What Is Homeostasis?
Homeostasis is the self-regulating process by which the body maintains stability while adjusting to accommodate changing external conditions.1 This ongoing process is easy to overlook, but day-to-day living requires constant adaptation to keep internal body conditions stable. Examples of the body maintaining homeostasis include:
- Thermoregulation: maintaining internal body temperature despite changes in external temperatures
- Blood glucose regulation: metabolizing and processing incoming dietary sugars to keep blood glucose levels from reaching dangerously high or low levels
- Blood volume regulation: adjusting fluid levels in the body to achieve proper balance despite varying water intake
Because the ideal range for stability can be quite narrow, especially for body temperature and pH, maintaining homeostasis involves several layers of complex regulatory mechanisms.1 Homeostatic mechanisms also operate at every level, requiring that various inputs, stimuli, and regulatory mechanisms from each level be integrated throughout the entire body in order to maintain homeostasis. Healthy equilibrium is critical for a healthy body as the lack of ability to maintain homeostasis leads to disease.1
Connection to Detoxification
The body has a system to naturally process toxins and get rid of them. However, when there is significant chronic exposure or accumulation of toxins in the body, the toxic load exceeds the body’s ability for processing and excretion, leading to detrimental effects throughout the body.2 Therefore, detoxification can be considered a homeostatic process, seeking to maintain stability while adjusting to changing toxin exposures. Diving deeper into key junction points between homeostasis and detoxification can point to the shared pathways that can affect both processes.
The liver is vitally important to the health of the body and plays important roles in both maintaining homeostasis and detoxification. Upon digestion and absorption, nutrients travel to the liver where it directs the processing and transportation of nearly every nutrient and organ, coordinating whole-body metabolism. Because of its diverse and broad role, the liver is critical to homeostasis at every level throughout the body. The liver is also heavily involved in detoxification as the site of phase I and II enzymes that activate and conjugate toxins prior to their excretion.2,3 If the liver cannot function properly, detoxification pathways can quickly become dysregulated and result in toxin overload.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract plays an important role in both homeostasis and detoxification. A healthy, diverse gut microbiome supports homeostasis and overall health by enhancing immune function and producing metabolites and signaling molecules.4,5 Additionally, the gut microbiome assists in detoxification by:3
- altering the half-life of toxic compounds, which affects how long they stay in the body
- influencing the biological effects of toxins
- neutralizing potential carcinogens and toxic compounds
- enhancing excretion of toxins
- modulating expression of detoxification enzymes in the liver
The GI tract is also crucial in containing exogenous toxins from leaking into the rest of the body.3 When populations in the gut become off balance, it can lead to many conditions and diseases including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, which can then further promote gut dysbiosis, affecting both homeostasis and detoxification.4
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant in the body, helping to balance oxidative stress, regulating cellular events, and supporting nutrient metabolism.6 Glutathione is also integral to glutathione enzyme systems that make up phase II enzymes of the detoxification pathway. These enzymes conjugate glutathione to activated toxins to make them more water-soluble for excretion.7 Imbalance of glutathione, due to toxin overload, increased phase I enzyme activity, or too many pro-oxidants can have ripple effects throughout the body.
Nutritional Support for Detoxification and Homeostasis
Many therapies target pathways to re-establish homeostasis, with a particular focus on working with nature rather than against it.1 Similarly, supporting detoxification processes by working with them will yield better results compared to engaging in unfounded forms of “detox” that oppose the body’s natural process. Because homeostasis and detoxification are so intricately related, phytonutrient-rich foods can often support both processes simultaneously.
Cruciferous vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods and herbs, such as garlic, green tea, or curcumin, support homeostasis and detoxification pathways. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and Spanish black radish, enhance the expression and activity of phase I and II enzymes while antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and replenish antioxidant pools, including glutathione.7,8 Many cruciferous vegetables and antioxidant-rich foods naturally contain many other biologically active compounds including phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that can help with detoxification and support homeostatic processes in the body. Additionally, whole foods that support detoxification often contain high levels of fiber which can enhance the excretion phase of detoxification and benefit the gut microbiome.9-11