You may have heard of the term “detox”, but don’t really know what it entails. It may conjure up images of juicing or cayenne pepper cleanses, starvation diets, or even drug and alcohol addiction centres. This is NOT what I’ll be talking about today. I’ll be talking about metabolic detoxification: how you can maximize your own body’s cellular detoxification capabilities so that you can clean up the inside of your body and feel your best!
You probably don’t think twice about cleaning up your outside: you brush your teeth, take a shower, wash your hair, cut your nails, etc. But what about the inside of your body? How does it deal with the onslaught of industrial chemicals, pesticides, hormone disruptors, heavy metals, and other substances that are foreign to it? How does it get rid of internal toxins, such as metabolic waste products, immune reactions to food, free radicals, and fermentation products from unhealthy gut bacteria?
Detoxification – What Is It?
Luckily, our bodies have a built-in detoxification system that helps us get rid of the toxins we are exposed to. We are constantly detoxifying through this mechanism every second of our lives! However, just relying on that and going on your merry way is often not enough. “De-toxification” literally means to remove toxins, and in today’s society, we are exposed to more and more industrial chemicals, plastics, and hormone disruptors than ever before which “clog up” our detoxification mechanisms. A study done in 2009 found that the 10 minority ethnic group babies tested (this was a US study) were born with up to 232 toxic chemicals in their umbilical cord (EWG, 2009)! This number is likely higher than the average Canadian newborn, but showcases just how our toxicity is getting passed on to the next generation.
In wholistic and integrative medicine, detoxification refers to a healing method used to improve physiological function by eliminating existing toxins, avoiding new toxins (as much as possible), and supporting the organs of elimination (primarily the liver, the gut, and the kidneys).
The liver modifies and packages the toxins into forms that can leave the body, either by getting packaged into bile to leave through the gut, or made water soluble to leave through the kidneys. If any main detoxification organ system gets “clogged up”, this puts undue strain on our other primary detox organs, as well as our secondary detox organs (the skin, lymphatic system, and lungs).
Could You Benefit From a Detox?
If you’re living and breathing in our 21st century world, eating out of plastic containers, taking (or have a history of taking) birth control pills and various pharmaceutical drugs long-term, planning to get pregnant, eating primarily non-organic food, or using perfumed products and cosmetics, chances are you’ve accumulated some of these toxins in your system and could benefit from a detox!
Here are some additional symptoms that could be associated with an elevated toxic burden:
-chronic digestive issues
This is not an exhaustive list, since toxins can have various side effects, depending on the nature of the toxins. When shouldn’t you detox? If you’re pregnant, have compromised liver or kidney function, and with some chronic diseases, a detox is likely not the right avenue for you at this time.
What Foods Can Help with Detoxification?
The liver is the primary processing plant in the body for sorting and getting rid of toxins. Most detoxification programs will include foods (and supplements) that help with both Phase 1 (modifying) and Phase 2 (packaging for elimination) detoxification enzymes in the liver. Phase 1 reactions often end up creating a more toxic bi-product, so you want Phase 2 enzymes to be working efficiently to get rid of it. While I won’t go into supplements here, you can start including more of these beneficial foods into your diet today (Hodges, 2015)!
Phase 1 supporting foods: lemons, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, oranges, tangerines
-Pro tip: If you can’t tolerate much caffeine, you may have slow Phase 1 detox enzymes since they break down caffeine.
Phase 2 supporting foods: cruciferous veggies, legumes, adequate lean protein, turmeric, green tea, raspberries, blueberries
-Pro tip: If you have multiple chemical sensitivities, you may have a buildup of Phase 1 metabolites, either from too quick Phase 1 enzymes, too slow Phase 2 enzymes, or both.
What Does a Typical Detox Program Entail?
We typically can’t avoid our daily exposures to car exhaust, but we do have a tool that we can use daily to reduce our toxin exposure: our fork and what we put at the end of it! A typical detox program will:
-Reduce overall pesticide exposure by emphasizing organic foods
-Eliminate processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and minimize if not eliminate coffee to decrease unnecessary burden on the liver
-Remove known or typical food sensitivities that increase inflammation in the body
-Emphasize organic and nutritious foods that support Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification in the liver, as well as include liver-supporting supplements
-Emphasize lots of water and fluids to support kidney detoxification
-Include high fiber foods, probiotics, and gut healing supplements to allow the bowels to eliminate toxins adequately
There are various levels of detoxification. Have you ever started cleaning one area of your house, only to realize that other areas needed cleaning too? Once you’ve mastered the food level, you can look into decreasing toxin exposure from plastics, cosmetics, stress hormones, or other areas, if needed. Regular moderate exercise helps keep the lymphatic system running smoothly, improves overall health, and decreases stress hormones. But there’s no need to overwhelm yourself. Start with one small aspect, and you will already reap the benefits!
What About Detox Reactions?
Have you ever set out to deep clean a room in your house, only to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of items that are uprooted and need to be sorted in the process? A similar thing can happen when you are doing a detox, usually within the first 2-4 days. As your body tries to detoxify, you may feel like you are getting a flu, with body aches or headaches. Not everyone gets these symptoms, but if you do, it usually only lasts a day or two. If it lasts longer, your ND can advise you on how you can minimize your symptoms. However, just like cleaning up your room, the temporary discomfort is well worth it!
Do You Have 7 Days?
If you’ve been reading this and realizing that you can benefit from a detox, I’d like to invite you to join my 7 Day Detox program. It’s just 7 days of your life to get you feeling the benefits of a detox! Take a sneak peek here. I’d love for you join my growing list of patients who are taking advantage of this to kick-start their health! If an intense detox is not for you, that’s no problem either. I’ve done slower detoxes with patients for years with just as many benefits – it just takes a little longer to get there.
For those of you interested in my 7 Day Detox program, find out more about this revolutionary program here!
EWG Public Affairs (2009). Toxic Chemicals Found In Minority Cord Blood. Retrieved from: http://www.ewg.org/news/news-releases/2009/12/02/toxic-chemicals-found-minority-cord-blood
Hodges, R.E, and Minich, D.M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application, J Nutr Metab, 2015: 760689.
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Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.