Optimizing Detox Pathways: Antioxidants, Cruciferous Veggies and SCFAs 

Detoxification is an increasingly hot topic. And for good reason, especially now.

With so many chemicals in the environment, we can no longer deny that toxins impact our health.

Whether its mold, PFAS, plastics, algal blooms, pesticides, VOC’s, air pollution or all of the above, the burden on the environment and on humans is greater than ever before.  

The good news is that the body is always working to detoxify.

Detoxification occurs naturally in the body all the time. Unfortunately, often, our detoxification systems cannot keep up with the ongoing exposures, and toxins slowly accumulate in our bodies.

While we might implement intermittent deeper detoxification protocols in the light of large exposures, a health crisis, or certain lab results, it is critical to be proactive and preventative by implementing daily practices that support detoxification.  

While the liver often gets the most detox attention for of its role in transforming toxins, the colon, lungs, kidneys, skin, and individual cells all provide routes for those toxins to leave the body.

Regularly supporting these organ systems is key for optimizing detoxification so our bodies can keep up with ongoing exposures.  

Since detoxification is really a daily occurrence, detoxification pathways lend themselves to easy support from nutrition and supplements.

Today’s article will discuss three powerful food-as-medicine approaches for optimizing your detoxification pathways.  

 In this article, you’ll learn more about: 

  • The role of antioxidants in detoxification 
  • Even more reasons to love cruciferous vegetables
  • Why you should care about short chain fatty acids
  • Lists of helpful foods and supplements 

When it comes to detox, there is no time to waste!  

Antioxidants And Detoxification  

Antioxidants are molecules that have an extra electron to give to unstable, free radicals that are produced in our bodies daily functions. The extra electron is necessary in order to make molecules more stable so they can’t cause damage to our cells.

Antioxidants are crucial for protecting cell membranes, shielding mitochondria, and play an important role in detoxification itself.

Because antioxidants are depleted by toxin exposures, stress, poor food choices and many unavoidable exposures of modern life, your body likely needs more of these incredibly important compounds to work effectively.  

It might be interesting to learn that detoxification itself produces free radicals that are unstable and highly toxic.

One of the liver’s main roles is turning toxic compounds into water-soluble compounds so they can be excreted from the body.

This happens in a two-step process referred to as Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification.

The transformation that happens in Phase 1 results in compounds that are often more toxic than the original form.

Antioxidants jump in to save the day and provide protection until phase 2 is completed.

For example, this is the main reason that acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be so dangerous for some people. 

This image shows the 2 of the key steps in the detoxification process and the important nutrients required to support liver detoxification.  


This image is a helpful showing of all the nutrients required for Phase 1 liver detoxification, responsible for protecting the body from harmful intermediates as well as for the nutrients necessary for Phase 2 as well.

Looking at this graphic it’s easy to see that detoxification is a highly nutrient-dependent process.

When we have more chemicals to detox, we simply need more nutrition.

This is exactly why some popular restrictive cleanse and detox programs don’t work: they restrict the nutrients needed for the liver to do its job and can actually worsen an already risky condition.   

When we understand how nutrition-dependent detoxification is, it’s easy to see the link with what we eat.  

In addition, Nrf2 is a transcription factor that activates hundreds of genes including important detoxification pathways.

Nrf2 is stimulated by many antioxidants (including phenols and vitamin E) and other compounds (including sulfur compounds, carotenoids, and omega-3 fats), which emphasizes yet another way in which what you eat directly promotes detoxification.  

In short, you’ll find antioxidants in all colorful, whole plant foods

Here are some foods with the highest amounts and supplements to use for additional support.  

Dr. Shippy’s Favorite Paleo Organic Antioxidant Foods  

  • Wild Blueberries 
  • Strawberries 
  • Cacao 
  • Green Tea 
  • Turmeric 
  • Brazil nuts 
  • Artichokes 
  • Beets 
  • Arugula 
  • Pumpkin  
  • Apples 
  • Ginger 
  • Rosemary

 Dr. Shippy’s Top Antioxidant Supplements to Support Detoxification 

Cruciferous Vegetables And Detoxification  

Cruciferous, or Brassica vegetables, are a family of plants that provide food-as-medicine for detoxification.

With so many to choose from, these veggies are easily incorporated into the daily diet and provide a lot of benefits from immune support to decreasing cancer risk.  

Cruciferous veggies contain antioxidants – vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and even antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase – and are supportive for detoxification.

In addition, organosulfur compounds, called glucosinolates found in all cruciferous veggies specifically support Phase 2 detoxification.

