Is your nervous system getting in the way of your body's ability to detox?

Is your nervous system getting in the way of your body's ability to detox?

Spring is a time for renewal and reset. It’s really that time of the year that we are all thinking about doing a much-needed detox. We are constantly exposed to toxins not only from the food we eat, but also from the products we use daily, and even internally as a by-product of our own metabolism. Toxins are also in the medications we use, our homes, the air we breathe and even in our clothing and laundry detergents. The bioaccumulation of these toxins can make us feel run down and tired, some of us may even develop things like allergies and illness because of constant exposure and poor elimination. Most approaches to detoxing the body are ineffective and at times dangerous. What is the truth about detoxification and how can we safely do it to become the most radiant versions of ourselves and thrive? We spoke all about this with Amy Southorn, a certified health and nutrition coach specializing in cellular detoxification and root cause healing. Amy helps guide women to radiant health using smart, safe and balanced detoxification strategies to assist them in the process of removing bioaccumulated toxins and toxicants from their body that cause dysfunction and disease. She has been dedicated to studying health for the past 13 years and has been mentored by world leading experts in functional and alternative medicine. Amy tells us what exactly cellular detoxification is, shares the biggest mistakes she sees those making when trying to detox, explains the link between nervous system dysfunction and your ability to effectively detox and talks about something called neural rewiring which may just be the missing piece in your healing journey.  

 What exactly is cellular detoxification, and how do your programs differentiate from other detox programs?

The definition of detoxification is the physiological process of removing endogenous (produced internally) and exogenous (environmental) toxic substances from the body. Our incredible bodies work hard to remove harmful substances from our system every single minute of every day through complex processes involving our cells, blood, lymphatic system, digestive system, liver and kidneys primarily. This process can be assisted by integrating daily cleansing rituals into our lifestyle.

Cellular detoxification refers to the process of detoxifying the body on a cellular level. Many of the toxins and toxicants we are exposed to accumulate within our cells and poison our precious organelles including our mitochondria that are responsible for producing energy. This leads to a variety of debilitating symptoms when toxins and toxicants accumulate faster than we can eliminate them, one of the major ones being chronic fatigue.

The way I work with my clients is very holistic and my 1:1 programs are completely individualized for the unique human being I am working with. I work as a health detective, assuring I assess my client’s health history and environment thoroughly so that we can identify what is blocking the manifestation of radiant health.  

The strategies I offer my 1:1 client’s not only encompass nutrition, supplement suggestions and cleansing rituals, but include guidance on mind-body medicine and regulating their nervous systems. A body that is stuck in a sympathetic nervous system dominant and fight or flight state is prioritizing ‘running from a tiger’, not optimal health. In this state which many women are living in every day, all energy is diverted to survival. The immune system is suppressed in this state and the body’s innate detoxification processes do not function optimally.

A huge distinction between my programs and other detox programs is that I am against dietary dogma and believe that healing can be achieved, and health can be sustained without adhering to a particular diet label. I teach my clients how to integrate the core cellular detoxification dietary principles into their life to support their body to eliminate waste. This may include some raw green juices, smoothies, raw ‘broom foods’ such as carrots, sprouts, leafy greens, seeds and legumes but there is also space for building foods such as high-quality animal protein. I am passionate about the use of therapeutic nutrition to heal but I encourage my clients to let go of labels such as vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto and carnivore. 

What are the most common symptoms someone with a high toxic load will experience? 

The most common symptoms someone with a high toxic load will experience include chronic fatigue, brain fog, chronic headaches, difficulty concentrating, neurological symptoms, chronic digestive issues (including bloating, gas, constipation, SIBI, SIFO and IBS), chemical sensitivities, anxiety, depression, irritability, muscle and joint pain and aches, insomnia, fluid retention, hormone imbalances, dark circles under the eyes, sinus congestion, hair loss, brittle toenails, bad breath, body odor, foul smelling stools, nausea, weight gain, headaches and skin issues (breakouts, eczema, redness). 

What are the primary drivers of disease?

