With spring around the corner (well at least here, sorry fellow Canadians!) many of us are feeling motivated to kick-start better eating practices, shed some winter weight, and a lot of us consider doing a "cleanse" or "detox". These buzz words stir up a lot of controversy in the media, and with a plethora of detox diets out there claiming to reboot your system in "x" number of days, it's easy as a consumer to get lured into the marketing. But what exactly is detox? Should you "do a detox"? And are there any benefits to "detoxifying" or is it all hype?
Well, I think they all have merit. When you drink alcohol, which your body interprets as a poison, your liver will quickly break it down into non-toxic forms which your body can then eliminate through other organs of detox, such as the lungs via breathing, the skin through sweating, the intestines through defecation, and the kidneys through urination. Drink too much or too quickly, and your detoxification pathways can't keep up, causing symptoms ranging from the mild buzz and euphoria, to loss of consciousness and death with severe intoxication. But what about other, seemingly small doses of "toxins" we are exposed to daily?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past century, you know that we are living in a toxic world. Where are these toxins coming from? Global industrialization has created thousands of external toxins in the form of air pollution, pesticides, industrial chemicals, food additives, personal care products and cosmetics, upholstery, plastic tupperware containers, the list goes on.....And then there are internal toxins your body produces as by-products of daily metabolism. And while there isn't direct evidence of toxic by-products of negative thoughts, there are observable and measurable downstream effects of mental and emotional stress on your body's physiology - think increased cortisol levels and fight-or-flight responses, and plummeting feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, to name a few. And unless you live in a bubble, there's really no escaping the toxins you will come into contact with.
Luckily for us, our bodies are designed with the innate wisdom to deal with toxins and filter them out, on a daily basis. In theory, we shouldn't need to do anything special. We are always detoxing. That's what each of our 100 trillion cells was designed for - take in nutrients, and eliminate waste. However, there has never been a period in history that has been as toxic as the one we live in today. So perhaps the better question we should be asking ourselves is:
"How efficiently are my detoxification systems really working?"
The reality is that we don't know completely. While our bodies certainly do filter out toxins daily to keep us from acute toxic overdoses and death, to assume that our bodies completely get rid of every toxic residue that we encounter from what we eat, drink, smoke, absorb or inhale not only doesn't make sense, it's just untrue. There is evidence that environmental chemicals are being stored in multiple human tissues. The CDC's Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals analyzed blood and urine levels of over 100 chemicals in a sample of 2,500 Americans age 6 and older. The results showed that virtually all samples contained toxic residues. And that was just blood and urine samples. Studies have shown that toxic residues accumulate in tissues over time, such as fat, bone, and brain tissues. And while the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have determined lethal doses of many of these chemicals, the long-term effects of toxic accumulation on health is still largely unknown. Longitudinal and observational studies in humans show correlations between chronic low-dose exposure to certain chemicals and symptoms of disease. For example, chronic exposure to mercury is associated with numerous symptoms such as cognitive impairment, headaches, unexplained fatigue, allergies, tingling/numbness in extremities, to name a few. And cohort studies have shown cognitive impairment in children whose mothers consumed more mercury-laden fish during pregnancy. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical used to make light-weight hard plastics and has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor, interfering with the production and functioning of hormones in our body. Chronic exposure to BPA is associated with infertility, early puberty in children, obesity, neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, and increased hormonally mediated cancers such as prostate and breast cancer. So how do you know if your organs of detoxification are working optimally? And how do you figure out what toxins you already have stored somewhere in your body?
Assessing Your Exposure
What You Can Do
- you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- you are ill/sick
- you are taking certain medications
- you are constipated or not pooping on a regular (i.e. daily) basis AND/OR you have kidney problems
- you have an Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Crohn's or Ulcerative Colitis
With all these things in mind, here are some helpful tips on how to keep your "detox" organs working efficiently:
1. Incorporate a "Detox Focus" during transitional periods.
The spring and fall seasonal changes are the perfect times of year to "clean up house" and promote your body's daily detoxification mechanisms. Life's challenges, responsibilities and stressors can throw us off-track and it's an opportunity to re-evaluate what's important to us, assess what's working/not working in our lives, and a chance to re-establish healthier habits. Maybe you notice that you are sleep deprived - you could aim to go to bed a half hour earlier each night and get some much needed zzzz's. After all, your body does most of its repair and cleaning at night. Or perhaps you could cut back on or eliminate alcohol for a month, giving your liver less work and a chance to heal (the liver has an incredible regenerative capacity!). And maybe you currently have a sedentary lifestyle, and by beginning to incorporate daily movement you can get your sweat-on and enhance your biggest organ of elimination: your skin. Establish a lifestyle and habits that support your body's natural ability to detox. Avoid extremes and don't be suckered into the latest celebrity detox.
2. Focus on Optimal Nutrient intake.
The different phases of detoxification require a multitude of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids (building blocks of protein) to function at its best. Focus on getting the following foods/nutrients and you can help keep the detox engine running smoothly:
- Cruciferous family - broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, swiss chard
- Fiber - ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, oatmeal, legumes, and water-based vegetables like asparagus and cucumber
- Spices/herbs - dandelion, celery, parsley, cayenne, garlic, ginger
- Hydration - water with lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt
Better yet, try my Go-Green Daily Detox Smoothie - a great way to start your day!
Also, think about reducing or eliminating things that weaken your detoxification capacity, such as highly processed foods, deep-fried foods, alcohol, and caffeine. And when it comes to using supplements to support the clean-up process, Vitamins C, E, the B-complex family, magnesium, alpha lipoid acid, glutathione, as well as the herbs milk thistle, schizandra, and goldenseal are just some of the key nutrients that have demonstrated antioxidant capacities and promote the detox organs. Determining the right combination and right dosage for your unique health scenario brings us to the next point.
3. Seek Professional advice.
If you are wanting to do a focused detoxification program, with supplements, dietary changes, hydrotherapy, and/or you have a medical condition, please do not attempt this process on your own. You could be wasting your time and money with products/programs that don't work effectively, or at worst you could be putting your health at risk. Naturopathic or functional medical doctors have the training, expertise and ability to run specialized tests to help you create a customized detoxification program that will not only reduce your risk of harm, but will also more likely be successful.
Stay tuned for my next article, when we tackle another area of our lives to detox:
- Mind Traps: Ditch the Mental & Emotional Junk
Want to work one-on-one with me to develop a customized and supervised detox program? Book your appointment with me today and let's get you started on your spring clean-up!
Not sure about detox and want to learn more? Submit your question in the comments section below and I will find the answer for you!
Happy Spring Cleaning!