The term “detox” has turned into a popular buzzword. In some ways, that’s a good thing. People are becoming more aware of the dangers posed by vast quantities of toxins we’re exposed to every day — through sources such as food, water, household products and the environment. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases are linked to ongoing toxin exposure. Skin and joint problems, allergies, headaches, digestive issues, and frequent colds are also part of the package. And with all the celebrity detox diets and juicing fads sprouting up, this age-old tradition of total body cleansing has also gained a reputation as the magic bullet for weight loss, anti-aging and simply feeling your best. But is detox all it’s cracked up to be?
The answer is: Yes, a healthy cleanse and detoxification program can be your door to optimal vitality. But it depends on how you open that door; there are right ways and wrong ways. If you’re not careful, a poorly planned program can drain your energy and redistribute toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides to vital organs.
One problem is that many of today’s detox regimens promise a quick fix and ignore the importance of a gradual toxin-removal program. You see, it takes years for health-robbing pollutants to accumulate in joints, organs and tissues; so we can’t expect to be “scrubbed clean” with a three-day cleanse. The goal is to incorporate a cleansing diet, targeted natural supplements, exercise and the right attitudes to help gently remove toxins over time while promoting overall wellness. With this type of gradual momentum, your body can take it from there and propel you to a greater level of health and vitality.
There’s a common misconception about detoxification. The myth is that when we start to detoxify, we have to feel sick before we can feel good, especially when the body begins releasing toxins into the circulation. We suffer from headaches, constipation, brain fog and worse. This is often called a “detox crisis,” and many people will tell you it’s a good sign that your program is working. In some cases, that is a valid concept. However, it can also be a concern, because toxins are being released too quickly and the body can’t handle the sudden load of pollutants in the bloodstream. It’s like a spring thaw: If the snow melts too quickly, the river floods, leaving debris and destruction on its banks.
On the other hand, if we gradually transition to a cleansing diet and slowly incorporate supplements that help cleanse the circulation and digestive tract first, we prepare our bodies for a deeper, more thorough detoxification processes. This way, we can avoid uncomfortable reactions and optimize our long-term health.
Another potential pitfall during detoxification is dehydration. Inadequate hydration stalls the process, leading to constipation, headaches and toxin redistribution. To keep your organs of elimination running smoothly, I recommend drinking a gallon of filtered water each day, some of which can come from herbal teas and salt-free vegetable broths.
Perhaps the biggest saboteurs to any detox program are cravings for unhealthy foods. Simple sugars and carbs can be highly addicting — a result of blood glucose spiking and crashing. The good news is certain herbs and nutrients that promote healthy detox can also regulate blood glucose levels to curb cravings and maintain balanced energy. That makes it much easier to stick with your program.
When to cleanse
Though the abundance of industrial toxins is relatively new, the practice of cleansing and detoxification isn’t. Chinese, Ayurvedic and other traditional medical systemshave long recognized that periodic detoxification is essential for long-term vitality. These ancient healing systems deeply understood our relationships to the seasons and designed detoxification protocols to synchronize health with the rhythms of the natural world.
According to these traditions, spring and fall are particularly good times to detox. Winter stagnancy makes us vulnerable to pathogens, toxin buildup and weight gain. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the spring season relates to liver and gallbladder health, and it emphasizes new growth and regeneration. A gentle spring cleanse is an excellent time to harness this energy, support these organs and rejuvenate our systems for optimal health throughout the year.
On the other side of the calendar, fall offers another opportunity for detoxification. In TCM, the fall season relates to the large intestines and lungs. A detox program during this time of year emphasizes the deeper removal of toxins to support immunity and energy during the winter.
The first step: Diet
Regardless of when we decide to detox, reducing sugar and salt is critical. In addition to sugar’s impact on glucose metabolism and salt’s contribution to dehydration, they are both inflammatory foods. Other items that contribute to inflammation and toxin buildup are alcohol, processed foods, cooked oils and caffeinated beverages. Eliminate these during a cleanse.
I also recommend reducing animal proteins, especially red meat. Switch to plant-based proteins, which are easier to digest. Add fiber, including flax, chia seeds, psyllium and rice bran. Whenever possible, buy organic foods to avoid more pesticide exposure.
The basis of a cleansing diet includes lots of vegetables, which can be juiced, steamed, sautéed in water or soups, or eaten raw. One of the goals of detoxification is reducing acidity, caused by unhealthy foods, stress and lack of exercise. Choose alkaline vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and avocado, as these help the body release toxins. I also recommend cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which are rich in compounds that support toxin removal. A brothy vegetable soup made with an assortment of your favorite items is an excellent staple in any cleanse and detox program.
Another key ingredient is probiotics, which add healthy bacteria to support the digestive tract and numerous other areas of health. Kimchee, tempeh, coconut kefir, sauerkraut and miso are all good sources of food-based probiotics.
