The internet and social media are abuzz with ketogenic diet success stories, with adherents reporting benefits such as dramatic weight loss, enhanced energy, and better brain function. However, the initial success many people experience on the diet is often followed by a stubborn plateau in which body weight refuses to budge further. This plateau can be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel! Supporting your detoxification pathways can reboot your metabolism, helping you break through your weight loss plateau and continue to enjoy the benefits of a ketogenic diet.
Body Fat and Toxins: A Vicious Cycle
Thousands of man-made chemicals are released into our environment and incorporated into consumer products each year. Industries are not required to test these chemicals for safety before they go on the market, leaving us in the dark about their long-term health impacts. However, a growing body of research indicates that these chemicals are far from safe. In fact, many of them accumulate in our body fat, trigger hormonal imbalances, and body fat accumulation. When body fat is lost, such as on a ketogenic diet, these chemicals are released from fat into the blood circulation, where they wreak havoc on metabolic health and can impair further weight loss.
- BPA, a plasticizer found in plastic water bottles, food containers, and cash register receipts, is stored in fat tissue and induces insulin resistance in fat cells. 1,2 In other words, it both causes and perpetuates metabolic dysfunction.
- Pesticides, the residues of which accumulate on non-organic produce and in the meat and milk of animals fed conventional grain-based diets, trigger metabolic dysfunction and may promote body fat accumulation.3
- Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are hazardous man-made chemicals resistant to degradation that sequester themselves in fat cells.4 Once inside fat cells, POPs induce adipose tissue inflammation and may, over time, promote the development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.5,6
While our bodies have natural systems in place for detoxifying foreign compounds, the sheer number of chemicals we face today quickly overwhelms these systems. If you’ve reached a standstill in your keto weight loss journey, it may be time to start detoxing!
How Does Keto Affect Detox?
The ketogenic diet boosts your body’s fat-burning ability while also enhancing several aspects of detoxification:
- Activates Nrf2, an antioxidant pathway that turns up cellular detoxification processes 7, 8
- Stimulates autophagy, your body’s “cellular housekeeping system” that removes old, damaged cellular components from your body. 9
- Improves gut barrier integrity (i.e., preventing “leaky gut”); a healthy gut is essential for detoxification. 10
While the keto diet naturally supports several detox mechanisms, the rapid weight loss it induces can also dump a variety of harmful toxins from fat into your circulation. In fact, research has found that rapid diet-induced weight loss mobilizes POPs from body fat stores, dramatically increasing blood concentrations.11 If these toxins are not cleaned up quickly, they may disrupt your hormonal balance and metabolic function, bringing weight loss to a screeching halt. By combining keto with natural detox support strategies, you can facilitate successful weight loss and detoxification.
7 Strategies for Supporting Detox on Keto
You can support your body’s natural detoxification processes while on keto with a handful of simple strategies:
- Make sure your keto diet is toxin-free
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins
- Support your gut health
- Drink plenty of water
- Bind toxins
- Support healthy liver function
- Break a sweat to eliminate toxins through your skin
Make Sure Your Keto Diet is Toxin-Free!
The first step in supporting your body’s detox pathways on keto is to make sure you’re sourcing the cleanest, highest-quality food possible. Non-organic produce, meat, and dairy products frequently contain pesticide, antibiotic, and synthetic hormone residues, which mess with your hormonal balance, and detox pathways.12 Chronic exposure to small doses of antibiotics and pesticides in meat and dairy products may trigger insulin resistance and obesity by altering your gut microbiome.13,14 To limit your exposure to these harmful chemicals, purchase organic, pasture-raised, and/or wild-caught animal products as much as your budget allows.
Selecting organic produce will also reduce your body burden of hormone-disrupting pesticides and herbicides. To learn which fruits and vegetables you should buy organic – and which ones you can safely buy non-organic due to their low levels of pesticides residues – check out the Environmental Working Group’s helpful Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.
While many keto diet foods and supplements contain artificial sweeteners, these additives may do more harm than good when it comes to weight loss. Artificial sweeteners alter the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, causing blood sugar issues and potential weight gain over the long-term.15
Reduce Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins
While cleaning up your diet is crucial, don’t forget to also reduce your exposure to other toxins in your environment! Use glass or stainless steel water bottles and food storage containers and forgo cash register receipts to limit your exposure to BPA. Don’t spray pesticides or herbicides in your yard and garden and select natural skin care products free of hormone-disrupting chemicals. For help finding healthy, non-toxic personal care products, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database.
