Unlocking the Secrets of Detoxification and Genetics

Have you ever wondered why some people can eat unhealthy foods and stay healthy, while others struggle to maintain their health even when they are eating clean? The answer lies in the power of genetics and detoxification.

Your body has dozens of genes involved in moving harmful compounds, known as toxins, out of the body. We will explore the detox genes that regulate detoxification and discuss which toxins require our bodies to do some extra work. By gaining a better understanding of genetics and detoxification, we can better support our body's natural ability to detoxify.

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Detoxification is a natural process

Detoxification in the body is a natural process that works to continuously eliminate harmful substances from the body. Genetic changes, as well as lifestyle and dietary factors may affect the function of detox enzymes, thus impacting the body’s sensitivity to toxic substances originating from inside and outside the body (1). These harmful substances, referred to as toxins, can and do build up in the body and contribute to poor health and disease. 

In fact, the CDC performed an analysis of the general population’s exposure to environmental chemicals and discovered an average of 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine (2).

Toxins exposure happens as a result of environmental pollution, contaminated food & water, the use of medications, personal care products, off-gassing from furniture and cleaning products, and dozens of other everyday sources. According to the EPA, the average person can encounter as many as 84,000 man-made chemicals over the course of the day (3). 

Related: The Only Detox Approved by Functional Medicine

Do your genetics control how well you detox?

Certain people may be genetically predisposed to have worse detox function than others. Genetic markers, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are located on genes that affect enzymes involved in the body's detoxification process (1). As a result, some people may still struggle to properly metabolize toxins due to their genetic makeup.

For example, SNPs that affect the MTHFR gene may have trouble using certain vitamins necessary for optimal detox function. This means some people may need to take extra steps beyond eating healthy and avoiding toxins to support optimal detox function due to differences in detox genes.

Detox genes 

There is a group of genes that play a significant role in regulating the body’s ability to activate, metabolize, and eliminate toxins from the body. Genetic variants (SNPs) in these genes means detoxification pathways can suffer. Some of these include:

  • MTHFR is a gene that provides a blueprint for an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). This enzyme takes folic acid from your diet and converts it into a biologically active form—5-MTHF, or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. Methyl-folate drives another larger—and very important—process known as methylation, which regulates detox function and glutathione production (4).
  • The NRF2 gene controls cellular resistance to oxidants and activates four other genes that produce detox proteins (5). 
  • The cytochrome P450 (CYP450) superfamily of enzymes uses oxygen to metabolize toxic compounds like pharmaceuticals, environmental toxins, and some hormones.
  • Glutathione S-transferases mu 1 (GSTM1) and theta 1 (GSTT1) protect cells from oxidative stress and activate glutathione.
  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is involved in metabolism of dopamine, stress hormones, estrogens, drugs, and metabolites found in tobacco smoke, grilled meats, and other foods.

Add antioxidant protection to any IV therapy drip with glutathione.

Why optimal detox function is important

Impaired detoxification can have scientific studies show a possible link with certain diseases (6,7). Because most toxins are fat-soluble, they can be stored for long lengths of time and be linked to:

Detoxification helps eliminate toxins by converting them into water-soluble substances to be safely eliminated by the body. 

Read: 12 Signs Detoxing Could Help You Lose Stubborn Weightgene

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Types of Toxins that Require Detoxification

There are many different types of compounds considered toxins by the body, but they can all be placed into one of two categories:

Exogenous toxins are absorbed through external sources including water, air, food, or direct contact. For example

  • Acrylamide, formed when foods are baked or fried at high temperatures, and as a byproduct of cigarette smoke
  • Arsenic in many home-building products
  • environmental phenols, including bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastics and food packaging
  • Perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs), used to create non-stick cookware
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in paints, air fresheners, cleaning products, perfumes and colognes, carpets, and dry-cleaned clothing
  • Synthetic pesticides, including a variety of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides commonly used in conventional agriculture

Endogenous toxins are metabolic byproducts that are produced inside the human body. These include:

Whether toxins are of endogenous or exogenous origin, they all must undergo the same 3-phase process to eliminate.

The Three Phases of Detoxification  

To be eliminated from the body most toxins must first be converted to a harmless, water-soluble form. This process occurs in three phases that work together.

Phase I detox: Enzymes in the liver break down larger molecules into smaller ones, but produce highly reactive free radicals in the process. These free radicals damage cells unless further processed in Phase II or neutralized by internal antioxidants.

Phase II detox: Conjugation phase II enzymes join partially metabolized toxins with large molecules to produce water-soluble substances that are ready for elimination in the body.

Phase III detox: The elimination phase when toxins leave the body via urine, stool, or sweat.

SNPs that impact detoxification can affect Phase I, II, or III. Shop nutritional supplements to support each phase of healthy detoxification.

Are your enzymes working? Why test for genetic enzymes and detoxification problems?

Identifying altered detoxification genes allows us to better protect ourselves from the buildup of harmful chemicals that have the potential to increase risk of disease.

Understanding how genetics affect detoxification enzymes helps us develop the right treatment plan to make sure the body is properly eliminating toxins.

Who can benefit from SNP genetic testing?

SNPs help predict an individual’s response to certain drugs, susceptibility to environmental factors such as toxins, and risk of developing some diseases.

SNPs can also be used to track the inheritance of genetic factors that could predict disease within families. Research is ongoing to identify SNPs associated with increased risk of chronic or complex diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and breast cancer.

Scientists have found more than 600 million SNPs, but it’s important to note that most do not affect health or development.

How to boost your detoxification function

If you have genetic variations that affect detoxification enzymes, there are many ways you can promote healthy detox function. Some of the most effective ones include:

  • Certain supportive vitamins and minerals (NAC, glutathione, magnesium, and herbs such as milk thistle & berberine)
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet & avoid ultra-processed foods
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce daily stress

For more on understanding detoxification and how to properly support this process, read this post.

Understanding the role of genetics and detoxification is key to supporting your body’s natural ability to eliminate toxins. If you suspect that your detox genes may be impaired, it is important to work with a medical practitioner or health coach to develop an individualized plan for supporting your detox pathways. Additionally, you can work to avoid exposure to significant amounts of environmental toxins that further contribute to impaired detox.


  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/4/768
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/overview_ner.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK268889/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24494987/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4680839/ 
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25705646/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8876337/


detox, Holistic Medicine

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