclosan (used as an antibacterial agent in personal care products such as toothpaste and hand soap).
  • Perchlorate – used in airplane fuel, explosives, and fireworks.
  • Perfluorinated chemicals – used to create non-stick cookware.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers – used in fire retardants found in consumer products such as mattresses.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – found in paints, air fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, upholstery fabrics, carpets, dry-cleaned clothing, wood preservatives, and paint strippers.

Part of the problem is that regulatory agencies permit too many chemicals in our food.

The U.S. FDA Allows Food Additives that Europe Deems Toxic

titanium dioxide in foods

These foods may contain titanium dioxide, a carcinogen now banned in Europe, but not the USA.

As reported by the Guardian, The European Union is banning the food whitener titanium dioxide. The US is not. This is yet the latest example of a chemical deemed unsafe in Europe that’s still used in America.

Why is that?

Chemical safety processes in the EU and US are very different. Whereas European policy tends to take a precautionary approach that aims to prevent harm, the approach in the US is typically reactive — it will react after people get sick.

Titanium dioxide, also known as E171, was banned by the EU because it’s a potential carcinogen widely used as a whitener in various foods, from candies and pastries to cheeses and gum.

Titanium dioxide joins a long list of other chemicals banned in foods in the EU, such as:

  • Azodicarbonamide, a whitening agent found in food such as breads, bagels, pizza, and pastries in the US, which has been banned in the EU for more than a decade. Known as the “yoga mat’’ chemical because it is often found in foamed plastic, the additive has been linked to asthma and respiratory issues in exposed workers and, when baked, to cancer in mice studies.
  • Potassium bromate, an oxidizing agent often found in bread and dough and linked in animal studies to kidney and thyroid cancers. It has been banned in the EU since 1990, but is still commonly used in the US.
  • Brominated vegetable oil is also banned in the EU, but is used as an emulsifier in citrus sodas and drinks in the US. Long-term exposure has been linked to headaches, memory loss and impaired coordination.

Unfortunately, the FDA classifies these food chemicals, and many others prohibited by the EU, as “generally recognized as safe”.

The EU’s phase-out of titanium dioxide comes in the midst of chemical overhaul. Up to 12,000 chemicals found in food packaging, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, children’s products, pesticides and more will be banned over the next five years. The bloc is promising to outlaw chemicals linked to cancers and endocrine disorders in an effort dubbed the “great detox”.

All this underscores yet again the importance of eating food that looks the way it was farmed, as opposed to adulterated, processed, flavored and packaged food that’s so dominant in the SAD — “Standard American Diet”.

Scared yet?

Well, there’s more. Take mercury, for instance.

Beware of Mercury

Contrary to the popular belief held by the newly divorced, the most toxic thing on the planet that you have an intimate relationship with is not your former spouse.

The majority of us have amalgam fillings in our mouth, eat fish from time to time and/or live close enough to various emissions emitted from various combustibles.

That means the majority of us have mercury in our body.

Over time, a lot of damage accrues if your body does not purge itself of the mercury that gets inside you (not to mention all the other heavy metals and chemical cocktails). Mercury can, in effect, epigenetically activate a genetic propensity for a chronic illness, such as hypothyroidism, cancer, diabetes and others.

(Learn about epigenetics)

Say your parents had diabetes, and you’ve inherited that genetic propensity. However, you exercise, stay slim, eat low glycemic (less sugary) carbohydrates and lots of fiber and greens. This healthy behavior prevents the physiological expression of the gene(s) for type-2 (adult-onset) diabetes. All is well, unless you become overburdened with mercury. If that happens, all bets are off. The mercury may overwhelm all your good habits and instigate the diabetes.

Ultimately, the question to answer is this:

Is your mercury load, or any other xenobiotic burden, making you ill?


Does Your Xenobiotic Burden Make You Sick?

One person (A) can have teeth filled with amalgams (half of which are made with mercury), eat tuna every day, work in a coal plant and yet not exhibit any detrimental effects of his mercury load.

The person next to him shoveling coal (B) may also have those shiny silver amalgams glinting in the sunlight, and have his name etched on a stool at the sushi bar, but unlike his neighbor is slowly getting sick via an assortment of chronic diseases.

They both have the same toxic mercury load, but it’s squashing only one person, Mr. B.

Mr. A has the same mercury burden but it’s not toxic to him.

Life’s unfair!

Person A might have a combination of genetics favorable for detoxification and a diet filled with nutrients that bind to and help evacuate mercury. Person B may have neither. Both get the same load, but A’s system gets it out of the body; whereas B’s does not, and so the mercury remains and does its toxic dance.

I’m focusing on mercury because the odds are that it’s in you. Most of the fillings put in people’s teeth are amalgam, commonly consisting of mercury (50%), silver (~22-32%), tin (~14%), copper (~8%), and other trace metals (4). Most people eat at least a bit of fish (read this). And many people live in environments where mercury is in the air.

