Simple Detox Tips
Detox seems to have a plethora of meanings. For some, it signifies eating only organic foods or eliminating sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. For others, colon cleansing and liquid-only fasts are part of the regimen. Still, others detox by adding regular meditation or yoga to their schedules. Others still use packaged detox products. Whatever it means to you—and detoxification can mean all of these things and more—many experts think it’s a practice well worth considering in today’s toxin-rich world.
“The majority of people are dealing with a high ‘body burden’ of toxins,” says Chris Spooner, ND, a research fellow at the Environmental Medicine Center of Excellence at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Spooner points to a study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental research organization headquartered in Washington, DC. EWG tested a group of nine healthy people for 167 toxic compounds and found the average number carried by each person was 91. Some of these toxins came from the individual’s own metabolism—from poor digestion of food, for example—and some were due to exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and other unhealthy environmental substances.
“When it comes to detoxification, the liver is the workhorse. Then there’s the gut, the kidneys, the skin, and the breath,” says Mark Hyman, author of several best selling book including “The Blood Sugar Solution.” Detox supplements, according to Hyman, basically help all these organs and systems work efficiently to eliminate toxins.
Since the gut is so crucial to giving toxins the old heave-ho, it stands to reason that probiotics (Lactobacillus acid-ophilus, L. rhamnosis, and Bifidobacterium bifidum among them) can be useful. These “friendly” bacteria bring balance to our digestive system, thereby allowing it to work its detox magic. What’s more, when you take them in combination with enough fiber in your diet, Hyman believes, they can produce anti-cancer compounds. Hyman recommends taking one capsule containing 5 to 10 billion organisms twice a day on an empty stomach.
“Ultimately, what you are trying to do with detoxification is stimulate the organs of elimination to process and remove toxins from the body,” Spooner explains. You can support the body in the detoxification process in many ways—through herbal and nutritional supplementation, saunas, sweat lodges, hot baths and through dietary means. Whatever support methods you choose, the goal of detoxification is to open up these routes of elimination.”
Many detox diets involve prolonged fasting, which can do more harm than good by slowing your metabolism, depleting your body of essential nutrients, and, ironically, recirculating toxins into your system, says Gaetano Morello, ND, a detox specialist in West Vancouver, British Columbia, and author of Whole Body Cleansing. Plus, many popular detox regimens, such as the Master Cleanse—a 10- to 20-day fast during which you subsist on a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup, and water—are so extreme that weight loss is nearly impossible to maintain once you go back to eating solid food. So far, no science shows that fasting or subsisting on liquids for any amount of time will scrub a lifetime’s worth of toxins from your cells. “There’s no such thing as a quick fix,” says Patricia Fitzgerald, DOM, a homeopath and nutritionist in Santa Monica, California, and author of The Detox Solution. “The safest detox is lifestyle. By committing to a healthy diet, supporting your body’s natural detoxifying systems with food and supplements, and reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals, you’ll trim fat, boost energy, and lessen your body’s toxic burden.”
The human body detoxifies itself naturally in two stages, Phase I and II, which occur in the GI tract and liver. In Phase I, digestive enzymes convert toxins into forms that amino acids and glutathione can neutralize in Phase II, making them water soluble. At this point, the toxins get absorbed into bile and are transported out of the body. Morello likens the complex physiological process to working with oil-based paints. “You can’t wash oil paint off with water,” he explains. “You need to transform it and bind it and then get it off. The first step is taking the turpentine and binding it to the paint. The second step is taking the cloth and rubbing the paint off.”
The two-phase process works well to remove some toxins, but our exposure to industrial compounds, environmental pollutants, and chemicals is at an all-time high, and our bodies need extra help getting rid of them. Toxins are in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the household products we touch, and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and hormonal and fertility problems. “Every single cell is always detoxing,” explains Fitzgerald. “The question is how efficiently?” To give your liver and GI tract some much-needed support, reduce your exposure to chemicals, clean up your diet, and work in cleansing supplements and therapies.
“In addition to supporting proper digestion, drinking water aids kidney function, speeds waste elimination, curbs hunger pangs, and facilitates the body’s natural detox process by helping you sweat during exercise,” says Elson M. Haas, MD, author of The New Detox Diet (Celestial Arts, 2004). Dehydration is also the main culprit behind daytime fatigue and headaches, and even mild dehydration can slow metabolism. Fitzgerald recommends drinking half your body weight, in ounces, every day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need 75 ounces—or 9 1/2 cups of water daily. To make sure you’re not taking in heavy metals and pesticides with your H20, check your tap-water purity at epa.gov/safewater, and buy a reverseosmosis filter if necessary.
Bile created in your liver flushes toxins through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But without enough soluble fiber to bind to the bile and excrete it, toxins reabsorb into the bloodstream. Beans, legumes, and fruit are excellent sources of soluble fiber, or supplement with 5 grams in capsule or powder form twice daily, Morello says.
Exercise is also beneficial in detoxification because “physical activity stimulates the release of toxins through your skin as you sweat,” explains Fitzgerald. “Regular workouts can also reduce fat reserves throughout the body, where toxins are stored.” Take a sauna or steam bath once or twice a week to help clear clogged pores so that chemical pollutants exit more efficiently through your skin.
Sleep is the ultimate restorative detox. Most people need between seven and a half and nine hours a night: Too much or too little may leave you lethargic. Prime yourself for quality z’s by creating what Lipman calls an “electronic sundown.” Shut off your computer, cell phone, TV, and radio at least two hours before bedtime to signal to your body it’s time to sleep. And don’t exercise within two hours of crawling between the sheets—endorphins released during physical activity may get you too hyped to fall asleep.
There are many cleansing and detoxification products that can assist in the detox process. Read the instructions, label, and regimen carefully to insure proper results. Combined with dietary changes, exercise, and proper hydration a detox can be like “spring cleaning” for your body.