Support Your Gut with Fiber and Probiotics
A robust gut microbiome is essential for detoxification. Beneficial gut bacteria break down a variety of compounds, including hormones and mycotoxins.16,17 However, environmental toxins can also disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, impairing detoxification. Supporting your gut microbes with a fiber-rich diet and probiotics can boost their resilience to toxins and keep your detox pathways chugging along.
To support your gut microbes, eat at least 3 to 4 servings of non-starchy vegetables per day, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and avocado. Non-starchy veggies provide dietary fiber, which promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and assists detoxification in the liver and kidneys.18 Dietary fiber also enhances the expression of intestinal tight junction proteins, which support intestinal barrier integrity, a crucial part of detox.
Probiotic supplementation can also assist with the detoxification of environmental chemicals. Lactobacillus probiotic species have been found to inhibit heavy metal and mycotoxin transport into intestinal cells, reducing the total body burden of toxins.19,20,21 Probiotic species in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, can also contribute to the establishment of a healthy microbiome.
Drink Plenty of (Filtered) Water
Adequate hydration is an overlooked but essential component of detoxification. Your optimal water intake depends on your body size, age, activity level, and the climate in which you live. By listening to your body and drinking high-quality filtered water when thirsty, you can support a healthy hydration level and help your kidneys and GI tract in their detox efforts.
A side benefit of optimal hydration is that it may assist weight loss. Research suggests that increased hydration promotes weight loss and a healthier body composition, without concurrent dietary changes, by increasing satiety and decreasing food intake.22,23
Once toxins are liberated from fat tissue, they need to be mopped up quickly to prevent them from redistributing back into your tissues. Binding agents such as activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and pectin, efficiently adsorb toxins released from fat tissue, ushering them out of the body via the stool. Each binding agent has an affinity for a particular type of toxin; for example, activated charcoal is excellent at binding bacterial toxins, while bentonite clay efficiently absorbs heavy metals and mycotoxins.24,25
Support Liver Function
Nature offers an abundance of compounds that support healthy liver function. Milk thistle has been used in traditional botanical medicine for centuries for liver disorders such as hepatitis. Modern research supports the traditional uses of milk thistle, demonstrating that silymarin, one of the milk thistle’s main components, protects the liver from harmful chemicals while also supporting ketosis.26,27
Glutathione, your body’s “master antioxidant,” protects against the detrimental effects of environmental toxins and supports Phase II liver detoxification, reducing the reactivity of toxins and preparing them for excretion.28
Most liver metabolism of toxins occurs on plasma cell membranes, which are composed of 40 to 50% phosphatidylcholine.29 Phosphatidylcholine has been used for decades in German biological medicine as a therapy for liver disorders, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Incorporating phosphatidylcholine into your detox protocol will protect your cells from toxins while also enhancing liver function and bile flow, which is essential for detox.
Sulfur-rich vegetables, including cruciferous veggies and those from the Allium family, also support phase II detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, radishes, and rutabaga, while Allium vegetables include garlic, leeks, and onion.30
Break a Sweat
A growing body of research indicates that sweating is an important route of detoxification for the body.31 Exercise and sauna are two methods for inducing sweating and toxin elimination. When doing a 20 to 30 minute sauna session, make sure to take a binder afterward, so toxins released during the sauna session can quickly be cleaned up.
Weight loss plateaus are common on keto, but not inevitable! By supporting your natural detoxification pathways, you can not only remove health-robbing toxins from your body but enhance the benefits of your ketogenic diet!
- Bertoli S, et al. Human bisphenol A exposure and the “diabesity phenotype.” Dose Response. 2015; 13(3): 1559325815599173.
- Ariemma F, et al. Low-dose bisphenol-A impairs adipogenesis and generates dysfunctional 3T3-L1 adipocytes. PLoS One. 2016; 11(3): e0150762.
- Sun Q, et al. Imidacloprid promotes high fat diet-induced adiposity and insulin resistance in male C57BL/6J mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2016; 64(49): 9293-9306.
- Kim YA, et al. Persistent organic pollutant-mediated insulin resistance. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019; 16(3): 448.
