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The Best Detox

As detailed in my 3-minute video The Best Detox, there’s lots of talk these days about detoxing, but talk is cheap—our liver is actually doing it, all day, every day. If we want to detoxify our bodies, the best thing we can do is to boost our liver’s own detoxifying enzymes, and one of the most potent such inducer is a phytonutrient called sulforaphane. So where do we find this stuff?  Broccoli, which produces more than any other known plant (with the silver going to kohlrabi and bronze to cauliflower; broccoli raab, on the other hand, produces about 500 times less than broccoli).

Broccoli is an exceptional source of sulforaphane, but the surprising thing is that there’s none actually in the vegetable—until you bite it. You know those chemical flares, or glow sticks, where you snap them and chemicals in two different compartments mix and set off a reaction? Broccoli does the same thing. In one part of the cell it keeps the enzyme myrosinase, and in another part it keeps something called glucoraphanin. There is no sulforaphane, which is what we want, anywhere in broccoli—not until some herbivore starts chewing on it. At that point, plant cells get crushed, the enzyme mixes with the glucoraphanin and sulforaphane is born.  And the herbivore is like, “Ew, this tastes like broccoli!” and runs away. The plant uses this as a defense against nibblers and noshers. Little did broccoli count on a little lemon juice and some garlic—maybe a little tahini dressing? It’s our counterattack.

A similar enzymatic “glow stick” reaction happens in garlic. Both the enzymes in both these cases are inactivated by cooking, so there’s a secret to preserving the benefits. See Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True for my “hack & hold” strategy (or maybe I should call it whack & wait?)

Broccoli sprouts are even healthier, and can be a cost-effective way to eat on the cheap if you make your own. That’s the subject of my 2-minute video Biggest Nutrition Bang for Your Buck, in which broccoli sprouts beat out purple cabbage (Superfood Bargains) for the most one could get nutritionally for one’s money. Another good cost-saving tip can be found in Are Goji Berries Good For You?.

Can you overdo it? Yes, four cups of broccoli sprouts a day may exceed the safe dose of sulforaphane, for example. See Liver Toxicity Due to Broccoli Juice? and How Much Broccoli Is Too Much? There is also the issue of the goitrogenic compounds in raw cruciferous. See Overdosing on Greens. We can also drink too much tea (see Overdosing on Tea), eat too much of the spice turmeric (see Oxalates in Cinnamon), too much of the seaweed kelp (see Too Much Iodine Can Be As Bad As Too Little), and overdo coffee when pregnant (see Caffeine During Pregnancy). And in a nod to my Care2 post Stomach Staples or Healthy Kitchen Staples, I relate a cautionary tale of gastric bypass surgery in The Dangers of Broccoli?

-Michael Greger, M.D.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

14 responses to “The Best Detox

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    1. Here is Dr. Greger’s position on water fluoridation.

      “The proposed (!OpenDocument) EPA changes to water fluoridation have sparked a resurgence of many of the old anti-fluoridation arguments, which as far as I can tell were successfully debunked ( over 50 years ago. According to the CDC, fluoridation of drinking water joins vaccination (another unjustly vilified practice) as one of the greatest public health achievements ( in the last last century.”

  1. A comment I left on the broccoli juice video:

    More is not always better. Some phytochemicals work (at normal consumption levels) by stressing our cells slightly, causing a protective response.

    There’s a whopper of a series of videos one could do on hormesis and the hormetic effects (low-dose good, high dose toxic) of phytonutrients. Many of the protective plants noted by Dr. Greger so far seem to activate the cellular Nrf2 signalling pathway, causing production of hundreds of protective and repair enzymes. Just from this somewhat dated but excellent review:

    Sulforaphane (cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale), curcumin (tumeric), EGCG (green but not black tea), diallyl sulfide, diallyl trisulfide, s-allylcysteine (garlic), resveratrol (grapes & wine), lycopene (tomatoes), capsaicin (hot pepper), piperine (black pepper), carnosol (rosemary), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), cafestol, kahweol (coffee), chalcone (citrus, apples, tomatoes, shallots, bean sprouts), xanthohumol (hops), eupatilin (terragon), isoorientin (acai) & quercetin (red onions, watercress, kale, berries, sweet potatoes),,,

    all induce activation of the Nrf2 antioxidant response/repair axis, and are hence “sensed” by the cells as stressors. A number of them (curcumin from tumeric, tea catechins) are known to be hormetic: toxins at very large (concentrated supplement) doses. It may well be these phytochemicals’ stressor effect rather than their in vitro antioxidant capacity that accounts for their health benefits.

    In line with a common refrain of Dr. Greger’s, its likely better to get them in food rather than pills – its one way to keep dosing in the hormetic range.

    There are presently 29,000 articles on referencing Nrf2, 16,000 in just the past five years. But while the subject is a very deep one, it also, brings a bit of simplicity and order to the question of why so many plant foods have protective and theraputic effects at normal food doses.

  2. Why I keep getting UTI INFECTIONS….the last one I had had E. coli in it……I AM A VERY CLEAN PERSON…I hate to take antibiotics

    1. Most UTIs are caused by E. coli and have nothing to do with cleanliness. We all harbor E. coli in our systems (different fro the strain that causes serious illness) and sometimes the bacteria can “win,” if you will, and cause an infection. Unfortunately, antibiotics are the best treatment. Preventive measures include drinking cranberry juice and wiping from front to back after using the toilet. If you don’t have one already, find a good MD with whom you can discuss this issue. S/he may be able to help you find out why you keep getting them and help you reduce the incidence.

  3. >> the best thing we can do is to boost our liver’s own
    >> detoxifying enzymes, and one of the most potent
    >> such inducer is a phytonutrient called sulforaphane.

    According to Wikipedia there are 3 atoms of sulphur in
    every molecule of sulforaphane. From watching many of

    the vegetarian videos online and on NetFlix many if not
    most of them talk about how the big difference between
    animal and plant based food is sulphur? They mention
    how the sulphur in animal protein causes the body to be
    acidic and leach calcium out of the bones causing osteo-
    porosis when peolpe eat or drink too much protein.

    It makes me wonder what is the difference in the sulphur
    in sulforaphane and in animal proteins?

  4. What I would like to know is this. I don’t have a full-out completely nutritious diet but it is much healthier than the typical American diet. The healthier I eat the more sore I get, could this be due to detox and my body healing or is there another explanation for this?

  5. What is the science for or against the advertised colon liver and kidney detoxes on the market? Do they work ? Or do u just feel better because u think u do bc u spent all that money?

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