At the very core, the primary drivers of disease are toxins, toxicants, stress and trauma and a departure from our natural state of living in alignment with nature. The process of the bioaccumulation of toxins and toxicants occurs prior to birth, where these toxic compounds are passed from mother to baby in utero. It is now understood that trauma is also passed generationally. Stress includes both physiological and psychological stress, impacting the body in a similar manner.

Pathogens are often blamed as the cause of many chronic diseases, but I see these as secondary to toxicity, stress, trauma and nervous system dysregulation. It isn’t until the human body is in a chronically stressed and vulnerable state that opportunistic microbes and parasites will become pathogenic and contribute to chronic disease.

I see diagnoses such as hormone dysregulation, allergies, depression, anxiety, digestive and skin disorders as symptoms, not root causes. It doesn’t mean that symptom management isn’t important, but if root causes are not addressed it is difficult to resolve a chronic disease state. 

What is the biggest mistake you see those making when trying to detox? 

The biggest mistake I see many making when trying to detox is taking a very extreme route by choosing to fast on water or juice for long periods of time and only living on fruits and vegetables with very minimal amino acids and fatty acids in their diet. There are various reasons why this is problematic, the first being that it can lead to the very fast mobilization of toxic compounds from their tissues, cells and organs where they have bioaccumulated, essentially giving the body a huge amount of work to do in a very short time frame. It can stress the system so much that many have serious setbacks from doing this. This approach also fails to provide the body with the abundance of specific nutrients and energy to support the biotransformation and safe elimination of toxic compounds. It is also extremely depleting to the adrenals and nervous system.

I feel this mistake is often driven by fear and mistrust in the body’s innate healing abilities. The body is constantly striving for health, and we can support it, but not force it. Trusting the body is key, because it does not betray you, nor create symptoms without a reason.

What is Enterohepatic circulation and how does this relate to detoxification?  

Enterohepatic circulation is a critical system of the body that governs the progression of bile from the liver where it is produced, into the gallbladder, then into the small intestine and finally as it reaches the end of the small intestine (the ileum) 95% of this bile is transported back to the liver via the portal vein. Our liver produces 400 to 1000 ml of bile a day approximately and this bile contains not only water, bile salts (to digest fats), bilirubin phospholipid, cholesterol, amino acids, hormones, enzymes and vitamins it also contains fat soluble toxicants and toxins that have been processed by the liver prior to excretion such as heavy metals, xenobiotics and environmental toxins such a mycotoxins from mold.

What this means is, unless there is adequate fiber in the diet and specific toxin and toxicant binders present in the small intestines these toxicants are reabsorbed in the ileum and are recirculated in the system instead of being released via one of our most important elimination pathways, our colon.

Interrupting this process of circulating toxins and toxicants is critical for lowering the body’s toxic load. 

What are your top 3 detoxification support tools you use in practice?  

A successful detox is defined by the waste that is released from the body. I prefer to encourage the use of daily cleansing rituals for my clients over extreme one-off cleanses. Slow and steady always wins the race. 

The first of the three top detoxification support tools I use with my clients is binders. A toxin and toxicant binder is a supplement that binds onto toxic substances in the gastrointestinal tract or systemically on a tissue, blood, organ or cellular level and carries these toxins and toxicants safely out of the body for elimination. You can think of them like a strong magnet that has an affinity for various toxins and toxicants due to their net charge and various molecular bonds. Many work because their negative charge is attracted to the positive charge of various toxic compounds and there is an electron exchange, others are covalent bonds and a sharing of electrons occurs. Some examples of binders include gastrointestinal binders such as zeolite, bentonite clay, activated charcoal, Enterosgel, MicroSilica and Chitosan as well as binders that can be absorbed and move into circulation such as modified citrus pectin, alginates from kelp, bioactive carbons form fulvic and humic acid and nanoised zeolite.

The second top detoxification support tool I love is colon hydrotherapy with either enemas or closed colonics. Opening up elimination pathways is critical to ensure that toxins and toxicants can leave the body. Our body moves toxins and toxicants out of our body via the excretion of bile, feces, urine, sweat and breath primarily. The very first elimination pathway that I work on is always the colon. Often this pathway is obstructed, which leads to putrefaction in the large intestine and circulating toxins in the system.