The question isn’t whether or not you have mercury in you – and an assortment of other nasty heavy metals, chemicals and other unpleasant stuff – but how much it’s negatively impacting your life.


The Three Detoxification Pathways


Detox cleanses must address the three detoxification pathways

The detoxification process is an elaborate mechanism conducted chiefly by the liver to eliminate toxins, both exogenous (those that come from the environment) and endogenous (produced as a result of imbalances in our metabolism).

These three detoxification pathways are based on the glutathione system. Glutathione (GSH) is a critically important antioxidant that helps to prevent cellular damage caused by reactive oxygen species such as free radicals and peroxides.

  1. Glutathione in your cells. Your body has to manufacture most of its own glutathione (biosynthesis), so it needs adequate building blocks to make enough of it, and then the glutathione needs to link onto the mercury.
  2. Glutathione s-transferase (GST). This is an enzyme responsible linking it to the glutathione in the cell and then for prying the mercury off the cellular proteins.
  3. Transport proteins. These are a series of transport proteins (multi-drug resistant proteins, or “MRPs”) responsible for getting the conjugated mercury out of the cells and into the blood, from the blood into the liver or kidney. From the liver it will go through the bile tract into the small intestine, the colon and out the back end mixed in with poop. From the kidney it will go into the bladder and then jettison the body mixed in with urine.

Now, let’s get back to the “yes and no” ambiguity about the value of the typical colon cleanse, as well as those aimed at cleaning the kidneys and anything else.

In my humble opinion, assuming you’re using high quality herbs, binders, etc. you won’t be doing yourself any harm. But unless you enhance this just described glutathione detox system, you will not be augmenting the effectiveness whatever is your own particular detox capabilities, as illustrated above with persons A and B.

The guy who has plumbed the depths of the glutathione detox system is Dr. Christopher Shade. If any of this intrigues you, watch his videos below. You’ll learn what very, very few people know about how to detox from mercury, and the information is applicable to many toxic chemicals and heavy metals as well.


Your Next Steps for Detoxification

If your health issues stem from toxic xenobiotic loads in your body, you may need guidance to help you go through a safe and effective detoxification program.

Before you do anything you might want to get tested or at least begin to consume the foods and supplements known to support glutathione.

Get Tested

If you only have 20 bucks to spare, you could get a quick, easy, tell you something but not much test via the HMT General Kit.

But if the guy coming up in the videos is convincing, you might want his Quicksilver Scientific Mercury Tri-Test.




Bump up Glutathione, the “Master Antioxidant”

Various foods help product glutathione, such as whey protein, garlic, onions, broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, and many more.

The most direct approach is a liposomal glutathione supplement, because the liposomal form helps the poorly absorbable glutathione absorb better in the body.  Another way to upregulate glutathione is to take it’s precursor NAC.

N-Acetyl-l-Cysteine (NAC) replenishes intracellular levels of glutathione, helping to restore cells’ ability to fight damage from reactive oxygen species. (5) This compound does absorb well and once in the body helps the body produce more glutathione. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find NAC after the FDA said it wanted to regulate it, possibly as a drug.  I get my NAC from Bulk Supplements, which still sells it. Go here and search for “N-Acetyl-l-Cysteine”.

Bump Up Other Antioxidants

Vitamin C may elevate and maintain good tissue glutathione levels by increasing its rate of synthesis. In one double-blind study, the average red blood cell glutathione concentration rose nearly 50% with 500 mg/day of vitamin C. Vitamin C raises glutathione by (6)

St Mary’s thistle, also known as Milk thistle, contains silymarin, an antioxidant that may protect the liver cells from toxic damage, enhance repair of liver cells, and increase levels of glutathione in the body. Clinical trails have shown that the most effective dose of silymarin is 420mg per day. (7)

Green tea contains a group of antioxidants known as catechins, of which the most powerful is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Catechins are thought to be a 200 times more powerful antioxidant than vitamin C. Along with reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, green tea improves the efficiency of liver detoxification

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family with a bright yellow color, the active component of which is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that raises the levels of glutathione in the body, and may offer protection against cancer. (8)

Limonene is a compound found in the rind of citrus fruits, particularly lemons, and is responsible for much of the smell of lemons. Limonene is a powerful antioxidant capable of blocking the harmful effects of many different free radicals.

Get the Amalgams Out

If you’ve got shinny silvery metal in your mouth, consider getting them out. Don’t just go to any dentist. No, you must go to a “biological” dentist trained in amalgam removal. If improperly done, drilling out amalgams spews bits of it down your gullet, as well as vaporizes it, which can penetrate into the brain and nervous system and make you sick.

There’s much, much more to this detox subject. If you’re interested, you’ll be able to read about such things in my forthcoming ebook, 12 Ageproof Biohacks, which I hope to finish before hell freezes over.

Get on the list here:  Biohack List

If you’d like to learn more about detox cleanses, go check out the rest of the detox articles on this site.

Comments, questions about detox cleanses or whatever?

If so, scroll down to the Comments section and have at it.


Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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