Exercise and mindfulness
Detoxification is about movement — moving toxins out of our bodies. Exercise and deep breathing are critical to this process. Exercise boosts the lymphatic system, a critical part of the body’s detoxification channels. It also increases metabolism on all levels, supporting the removal of toxins from cells, tissues and organs, including the skin.
Deep breathing is also essential. Toxins are released from the lungs during exhalation, and increased oxygen supports the detox process. It’s also an excellent way to relax, another essential component. If we’re holding on to tension and stress, we’re also holding toxins and generating new ones in the process. Meditation, walks in nature and yoga — these practices are proven to relieve stress, reduce inflammation and support overall well-being.
Detoxification is a two-part process: Toxins are released from organs and tissues; then they become metabolized by the body and eliminated through the urine, bowels, skin and lungs. The first step is to prepare the circulation and digestion with natural ingredients that bind toxins and help the body remove them.
In any detox program, one of the most important supplements I recommend is PectaClear, a combination of modified citrus pectin (MCP) from citrus peels and sodium alginates from kelp. This formula is clinically proven to remove harmful heavy metals from circulation and digestion, without affecting essential minerals. The formula can also eliminate pesticides, radioactive particles and other chemicals, while supporting immunity. With this combination, circulating toxins are tightly bound and eliminated through the urinary and digestive tract.
I recommend preparing with PectaClear formula for at least two weeks, in combination with a cleansing diet, before adding in supplements that stimulate the release of toxins from deeper in the body.
For more thorough detoxification, I recommend adding a comprehensive detox formula called Detox Complete, with ingredients such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), alpha lipoic acid, dandelion, milk thistle, garlic and cilantro. These ingredients support the organs of elimination and increase vital energy during a cleanse. They work together with MCP/alginates to give deeply stored toxins the old heave-ho.
In my clinical practice, I also use Integrative Metabolic Formula to help stabilize blood glucose and insulin, support metabolism and digestion, and reduce cravings. Metabolic ingredients such as holy basil, fenugreek, gymnema leaf, sodium alginates and certain mushrooms also help remove toxins and boost immunity.
Other important supplements for detox:
- Proteolytic enzymes: Reduce inflammation, support detoxification, boost circulation.
- Green drink powders: Provide extra nutrients and support detoxification.
- Digestive supplements: Keep the bowels regular and support efficient detox.
Keep at it
Even when going slowly, a gentle detoxification program can seem daunting with so many changes to adopt. But it’s important to consider how all these elements synergize to produce profound improvements in health and well-being. And as the body adjusts to the new regimen and the benefits become more apparent, we actually come to crave the healthier approach. Just as bad practices can be addictive, so can good ones. More energy, less pain, stronger immunity, better digestion, and greater emotional and mental health are all noticeable benefits of a safe and gentle detox program.
You don’t need liver-cleansing supplements to detox. Really, you don’t! People often think that cleansing their liver would be best supported by strict detoxing, fasting or limited calories, however just the simple act of eating whole foods can clean up your liver. We actually need nutrients to support the detoxification process that our bodies naturally like to do.
The following real-food ideas can assist in the natural detoxification of your liver and other organs that might be on overload too.
Go nuts! All nuts are full of amino acids and no sugar. Not only are nuts full of essential fatty acids, but walnuts in particular are high in l-arginine and glutathione, which can assist in detoxifying the liver and oxygenating the blood. It’s the walnut hull that is often found in liver-cleansing products that you can purchase in the chemist. Why not just eat them?
Sidestep alcohol and fructose. Fructose is very hard on your liver, much the same way as drinking alcohol is. Fructose is converted into fat that gets stored in your liver and other tissues as body fat. If this is consumed in excess this can lead to non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NADLD). When the liver becomes dysfunctional, we lose our metabolic powerhouse.
Love a grapefruit. This yellow or rosey-hued fruit is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which are excellent at cleansing the liver. One of the flavonoids in grapefruit, naringenin, contains a compound that makes the liver burn fat rather than store it. Why not squeeze some into your sparkling water today?
Befriend onions and garlic. Foods rich in sulphur containing compounds are one of the primary types of molecules used to help the liver detoxify a wide range of toxins. Food like onions, garlic and eggs yolks come under this category. Garlic contains allicin and selenium, which are proven to help protect the liver from toxic overload. Do your best to buy Australian-grown garlic and organic eggs.
Go green. Green tea has antioxidant properties and is loaded with catechins.Catechins are a type of plant antioxidant that have been known to eliminate fat accumulation and promote proper liver function. It also protects against toxins that can cause serious liver damage.
Spice it up. Turmeric has increased in popularity. Everyone wants this little spice as its proven much of its beneficial properties in research studies. It’s shown to protect the liver against toxic damage and even regenerate damaged liver cells. Turmeric also boosts the production of bile and hepatic dusts, which is beneficial to those who have gallbladder issues.