Detoxification for MTHFR, Revisited

MTHFR and detoxification are intimately linked. Having a methylation issue impairs detox of many substances including heavy metals and hormones to name a few, but also when those branches of detoxification are impaired it can generally affect the speed at which other substances are able to be eliminated.  So actively supporting those elimination pathways is a huge part of the MTHFR lifestyle. The problem is that anybody who has ever had a hangover, knows that being toxic comes with symptoms. Sadly, lots of people who have done cleanses also know that cleansing too quickly can come with symptoms.

I can certainly say first hand that doing an intense cleanse is fraught with difficulty. When I was a student, well before I knew anything about MTHFR or it’s consequences or that I have it, a good friend was bulk ordering cleanse kits at a discount.  This is the sort of weird geekery that we engaged in as students. Anyway, the cleanse involved a limited diet that tapered down to a total water fast over the course of six weeks along with heavy-duty liver pushers, clay as a binder, and a massive dose of fiber.  I won’t go into the gory details, but right around week four a good friend sat me down and said, very earnestly, “If you don’t stop this cleanse, I am personally locking you in your apartment to preserve everyone else’s sanity.”

I actually broke that fast with an entire large extra cheese and pepperoni pizza and an order of breadsticks by myself, which is even funnier if you had seen me in person because I’m 5’2 and 105 lbs soaking wet. Quite honestly, the pizza was blissful and the only part of that cleanse that was worth the price of admission.  The problem was, that for my body the cleanse was WAY too intense and it pushed my liver to liberate toxins that my system had no way of actually eliminating, and so they rattled around turning me into quite literally a toxic human.

Interestingly, when we refer to someone as “toxic” emotionally, they are usually a pretty good picture of what a person who is toxic physically looks like.  Angry, lashing out, generally spewing hatred and unpleasantness. Internally they might also have a headache, some mild (or severe) nausea, and be constipated. Their skin could be itchy, they might (eek!) produce some weird odors. It’s all pretty gross and, well, toxic. 

The symptoms of being toxic and needing a detox are much the same as the symptoms that occur if you’re trying to detox too quickly.  I know, for the small handful of you who are listening who have experimented with an overly-eager cleanse before, this was a lightbulb moment. The rest of you are probably saying, “so what?”

The reason this matters is that if you’re truly on a path towards balancing your methylation, then you’re going to get to the point where you start incorporating gentle detox into your routine more frequently, and invariably when people start doing gentle detox regularly and see how much better it makes them feel, they try to push the envelope with heavier-hitting detox. 

So let’s talk about steps toward mitigating those toxic symptoms.  We’ll go through a little flow chart.

  1. Are you having symptoms spontaneously (like you’re just toxic) or have you been actively detoxifying?
  2. If you’re just toxic, it’s time to implement some gentle detox strategies and give your body a cleaner diet for a couple of weeks or for good.
  3. If you’ve been detoxing, it sounds like you’re pushing your body a bit too hard. Here’s how to handle that.
    1.   First, Stop taking any supplements involved with the detox. Your body needs a break.
    2. The next big priority is to get your bowels moving because if you can’t physically eliminate things, then they’re hanging around inside of you and that is a genuinely horrible thought. This may mean a one-off dose of a laxative tea or even a glycerine suppository. Whatever you do, make sure you poop.
    3. Also, adding in some detox-type activities that don’t go through your liver or bowels can be a really helpful thing. This is using a sauna or sweating it out in any way you can, doing castor oil packs, taking Epsom salts baths, and that type of thing. 
    4. Keep a very simple, clean diet (fruits and veggies, rice, broth, fresh juices, lots and lots and lots of water. No alcohol, refined sugars, or processed foods, until the symptoms have passed, will help too.
    5. Sleep more – as much as you physically can, and generally give your body a break. 

MTHFR-safe detoxes.

In general, I warn MTHFR folks away from detox kits unless they are a pro with detoxes and can read their body’s signs and symptoms effectively and know how to counter any adverse reactions. But just because we can’t do prepackaged kits very well, doesn’t mean we can’t detox.

Intermittent Fasting

 I love intermittent fasting. Love it with a passion. It’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s extremely well researched in all kinds of areas, but especially in promoting longevity. It’s just about the simplest and most effective health hack out there. Here’s how you do it.

  • 24-hour Fast: For a 24 hour fast, have dinner like usual, skip breakfast, lunch, and snacks the next day and drink plenty of water with a little bit of lemon in it (or plain if you’re not into lemon). Around the same time as you had dinner the night before, have a healthy, simple dinner. That’s it! It’s literally the easiest possible health-boost because there is less effort involved than you take on a normal day. 
  • 36-Hour Fast: For a 36 hour fast, have dinner the night before, skip all food the day of the fast and drink a ton of water or lemon water.  Get up the next morning (which is roughly 36 hours later) and eat a healthy breakfast. Done!

Clean Week

This is a great tool to use quarterly, and it can be as simple or as intense as you feel ready for that quarter. A simple clean week could be stripping your diet down to fresh fruits and veggies, rice, broth, and some gentle herbal detox teas. Take out some of the foods we tend to lean on that might not be the best – the grains, processed foods or packaged foods, refined sugars. During this week it’s important to rest more, be more mindful of toxin avoidance, and I like to take it as an opportunity to go inward – do a bit of journaling, clear out some clutter, that sort of thing. If you want to get more intense about it you can do a full juice cleanse, liquid diet, or alternate between juice only days and fasting days. This is a completely customizable tool.

Modified Month

This is exactly what it sounds like, and can be a really helpful format to use if you have a habit that you know is taking a toll. A modified month is like taking a reset on a bad habit – if you’ve watched your sugar cravings ramp up (like mine have) during covid, it could be a great idea to do a modified month over the summer in which everything else is mostly the same, but you cut out the sugar and sweets. Lots of people do modified months with events like Dry July or Sober October. Also, a modified month can be a great way to work on improving a good habit instead of eliminating a bad one. What about Active August or Hydrated… Shmydrated. I don’t have a rhyme for that one.

Detox can be as simple and small or as large and complex as you want to make it, and just because you did a big complex one last time doesn’t mean you need to do that again. Take your stress level and your life chaos into account when you’re planning this.

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