You often hear the phrase detoxing around this time of year. After the excesses of the festive period, people want to reverse the damage they have caused by overindulging on food and drink, and start their year with a blank slate health-wise. But, what is detoxing? And, why is it important to do?
Read on to find out!
What is detoxing?
Exposure to toxins is a fact of life. We are exposed to environmental pollutants found in the air, in our homes, in drinking water, and in our food supply all the time.
Toxins are compounds produced by living organisms that are harmful to humans, and can have detrimental effects on health. Environmental toxicants include persistent organic pollutants (POCs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, and pesticides.
Fortunately, humans have an efficient metabolic detoxification pathway that neutralises and removes harmful chemicals via our digestive system, liver, and kidneys.
Worryingly though, exposure to toxins is on the rise, and to compound the problem, we have also refined away a lot of the protective nutritional value in our food and replaced it with artificial colourings, preservatives, flavourings, conditioners, etc.
Our toxic burden
Experts refer to the total amount of chemicals and pollutants that are present in your body at any given time as your ‘toxic burden’.
There’s no polite way of saying this – your body is a landfill for a mind-boggling array of toxic chemicals. In just a morning routine, we can be exposed to over one hundred different synthetic toxic compounds, from soap ingredients to fluoride in shower water, to perfumes, clothing dyes, dioxins in coffee filters, preservatives and additives in foods, engine exhaust during a commute, electromagnetic fields from our mobile phones – the list is exhausting and endless in modern times.
In fact, today, 99 percent of everything we touch – with the exception of each other, our pets, and the earth’s natural dirt – has synthetic compounds involved with its production.
Over time, the build-up of harmful chemicals from the environment and lifestyle choices can compromise the way your body works and can affect your health. Environmental toxins and drugs are neutralised and eliminated by efficient and elaborate enzymatic detoxification pathways. These pathways are, however, dependent on proper nutrition and may require additional support during a prolonged or excessive toxin exposure.
Avoiding toxin exposure
While it’s not possible to completely eliminate toxin exposure from all sources, there are ways to minimise certain external exposures.
If you know the source of any toxic materials in the home, you can remove or reduce them. This includes things like toxic household cleaning products and toxic beauty products, which are laden with parabens, phthalates (substances that help to keep products flexible, examples being plastic toys and nail varnish), SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate, which helps shampoo and soap foam and create bubbles) and silicones (which act as a ‘carrier’, so they help deliver ingredients that are meant to be absorbed by the skin, such as moisturisers).
We are drowning in a sea of toxins!
There’s little wonder that auto-immune diseases are on the increase. Anything that the body identifies as foreign will call upon the immune system to attack and destroy it.
But, what if the immune system is over-burdened and/or the liver is already struggling to break down endotoxic material – what happens to the toxins then? Well the body tries to quarantine them in fat tissue. You can see why it’s so important to try and limit our exposure to toxins, however hard that may seem.
It’s also very important to eat a diet with plenty of fresh, wholesome foods, choosing organic wherever possible. Avoid eating excess fat, refined sugar, and foods high in additives and preservatives. Eat adequate levels of protein (approx. 30% of your calories). Consume meats from grass-fed/ pasture-raised animals. Drink plenty of purified water (ideally, eight 8 glasses a day). A home water purification system is a really good idea if you are serious about avoiding toxins.
Metabolic detoxification – an overview
Most toxic chemicals are fat-soluble and are not easily eliminated from the body. They are stored in our adipose tissue (fat cells) and accumulate over time.
Certain enzymes produced by the body are required to help neutralise these harmful chemicals and aid their excretion from the body mainly via kidney, stool, or sweat. Hence, the main function of the detoxification pathway is to transform lipid-soluble toxins to water-soluble molecules that are easily eliminated from the body.
Why is detoxing beneficial?
There are a whole host of health and wellbeing benefits that you get from detoxing:
- It supports your body with the nutrients that help the liver and bowels to function optimally
- It removes the foods that slow the liver and bowel down
- It improves digestive health – people often experience more regular bowel movements and fewer digestive complaints
- It helps in maintaining a healthy weight
- It improves the condition of the skin
- It promotes better sleep
- It balances your hormones
- It improves mood and boosts energy levels
- It helps you live a longer, healthier more productive and positive life
When should you not detox?
If you fall into any of the groups below it is advisable to not attempt to do a detox:
- Women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not attempt to do any detoxing. This is because circulating toxins can be passed on to the baby.
- It is wise not to start a detox if you have unresolved gut issues, especially constipation, as it is not advised to draw out toxins and heavy metals from the body if they cannot be effectively excreted. This is where colon hydrotherapy can help – by ensuring the bowel is empty prior to the detox.
- If you are severely immuno-compromised, it is not a good idea to start a heavy-going detox protocol
- If you’re not sure if you should be detoxing at the moment, check with a qualified naturopath, nutritional therapist or medical herbalist
Different types of detoxing
It can surprise people that there is a number of ways that you can conduct a detox. Some are more suited to some conditions than others, but often it comes down to personal preference.
- Fasting – There are many different ways of fasting but the most popular is intermittent fasting. This is a method that can be adjusted to suit your own needs. For example, you can carry out an intermittent fast by finishing your evening meal by 7 or 8pm and not eating anything until the next day at 11am or 12pm, giving you a 16-hour fast. By doing this, you’re technically fasting for 16 hours every day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour window. This is the most popular form of intermittent fasting, known as the 16-8 method. You can delay the time that you break your fast with your first meal of the day if you want to intensify the fast. This type of fasting does not focus on what you can eat, but rather when you eat.
- Juice fasting – This is a liquid-only diet, drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, water, and tea, or drinking only specific liquids, such as salted water or lemon juice. Juice fasts are very popular as they give your whole digestive system a break from working overtime to constantly digest and breakdown foods. These juice fasts can cause some withdrawal symptoms, especially if you are usually reliant on coffee and sugar.
- Allergen removal diets – There are other less intense ways of detoxing that just focus on removing all the foods and substances that burden the liver, including refined sugar, gluten, dairy, red meat, soy, corn, alcohol, cigarettes etc. These types of detox will cause much less of a ‘detox reaction’ as they are not as restricted as the juice fasts; however they are still very good at lightening the toxic load of a processed, junk food diet.
- Colon cleanse – using enemas and colon hydrotherapy treatments to flush the bowel of accumulated toxic waste
- Liver cleanse – using specific supplements to aid the liver in ridding stored toxins
- Heavy metal chelation protocol – this is a specialised protocol, which must be done alongside an experienced practitioner
My next blog will discuss how to detox. You can find it here.