The third top detoxification support tool I regularly recommend to my clients is the use of an infrared sauna to sweat out toxins and toxicants through this elimination pathway. We do not sweat all toxins and toxicants through our skin, but we do release heavy metals, mycotoxins and some endocrine-disrupting phthalates through this pathway. I regularly recommend saunas to clients who have heavy metal toxicity and mold toxicity.

How can we optimize our nutrition to support biotransformation of toxins? 

After we ingest, inhale or absorb toxins and toxicants our body must eliminate them. Water soluble toxic compounds are excreted through the kidneys and the liver biotransforms fat soluble toxic compounds into less harmful water-soluble toxicants so that they can be excreted primarily through the colon in our feces. The liver processes fat soluble toxins and toxicants using phase one and phase two detox processes. In the first phase of detoxification cytochrome P450 Enzymes ‘activate’ and break down dangerous fat-soluble toxins and toxicants into less harmful intermediate molecules. These molecules then move through the phase two process of conjugation, rendering these molecules water soluble and ready to be excreted from the body.

For the optimisation of phase one and two detox processes I recommend adequate amino acid intake, bioflavonoid and vitamin C rich foods, B vitamins such as folate, B2, B3, B6, B12, vitamin A, vitamin E, phospholipids and sulfur metabolites.

To neutralize the free radicals produced as a result of the phase one detox process it is helpful to consume ample antioxidants.  

This means that a wholefood plant centric diet that includes some raw antioxidant rich fruits such as berries, apples and citrus as well as raw, steamed and roasted vegetables, properly prepared pseudo grains and legumes, nuts and seeds as well as high quality organic and pastured animal foods are important to include in the diet to support detoxification. I also often recommend the addition of certain superfoods to supplement the diet such as spirulina and barley grass juice powder.

It is also worth noting that after these toxins and toxicants are biotransformed into water soluble compounds, phase three of detox occurs: transportation and elimination. For this to occur successfully there needs to be adequate fiber in the diet, a healthy microbiome and again ideally some binders in place when dealing with a higher level of toxicity in the system.

How does food combining play into this?

The core reason food combining is so important is because different foods require different environments to digest and are broken down and move through the gastrointestinal tract at varying speeds.

Combining certain foods can lead to bloating, gas, fermentation, dysbiosis and the production of endogenous toxins in the gastrointestinal tract.

The first example I will use is the combination of a dense animal protein and a starch such as potato. Animal protein requires a very acidic environment in the stomach to digest well. If the stomach PH is too high, acidic enzymes such as pepsin are not released which are essential to break down the protein to access the nutrients it contains. If starches are combined with animal protein, the stomach becomes more alkaline, and the protein is not adequately broken down. This then leads to fermentation and putrefaction in the intestines. This is also why liquids should not be eaten with meals, because it dilutes stomach acid and leads to indigestion. 

Another example of how food combining can lead to fermentation and therefore more endogenous toxins being produced in the intestines is combining fruit with heavier foods such as protein and fat. Fruit digests very fast and if there are other foods obstructing its journey through the intestines, it will ferment leading to bloating and gas. 

What is nervous system dysregulation and what is the connection between our nervous system and detoxification? 

Thanks to the work of Dr Stephen Porges and the Polyvagal Theory it is now understood that there are multiple states of the nervous system that respond to stress (either real or perceived stress). There is the sympathetic response, which is often referred to as fight or flight, then there is the parasympathetic nervous system responses which include ventral vagal rest and digest as well as dorsal vagal freeze and shut down. After long periods of stress and trauma, the nervous system can remain ‘stuck’ in either hyperarousal fight or flight or in dorsal vagal freeze and shut down. Many clients I see swing between fight or flight and freeze, but rarely hang out in parasympathetic rest and digest, their nervous system lacks flexibility, and their window of tolerance is very small. The smallest of stressors send them into freeze or fight or flight.

