It’s that time of year when we think of getting healthy. Cleaning up our act. Should you clean up from the inside out? Should you do a detox? The internet and email inboxes are flooded with various detox ideas: “the 10-day detox” “detox with your doctor” “sign up here for this detox”… This usually includes buying meal-replacement shakes and multiple supplements, and maybe paying someone to act as your guide through the process.
What is the science of detoxification?
The goal is to rid the body of toxins. Where do they come from? Food additives, pollution, pesticides, plastics, personal products, dental procedures, our home. We just can’t escape them. The goal of the body is to dispose of them safely, rather than allow them to settle; settle in our brain tissue, bones, fat stores, our cells. There they wreak havoc by displacing hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters, thereby messing up our body’s chemistry. They interfere with the normal reactions our cells need to perform to be healthy.
So we should do a detox then, right?
Not so fast. A detoxification regimen will pull toxic substances out of their sequestered spaces and out into the open of our blood stream. This is ok as long as our liver, kidneys, and intestines are working at top-notch level in order to dispose of them properly. If any of these important organs are not functioning as well as they should, mobilizing these toxins can actually cause more harm than good. Yes, you could get sick from an aggressive detoxification regimen if your body is not ready for it.
So what should you do?
I have trained in how to remove toxins, how to guide patients through detoxification, and occasionally will recommend specific protocols. However, I believe the goal is really a lifestyle of detoxification. If you, on average, eliminate more toxins every day than you take in, you are on a detoxification path. You are living a detox.
The key to getting rid of existing toxins
It is very simple. First, make sure your kidneys and intestines are working correctly. Drink plenty of water and make sure you eliminate daily. Yes, you should poop at least once a day. If your intestines aren’t eliminating properly, the toxins in your colon that are on the assembly line for excretion will get reabsorbed. Please do not start a detox package-deal if you suffer from constipation. Second, eat foods that promote detoxification—green leafy vegetables are awesome at this. Third, make sure your liver is healthy. This can be accomplished by a few simple blood tests. There are also nutritional supplements that support detoxification. The list is long. I individualize the supplements I recommend to my patients depending on their symptoms or concerns.
Decreasing your exposure to new toxins
This is a little trickier, but definitely doable. How do we accumulate new toxins? We eat them, inhale them, or absorb them through or skin.
Decreasing food toxins
Toxins in food are absorbed through our guts and include pesticides and herbicides (aka organophosphates) and whatever hormones and antibiotics the animals we eat have been exposed to. These accumulate in our bodies and cause disruption of hormone pathways and other important chemical reactions. Decrease them by eating organic foods when possible. This can be expensive. If you can’t afford to eat entirely organic, a very reasonable option is to avoid “the dirtiest” foods. This data is readily available from The Environmental Working Group (EWG); they have compiled a list of the foods with the highest toxin content they call “The Dirty Dozen”, and update it yearly. You can find this list at their website www.ewg.org/foodnews/. Try to buy organic anything on this “dirty list”.
Decreasing toxins absorbed through your skin
Household cleaning products and personal products are the concern here. Luckily the EWG also has a list (click here) rating the various toxicity-risk of many cleaning and personal products. Their scientists formulate a “hazard rating” from “1” (no concern) to “10” (high concern) for thousands of products. Take a look and try to avoid anything over a hazard rating of 2.
The bottom line
I believe a healthy lifestyle is the safest detox. People can get very ill if they pull toxins from their hiding place out into the open when their bodies are not ready to handle them. I do not think that a do-it-yourself aggressive detoxification regimen is wise. You should be evaluated by a physician first, and supervised during the process. If it is not possible to see a physician for this, a gentle approach of eliminating more than you take in will move you in the direction of better health.