The Body’s Natural Detoxification Tools
From a medical standpoint, the term “detox” is meaningful only as it relates to a program designed to treat drug addiction – not at all what “detox” promoters in books, websites, and popular magazine articles have in mind. A primer on the detox fad produced by the British group Sense About Science explains: “Detox products claim to help you counteract a busy lifestyle by removing ‘toxins’ that have built up in your body. The human body has evolved to get rid of unnecessary substances through your liver, kidneys and colon. It isn’t possible to improve their function without medical assistance.”
Enzymes in your liver naturally convert toxic substances into less harmful compounds. Alcohol, for example, is first converted into acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that can damage liver cells, but then almost immediately the acetaldehyde is in turn changed into harmless carbon dioxide and water. (The toxic nature of acetaldehyde is why alcohol can damage your liver if you drink too much and overwhelm the liver’s ability to convert it.)
Even healthy foods like broccoli and other brassica vegetables contain small amounts of toxic substances – in this case, cyanide. But these small amounts of poison actually encourage the enzymes in your liver to better detoxify other compounds.
Your kidneys, as Sense About Science puts it, “act as a sieve; any essential chemicals are reabsorbed and any unwanted chemicals are naturally excreted in your urine within a few hours to prevent them building up in your body.”
Your stomach and colon are similarly efficient at extracting nutrients from food and passing waste material onward to be removed from your body. The notion that harmful substances somehow build up in the colon and need to be “cleansed” has no scientific foundation. Colon “hydrotherapy,” “cleansing” or “irrigation” can actually lead to damage to the colon’s protective membrane or perforation of the bowel.
The lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes and spleen, also works to filter bacteria and viruses from your body. As Sense About Science notes, “The system circulates continuously. It isn’t possible to ‘stimulate it’ as detox products claim.”
What does a detox do to your body?
Basically, detoxification means cleansing the blood. This is done by removing impurities from the blood in the liver, where toxins are processed for elimination. The body also eliminates toxins through the kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymphatic system, and skin.However, when these systems are compromised, impurities aren’t properly filtered and the body is adversely affected.
A detox program can help the body’s natural cleansing process by:
-Resting the organs through fasting;
-Stimulating the liver to drive toxins from the body;
-Promoting elimination through the intestines, kidneys, and skin;
-Improving circulation of the blood; and
-Refueling the body with healthy nutrients.
How do you know if you need to detoxify?
Dr. Sara Gottfried, best selling author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet, describes the following symptoms as being sure signs that a detox is in order:
-A white or yellow coating over your tongue
-Consistent cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates/blood sugar dips and spikes
I-ncreased fatigue even after a good nights sleep
-Bloating and gas
-Increased moodiness, irritability and anxiety
-Inability to lose weight
(8 Tips for Detoxing)
1. Incorporate coriander and chlorella
The traditional Indian spice coriander and the blue-green algae, chlorella, have both been shown to aid in the livers ability to clear toxins (2). Chlorella can be added to a smoothie or juice, and coriander can be used a spice with your favorite vegetables.
2. Consider intermittent fasting
There has been a lot of hype (and research) about intermittent fasting in recent years. While there are several ways to go about it, this detox method involves short term fasting on a semi-regular basis. For example, it could be as simple as skipping breakfast every day or certain days of the week (or a different meal), or it could be water fasting one full day each week (only consuming water). Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can actually improve insulin and leptin sensitivity (3).
However, any sort of fasting should only be done by otherwise healthy, fit individuals. If underlying conditions or blood sugar problems are present (such as adrenal fatigue), fasting can do more harm than good.
3. Eat antioxidant rich foods
Antioxidants are essential for proper detoxification, as they fight free radical damage. Free radicals are particles that are known to damage our cells and DNA, and have a role in the formation and proliferation of cancer (4). Vitamins E, C, flavonoids and carotenoids are excellent antioxidants, and foods that are high in these compounds include berries, citrus, green tea, onions and dark chocolate. In general, any foods that are dark and bright in color (think beets, carrots, plums, dark leafy greens, etc), have a high antioxidant content and should be eaten daily.
4. Eliminate coffee
Don’t panic, it’s not forever. While coffee does offer some health benefits, while undergoing a detox plan it is advised to eliminate all caffeine. Giving your body a break from caffeine metabolism, and work on breaking any addiction you might have. Replace with herbal teas. If cutting out caffeine feels absolutely impossible and is the one thing holding you back from a detox, go ahead and include green tea with lemon.
5. Cut out refined sugar and carbohydrates
Refined and processed sugars are a definite no on any good detox program. This includes table sugar, baked goods, candy, sodas, and most processed and packaged foods. These put a major toxic burden on the body, and are best replaced with real, whole foods during your detox program.
6. No alcohol or cigarettes
Considering that a high percentage of heavy drinkers go on to get alcoholic liver disease, this one should be a no-brainer, as alcohol directly and negatively impacts our liver. On a detox, there should certainly be a zero-alcohol policy. Cigarettes are known carcinogens that also exacerbate nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
7. Stick to whole foods
Focus on high quality proteins such as lean meats that include organic chicken and turkey, lean, grass-fed beef and wild caught fish. Pastured eggs and legumes (in moderation) are other acceptable and nutrient dense protein sources. The centerpiece of your detox should be 6-9 servings of fresh (preferably organic) vegetables per day, and a serving or two of organic fruits, as well. Last but certainly not least, moderate amount of good fats are key, such as olive, coconut and flax oils, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, ghee and grass-fed butter.
8. Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables
The cruciferous family of vegetables supports Phase 1 detox, and includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts (among others). Strive for 3 servings per day (one serving=one cup cooked or two cups raw).
While this type of gentle, food based detox is safe for everyone, you should NOT undergo a more extreme detox if you are:
-Pregnant or breast feeding
-A child or adolescent
-You are malnourished
-You have an existing medical condition such as diabetes