- Lee YM, et al. Persistent organic pollutants and type 2 diabetes: A critical review of review articles. Front Endocrinol. 2018; [online].
- Lee YM, et al. Persistent organic pollutants in adipose tissue should be considered in obesity research. Etiol Pathophysiol Toxicol. 2017; 18(2): 129-139.
- Pinto A, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of ketogenic diet: New perspectives for neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants (Basel). 2018; 7(5): 63.
- Pall ML, Levine S. Nrf2, a master regulator of detoxification and also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other cytoprotective mechanisms, is raised by health promoting factors. Sheng Li Xue Bao. 2015; 67(1): 1-18.
- Herzig S, Shaw RJ. AMPK: guardian of metabolism and mitochondrial homeostasis. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2018; 19(2): 121-135.
- Zhu MJ, et al. AMPK in regulation of apical junctions and barrier function of intestinal epithelium. Tissue Barriers. 2018; 6(2): 1-13.
- He F, et al. Serum polychlorinated biphenyls increase and oxidative stress decreases with a protein-pacing caloric restriction diet in obese men and women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017; 14(1): 59.
- Jackson E, et al. Adipose tissue as a site of toxin accumulation. Compr Physiol. 2017; 7(4): 1085-1135.
- Riley LW, et al. Obesity in the United States – dysbiosis from exposure to low-dose antibiotics? Front Public Health. 2013; 1: 69.
- Liang Y, et al. Organophosphorus pesticide chlorpyrifos intake promotes obesity and insulin resistance through impacting gut and gut microbiota. Microbiome. 2019; 7: 19.
- Liauchonak I, et al. Non-nutritive sweeteners and their implications on the development of metabolic syndrome. Nutrients. 2019; 11(3): 644.
- Baker JM, et al. Estrogen–gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas. 2017; 103: 45-53.
- Wu S, et al. Intestinal toxicity of deoxynivalenol is limited by supplementation with Lactobacillus plantarum JM113 and consequentially altered gut microbiota in broiler chickens. J Animal Sci Biotechnol. 2018; 9: 74.
- Kieffer DA, et al. Impact of dietary fibers on nutrient management and detoxification organs: Gut, liver, and kidneys. Adv Nutr. 2016; 7(6): 1111-1121.
- Daisley BA, et al. Immobilization of cadmium and lead by Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 mitigates apical-to-basolateral heavy metal translocation in a Caco-2 model of the intestinal epithelium. Gut Microbes. 2019; 10(3): 321-333.
- Monachese M, et al. Bioremediation and tolerance of humans to heavy metals through microbial processes: A potential role for probiotics? Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012; 78(18): 6397-6404.
- Gratz S, et al. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG reduces aflatoxin B1 transport, metabolism, and toxicity in Caco-2 Cells. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007; 73(12): 3958-3964.
- Thornton SN. Increased hydration can be associated with weight loss. Front Nutr. 2016; 3: 18.
- Laja Garcia AI, et al. Influence of water intake and balance on body composition in healthy young adults from Spain. Nutrients. 2019; 11(8): pii: E1923.
- Xiang-Nan D, et al. Effect of activated charcoal on endotoxin adsorption Part I. an in vitro study. Biomater Artif Cells Artif Organs. 1987; 15(1): 229-235.
- Moosavi M. Bentonite clay as a natural remedy: A brief review. Iran J Public Health. 2017; 46(9): 1176-1183.
- Vargas-Mendoza N, et al. Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin. World J Hepatol. 2014; 6(3): 144-149.
- Liu X, et al. Silibinin-induced autophagy mediated by PPARα-sirt1-AMPK pathway participated in the regulation of type I collagen-enhanced migration in murine 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2019; 450(1-2): 1-23.
- Forman HJ, et al. Glutathione: Overview of its protective roles, measurement, and biosynthesis. Mol Aspects Med. 2009; 30(1-2): 1-12.
- Mehedint MG, Zeisel SH. Choline’s role in maintaining liver function: new evidence for epigenetic mechanisms. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013; 16(3): 339-345.
- Hodges RE, Minich DM. Modulation of metabolic detoxification pathways using foods and food-derived components: A scientific review with clinical application. J Nutr Metab. 2015; 2015: 760689.
- Genuis SJ, et al. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. Sci World J. 2012; 2012: 615068.