By: Gene Bruno, MS, MHS
Water soluble toxins can pass through our bodies unchanged and be eliminated in the stool, sweat or urine.Fat soluble toxins, however, cannot be excreted without undergoing metabolic transformation (detoxification) in the liver so that they can become water soluble. Liver cells have sophisticated mechanisms to break down toxic substances. These include both endogenous (produced by the body) and exogenous (obtained from the environment; i.e., xenobiotics) substances. Every drug, chemical, pesticide and hormone, is broken down or metabolized via detoxification pathways in the liver called “phase 1” and “phase 2.”
Phase 1 utilizes cytochrome P450 enzymes produced in the liver. These enzymes initiate reactions that generally involve exposing or adding a “functional group” to the toxic molecule. This process of making the molecule more reactive is required as the first step in increasing its water solubility for excretion. Some chemicals are already highly reactive and they have functional groups, so they
can bypass phase 1 and go right to phase 2. The majority, however, first need phase 1 activation. Unfortunately, phase 1 does generate free radicals which mean that there is greater potential for oxidative damage at this time.
Phase 2 involves the coupling (attaching) or conjugation of a water soluble substance which is endogenously produced or sourced by the body, to the toxin. This makes the toxic molecule more water soluble and therefore less toxic. If the molecule is large, it is then excreted via the bile. Otherwise, it is excreted in the urine.(There is even a phase 3 for detoxification16, but that won’t
be addressed in this article.)