How to Optimize Your Body's Natural Detox System

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Almost 70,000 industrial chemicals can be found in our environment these days, with 1,000 new synthetic chemicals introduced each year.1

Mind you, only a fraction of these new chemicals have been tested for safety in humans. Doesn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside?

So what’s the best way to protect yourself against this toxic deluge? The short answer is to detox. However, before you start shopping around for detox products, you might want to look at the detoxifying abilities that your own body offers.

If you weren’t already aware, the human body actually has an incredible detox system built right into it … and it’s called your liver.

The Liver is a Detox Machine

Your liver is responsible for metabolizing and detoxifying the natural or synthetic chemicals that enter your system. The liver actually works in two phases to detox your body:

  1. Phase One – The liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins. This process is called oxidation, and it makes the toxins more soluble in water. Making them more water soluble means they can be more easily excreted from your body by your kidneys or liver. Since most environmental toxins are fat-soluble to start with, they’re difficult or impossible to eliminate without your liver’s help.
  2. Phase Two – This is called conjugation. In this phase, the oxidized chemicals from phase 1 are combined or “conjugated” with sulfur, specific amino acids, or organic acids, and then passed out of your body.
These detox phases are pretty complex, and they can handle almost anything that our environment throws our way. Unfortunately for most of us, this has its limits and rarely lasts forever.

Over time, your liver can become damaged from the detox process and start to dysfunction. When this happens, the toxins start to take over ... and you can probably imagine what happens from there.

This is why the first step in any detox program should be designed to support your own liver’s detox phases and to optimize its overall function. So let’s take a look at two key nutrients that can do just that.

Milk Thistle – a Phytonutrient for Liver Support

Milk thistle has been used for over 2,000 years as a life-supporting nutrient. It’s even been approved by the German Commission E Monographs for inflammatory liver conditions, helping to establish it as a respected, safe, and effective botanical.

Milk thistle is rich in polyphenols, which are plant-based antioxidants. There are two broad categories of polyphenols — silymarin and silybinin. These powerful antioxidants offer protection against food toxins, alcohols, and environmental toxins by ultimately supporting liver function.

Silymarin, for instance, has been shown to significantly reduce liver-related mortality in patients with alcoholic liver damage.2,3 Also, silymarin extracts have successfully improved liver function blood tests and produced improvements in general well-being in patients with viral hepatitis.4

There are many different sub-types of silymarin and silybinin.5,6 Here are the primary ones to look out for in a high-quality milk thistle product:

  • Silybin A
  • Silybin B
  • Isosilybin A
  • Isosilybin B
When choosing a milk thistle product, pick one that’s standardized to 80% silymarin and 20% silybinin. This will help ensure that it’s effective at supporting your liver’s detox phases and overall function.

SAMe Boosts your Liver’s Antioxidant Arsenal

Environmental toxins increase oxidative stress and end up depleting your liver of its natural antioxidants, like glutathione. Without glutathione, your liver can actually become damaged during detoxification, especially during phase one.

S-adenosylmethionine, better known as SAMe, is a precursor to glutathione. Supplementing with SAMe helps restore glutathione levels and allows your liver to protect itself from the onslaught of free radicals produced by toxins. For this reason, many liver experts are recommending SAMe these days as an area of increased study for humans with liver disease.7

Aside from optimizing liver function, the US Department of Health and Human Services also lists balanced mood and joint support as additional benefits that SAMe offers.

So how much SAMe should you take? Everyone is different, but we generally suggest supplementing with about 800 to 1200 mg per day.

Detox Begins & Ends with a Healthy Liver

The first step in ANY detox program should be to enhance your own “built-in” detox system, the liver. For this reason, milk thistle and SAMe are two great nutrients worth considering.

If you want information on the best “external” detox choices, we’ll be covering that topic soon here on the blog. Please stay tuned.

Read more on how you can support your body’s natural detox system

Have any questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. Chemical Hazard Data Availability Study: What Do We Really Know About the Safety of High Production Volume Chemicals? Washington, D.C.: April 1998. Available at
  2. Drugs. 2001;61(14):2035-63.
  3. J Pharm Belg. 2003;58(1):28-31.
  4. Dig Liver Dis. 2004 Nov;36(11):752-9.
  5. Indian J Med Res. 2006 Nov;124(5):491-504.
  6. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2010 Mar;332(3):1081-7.
  7. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):1183S-7S.


Edwin said...

I have heard much about milk thistle. This really confirmed by resolve to start withn this, as I see that the liver is key to maintain with healthy nutrients.

Life Extension said...

Edwin, we are happy to be apart of your health-making decisions!

Anonymous said...

Can you take Sam E at the same time with 5HTP?

Thetoxictwins - Detox patches UK said...

The best way for natural detoxification is drinking as much of water as you can and follow strict detox diets before they start accumulating inside the body and provides you pain and swelling.
If this is the case with someone... that is excessive pain in legs accompanied by swelling then they should start using detox patches to remove all the toxins.

LifeExtension said...

Thetoxictwins - Detox patches UK - Drinking water is very important. Thanks for mentioning it!

Jason Ellis said...

Toxins are everywhere these days, especially in the foods that we eat, and they can exert a baleful influence on your health.

totalguide said...

I always feel uneasy. I mean my liver feels me uneasy. I am thinking to follow those 3 advice. Let me check how it works.

Unknown said...

You might want to know your methylation status (over, under) before supplementing with SAMe (William Walsh, Nutrient Power) You may also know status of SOD, CAT, GST. Better still, get a functional genomic analysis of your inflammatory pathways, identifying weaknesses in the detox enzymes (genes) along with other functional lab test. Then supplement based on the findings.

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