The body does not prioritize optimizing detoxification processes when it is stuck either in hypo or hyper arousal, it is prioritizing survival. One of the primary goals of healing is to support the nervous system so it can regain flexibility and the body can become more resilient and become a self-healing machine!

Healing the nervous system involves using bottom-up (feeling) and top-down (thinking) techniques to bring safety back into the system.

I would also like to add that the lymphatic system, the sewer system of the body that carries cellular waste out of the system, does not function optimally when the body is stressed. Stress has a very contracting effect on the body.

What is neural rewiring and how can this help support our healing journey?

Your brain has the ability to change and adapt, this is called neuroplasticity. Humans often think, feel and act in the same way day after day and this creates neural pathways, you’ve maybe heard the phrase ‘neurons that fire together wire together’. This is one of the reasons why it can be so hard to change and create new positive healthy habits, the brain can be very resistant to it, and it is easier to keep doing things the same way, day after day.

You can create new neural pathways, it takes a lot of practice and commitment to making new choices every day, but it is possible. Neural rewiring can be achieved with the use of meditations, like those created by Dr Joe Dispenza. His formula for change includes having a clear intention, using the power of visualization and elevating your emotions.

Some of my clients with severe centralized sensitivity (affecting the brain and nervous system) benefit from neural rewiring programs such as DNRS (Dynamic Neural Rewiring Program) and the Gupta program. These programs use the principles of neuroplasticity to rewire the brain and bring the system out of a chronic survival state to a state of growth and repair. I also often refer clients who need more personalized support to my mentor Nadia Georgiou who is a compassion based neuroplasticity teacher and mind-body medicine expert. 

What are your top 5 supplements you would recommend for daily detoxification support?  

If I could only give a person one supplement, it would be a trace mineral formula. Minerals are the spark plugs of life and unfortunately our food supply is now deficient because of soil depletion. When a mineral deficiency is present, the body uptakes heavy metals into the system as they look similar to the body and use the same transport proteins. This means that, if someone is mineral deficient, they are more prone to bioaccumulating the heavy metals they are exposed to in their environment. I like this one HERE.  

The next supplement I would suggest to support health and detoxification is magnesium, a mineral that is challenging to get in adequate amounts in food. Due to the stress of modern day living many people have a very high magnesium burn rate, meaning that their body uses a lot of magnesium, and they need high doses of this mineral to support their system. Magnesium is required for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It is essential in supporting the function of the nervous system, muscle function, immunity, regulating blood sugar, bone health and blood pressure. Another bonus is that magnesium can be used as a gentle bowel mover during cleansing. I like magnesium glycinate, magnesium bicarbonate and ionic magnesium chloride. I love this magnesium HERE.  

The third supplement I would highly recommend for detoxification support is a high quality zeolite powder. I only recommend particular brands of clinoptilolite zeolite that have been tested for safety and purity. To be effective the zeolite must contain a high silica to aluminum ratio, ideally more than 5 silica to 1 aluminum molecule. Zeolite is an extremely intelligent binder as it binds only to harmful substances and not essential minerals and nutrients. This makes it safe for consistent and long term use. Zeolite also binds a huge array of toxic compounds including heavy metals, mycotoxins from mold, radioactive materials, fluoride, viruses, some pathogenic bacteria, histamine and ammonia. My favorite brand is HERE. 

Wholefood vitamin C is another foundational supplement I regularly recommend due to its potent antioxidant properties. It helps to neutralize the effects of free radicals produced by exposure to toxicants as well as the detoxification process itself. Wholefood vitamin C contains bioflavonoids, hesperidin, rutin as well as minerals such as bioavailable copper important for regulating iron in the body. I really love this product as it contains organic and sustainably wildcrafted ingredients.You can Purchase it HERE.

I often suggest bee pollen to clients to support the body on a daily basis to optimize daily detoxification processes. This superfood contains a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax and bee secretions. Bee pollen is very nutrient dense and contains over 200 different substances including amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and enzymes. Bee pollen also has antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immunostimulating properties. One of the brands I love is HERE.