Body Detox & Oxidation in the Body
Understanding how the body detoxes itself is vital in starting a safe and effective detox diet for weight loss and better health. To begin, we credit Sidney MacDonald Baker, M.D. and Jeffrey S. Bland, Ph.D. for helping to make this biochemistry lesson understandable. They both offer more extensive, yet easy-to-comprehend explanations of the underlying physical processes so that we can better understand how our body ages and how an effective detox can reduce the effect of oxidation.
The first process to understand is how the body prevents oxidation. You’ve probably heard the word antioxidant many times in reference to vitamins, supplements, foods or teas. Here we will briefly explain the role of anti-oxidants is the natural detoxification process:
- We need oxygen to live.
- Oxygen plays an important role in metabolism, in the breakdown of food into energy and the raw materials to supply every other function that goes on inside the body. Every cell of the body–trillions of them–needs oxygen to carry on its individual function. Brain cells, for example, begin to die after only three minutes without a fresh supply of oxygen.
- Oxygen is, however, a reactive substance meaning it reacts with other substances. That’s the reason why you have to be very careful in the presence of pure oxygen as powerful reactions may occur. (The air we breathe is only 20 percent oxygen.)
- When oxygen reacts with other substances, it causes oxidation. Fire, for example, is rapid oxidation. We also see it when iron rusts; the rust is oxidation. An apple cut in half and exposed to air turns brown; the browning is oxidation.
This process of oxidation also occurs within the body, where it’s called biological rancidification. Researchers have determined that biological rancidification is one of the primary causes of aging. Dr. Bland states, “The way biological rancidification occurs in the body is similar to how oxygen combines with fat in a cube of butter and causes it to become rancid… Activated forms of oxygen–oxygen radical or reactive oxygen species (ROS)–are manufactured in the body following exposure to radiation, pollution, viruses or other infectious agents, drugs and medication (including alcohol and cigarettes) and even as a consequence of the activation of the body’s immune system.”
- Free radicals are the biochemical forms of oxygen that are most likely to oxidize. Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron, so they steal a replacement electron from another molecule, causing oxidative damage to the “victimized” molecule and the tissue of which it is a part.
- There’s a domino effect caused by free radicals in the body. They don’t just cause one reaction and stop. The “victimized” molecule now steals a replacement electron from yet a third molecule…and on and on it goes.
Body Detox & Anti-Oxidants
Here’s how Dr. Bland describes the effect of free radicals on the body: “…imagine a Ping-Pong table covered with mousetraps. All the traps are set, ‘baited’ with a carefully placed Ping-Pong ball. Then imagine tossing another ball onto the table. That ball springs one trap, bounces off and begins a reaction that in a short time triggers all the mousetraps on the table, with Ping-Pong balls bouncing everywhere. This is very similar to the explosive chemical reactions which are initiated by free radicals…” (p. 84.)
Thus it is important to reduce the body’s exposure to free radicals, see Toxins in Everyday Life as an important aspect of a successful detox.
Dr. Baker clarifies how this pertains to the body: “If a fatty acid molecule [back to that pat of butter] gets its electron ripped off by oxygen in the air, it is damaged…If the fatty acid molecule is nested among millions of others in … our cell membranes, we call the damage ‘oxidative damage” Detoxification & Healing: The Key to Optimal Health, (p. 69).
Dr. Baker helps us understand electron exchanges from the perspective of chemistry in general: “…oxygen and all related oxidative stresses…put our molecules at risk of losing an electron. Such a loss is a necessary part of all chemistry in which molecules participate voluntarily…chemistry has to do with the sharing, gaining or losing of electrons from one atom or molecule.” Detoxification & Healing: The Key to Optimal Health, (p. 69)
Fortunately, the body has a natural detox system that prevents damage from free radicals, if it has an adequate supply of essential nutrients. These essential nutrients, also know as anit-oxidants, are vitamin C, E, B2, bioflavinoids, beta-carotene, alpha lipoic acid, DMAE, glutathione, selenium and zinc.
First a vitamin C molecule gives the “victimized” molecule a replacement electron and then the vitamin C molecule itself receives a replacement electron from a molecule of the bioflavinoids. The bioflavinoid molecule in turn receives a replacement electron from a beta-carotene molecule. The beta-carotene molecule in turn receives a replacement electron from a vitamin E molecule. The vitamin E molecule in turn receives a replacement electron from glutathione. As you can see, and as Dr. Baker informs us that antioxidants do not work alone.”
The nutrients all work together and if the diet lacks any one, there will be oxidative stress. For example, a beta-carotene molecule with a missing electron becomes unstable and toxic when its missing electron is not replaced by one from vitamin E and vitamin E cannot replace beta-carotene’s missing electron if it is not able to borrow one from vitamin B2.
When the body lacks these nutrients, a state of “oxidative stress” can result. Most chronic illnesses that affect our society are related, in one way or another, to oxidative stress. This explains why some people age more quickly than others. It is because, over the years, they have not supplied their bodies with adequate supplies of these nutrients. Starting a natural detox diet is a good way to ensure your body is receiving the right balance of nutrients and reducing the amount of free radicals. To learn more about the benefits of an all natural detox diet please read our guide on Why We Need to Detox.