In Phase 2, one of the pathways for neutralizing toxins is by attaching a sulfur group to the intermediate in a process called sulfation. Then, the toxin is fully water soluble and able to be excreted from the body.  

DIM (diindolylmethane) and sulforaphane are sulfur compounds in these veggies that are particularly beneficial for support healthy estrogen metabolism and detoxification.  

The Every Life Well DUTCH Panel is a Functional Medicine blood test that looks at a wide array of hormones, as well as the hormonal metabolites so we can see just how your body is breaking them down and if you would benefit from concentrated dosages of these cruciferous compounds.  

While supplements are very helpful, most of us can benefit from eating this delicious plant family regularly.  

 To get the most out of cruciferous vegetables: 

  • Chop or chew (very well) to activate the organosulfur compounds. 
  • Include lightly cooked options in order to receive the full array of nutrition. 
  • Include (at least) one to two cups per day of cruciferous veggies in addition to other daily vegetables. 

 Dr. Shippy’s Favorite Cruciferous Veggies 

  • Arugula 
  • Bok choy 
  • Broccoli and broccoli rabe 
  • Broccoli sprouts 
  • Brussels sprouts 
  • Cabbage 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Collard greens 
  • Daikon radish 
  • Horseradish 
  • Kale 
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Mizuna 
  • Mustard 
  • Napa cabbage 
  • Romanesco
  • Rutabaga 
  • Tatsoi 
  • Turnips 
  • Watercress  

If you aren’t used to eating a lot of these veggies, cauliflower rice and pan fried brussels sprouts are a great place to start.

Like those? You can find even more Paleo recipes here 

Short Chain Fatty Acids And Detoxification 

Short chain fatty acids, or SCFAs for short, really tell the story of the importance of the gut microbiome in detoxification.

The colon itself is a detoxification organ and one of the major ways that the body rids itself of toxins.

The microorganisms within the colon are not only part of the story of whether you are regular, or not, and can eliminate toxins this way, or not, but they also produce nutrients, including SCFAs 

Acetate, propionate and butyrate are short chain fats produced by healthy, probiotic gut bacteria when they feed upon fiber in the diet.

Dietary fats are mostly longer chain like the fats found in olive oil or grass-fed beef, or medium chain as in coconut oil. This short structure of these fats give them unique properties. SCFAs are associated with decreased inflammation, immune regulation and anticancer effects.

Whereas low levels of SCFAs are more associated with dysbiosis or imbalances in the microbiome, the good bacteria make SCFAs and then the SCFAs promote more good bacteria. This helps digestion, microbiome balance, detoxification and overall health.  

Here is one more connection to consider:

SCFAs play a role in healing the gut and tightening the junctions between cells, correcting “leaky gut.” When these junctions are tight, toxins in food and endotoxins from bacteria pass through the digestive tract instead of entering the body putting a burden on other detoxification pathways 

 Here’s how to use food-as-medicine to support the microbiome and increase SCFA production.  

 Dr. Shippy’s Tips for Improving the Microbiome and Increasing SCFAs 

  • Eat a Paleo diet that includes an abundance of whole plant foods. Sometimes the plants are minimized or skipped on a Paleo diet in favor of meat and fat, and there are consequences to the microbiome. Be sure to include lots of leafy veggies, root veggies, starchy veggies and colorful fruits.  
  • Focus on the prebiotic fiber. These specific foods contain fiber that directly feeds beneficial bacteria and increases their production of SCFAs. Include: bananas, plantains, artichokes, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, burdock root chicory, onions and garlic.  
  • Enjoy fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kim chi, low-sugar kombucha, unsweetened coconut yogurt or kefir are some great Paleo options that contain live beneficial bacteria. 
  • Eat high fiber paleo diet. Natural sources of the SCFA butyrate, that is a preferred energy source for the cells that line the digestive tract. Increasing butyrate, through food or supplements, can help to restore microbiome balance. Include plant-based foods such, vegetables, fruits nuts and seeds. If you are not following a paleo diet, whole grains and legumes may be added. 

Strong detoxification pathways mean less damage done by toxins, decreased risk for chronic disease, increased immunity and so many other benefits including both improved lifespan and health span.  

Want to live a long and healthy life?

Detoxification is an area not to be overlooked. While there are many ways to support specific detoxification pathways, what you choose to consume each day, has an incredibly powerful impact.

Not to mention, eating well is easy, delicious and gives you the energy needed to care for yourself in other important ways.  


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