What's 'detoxification' exactly and what's it got to do with oestrogen balance?
In this blog I’m going to explain what 'detoxification' actually means, and then look at it specifically in terms of oestrogen detoxification, which is essential for good hormone balance and management of any conditions and symptoms that relate to oestrogen balance in the body, including if you are using oestrogen replacement therapy.
So, what exactly is detoxification?
‘Detoxification’ is the process of breaking down and removing various ‘things’ from your body, such as hormones, chemicals, heavy metals, medications, environmental toxins and other toxins (both internally made and external). It mostly happens in your liver and then your other organs do the final part of the job which is to remove the detoxified substances out of your body completely.
This detoxification process in your liver is happening 24/7 365 days a year, it never takes a break and so it needs to be supported EVERYDAY all year round.
For example, you can the broken-down toxins can come out via your gut in the form of a bowel movement (e.g., oestrogen), you can sweat them out through your skin, you can urinate them out via your kidneys and you can breathe them out via your lungs.
So, doing things that make you sweat, urinate, breathe (fully and effectively) and pass a (fully formed) bowel movement will be helpful for supporting your body with detoxification.
What’s detoxification got to do with oestrogen balance?
Understanding the importance of and supporting liver detoxification of oestrogen is crucial for good hormone balance as well as for reducing the risk or hormone-driven cancers.
Once oestrogen has been used by your body it needs to leave the body, otherwise you would end up with a build-up of oestrogen, causing a hormonal imbalance.
Used oestrogen MUST leave the body! But first it must be processed and broken-down fully and effectively before it is safe to actually leave your body. This process is known as liver detoxification of oestrogen and it happens in 2 ‘phases’, known as phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification.
What’s also important to note here is that your gut/digestion also plays a BIG role in oestrogen clearance, because it is the FINAL phase (phase 3). Once your liver has performed phase 1 and phase 2, your now broken-down oestrogen is sent to your gut where it will leave the body permanently via a bowel movement, which needs to happen at least once per day, as a fully formed healthy stool. Therefore, a healthy gut is key for healthy hormone balance and preventing situations such as ‘oestrogen dominance’, which is when your body has more oestrogen relative to progesterone, a key driver of hormone-related symptoms and conditions.
A closer look at Phase 1 & Phase 2 liver detoxification of oestrogen
These 2 phases are intelligent multi-step by step processes that promotes healthy hormone balance in your body, but it needs to work properly and efficiently.
In PHASE 1 used oestrogen goes through a process called ‘hydroxylation’, which uses certain enzymes to break it down & convert it into 3 new ‘metabolites’ of oestrogen (also known as ‘pathways’) - 2-hydroxy, 4-hydroxy & 16-hydroxy.
The 2-hydroxy pathway is the ‘safest’ + most preferable pathway for most of the oestrogen to go down, the 4-hydroxy is least preferable as it’s potentially carcinogenic (some can go down here just not too much), and the 16-hydroxy pathway can encourage growth which isn’t good for breast pain & fibroids, but can be good for bone health.
The enzymes that break down oestrogen need specific nutrients to do their job like iron, magnesium, B vitamins & choline and amino acids (protein).
Cruciferous veg (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, watercress) can encourage the 2-hydroxy pathway + supplements like DIM or IC3 can do this whilst also lowering 4-hydroxy.
However, don’t just take these in supplement form unless you know that you need to - you need to test. I use the DUTCH test with my clients and if you’d like more information about working with me to do a DUTCH test for yourself send an email to me at email@example.com.
In PHASE 2 your liver takes 2-hydroxy & 4-hydroxy (not 16-hydroxy) through a process called 'methylation' (methods) using an enzyme called COMT, which neutralises them, making them water-soluble and ready (safe) to leave the body.
So, COMT is an enzyme in your body, and if it’s slow then Phase 2 is likely to be slow also. This can lead to a backup or clogging of estrogen in your body as it doesn’t get past this point as well as it should. You can support your COMT enzyme with zinc, magnesium, choline (eggs!), B12, folate and the other B vitamins, plus other nutrients like TMG, SAMe and methionine.
Things that SLOW your COMT enzyme down include:
Deficiencies in the above nutrients
Hormone imbalance (low progesterone)
Unhealthy gut microbiome
Environmental chemicals (see my previous posts on ‘hormone disrupting chemicals’ and where they’re found)
Heavy metal toxicity
Having a genetic variant on your COMT enzyme that slows it down (if this is the case the nutrients mentioned here can help to support it)
Can cruciferous vegetables really help my liver to process oestrogen? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Yes! This is a KEY family of vegetables for hormone health. They belong to the brassicaceae family. Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C) and when I3C interacts with your stomach acid, 10-60% of it converts into another compound called Di-indolymethane (DIM). DIM encourages the breakdown of oestrogen down the most favourable of 3 pathways it can go down in phase 1 liver detox. DIM can also lower oestrogen in circulation (to push it into phase 1 detox), so be careful with DIM supplements here incase you make low oestrogen lower – food is fine!
Indole-3-carbinol has been shown in studies to be protective against oestrogen driven cancers – likely because of what I said above. ⠀
So, make these vegetables the foundation of your veg supply, every day! Include plenty of:⠀⠀⠀⠀
Another superstar compound that supports the proper breakdown of oestrogen in your liver is called Sulphoraphane. But this is found in broccoli sprouts (from seeds). Sulphoraphane also helps to redirect oestrogen breakdown away from dangerous pathway to safest one. (It doesn’t lower oestrogen levels like DIM can, which is good if you need to support your liver detox pathways WITHOUT lowering ALREADY low oestrogen). You can grow your own broccoli sprouts at home from broccoli seeds or buy them from shops like Whole Foods.
The real meaning of ‘detox’
So now that you understand how your liver breaks down and detoxifies used estrogen, and how important this process is, you hopefully now understand that a 7 day juice fast or water fast is NOT detoxification. The detoxification process NEEDS FOOD! Specific nutrients found in fats, proteins (including meat, eggs and fish), carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables are all necessary for efficient detoxification of oestrogen and healthy hormone balance. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So, you don't need to buy into any detox plans that will be heavily advertised on social media for January...YAY!
Instead, focus on nourishing your body with:
Good food and meals containing proper amounts fo protein, good fats, fibre-rich carbs and PLENTY of veg. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Hydrate with plenty of clean water + herbal teas⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Lots of self-care⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Regular bowel movements
If you have symptoms of a hormone imbalance or hormone-driven condition then these phases and pathways might be compromised for you and need some support. I hope this has been helpful and insightful, if you have any questions at all drop me an email!
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