By Dr. B.J. Hardick, D.C.
We are bombarded with toxins. Today, over 80,000 chemicals have been registered in America, and every year about 2,000 new ones appear in food, cosmetics, prescription drugs, household cleaners, and other common products. By 2014, the European Chemicals Agency had only registered about 12,600 substances, leaving thousands still to be tested.
Because of the increasing number of synthetic chemicals and all their potentially adverse effects, researchers argue we desperately need more studies about detoxification and all of its potential benefits.
Your liver is ground zero for detoxification, which it performs in two phases. During phase 1, your liver converts toxic substances to highly reactive metabolites. Many are free radicals and more toxic than the original toxin. During phase 2 detoxification, you excrete those toxins via your urine, sweat, feces, and breath.
Other organs, besides your liver, also help detoxify. They include:
Your kidneys, which do their own share of filtering and eliminating.
Your skin, which is a barrier for external toxins. Sweat glands also help eliminate
Your lungs: A healthy respiratory system moves toxins to your blood, which your
liver subsequently eliminates.
Your gut, which digests and absorbs nutrients that help your body detoxify more
For consistent detoxification, you want to make sure all your organs are operating pristinely. Your cells constantly detoxify, and usually they’re pretty efficient at doing that job. Usually. At a certain point, your organs can become overwhelmed, creating toxic accumulation that can manifest in many symptoms and conditions.
“In a healthy body, the process of detoxification runs smoothly,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. (Hyman wrote the forward to my book Align Your Health.) “When we are toxic though, the mechanism for detoxification in the liver gets sluggish, and certain toxins can remain active longer than we want or than our systems can handle.”
That’s where a detoxification program can possibly help. Research shows the right one can benefit numerous conditions including inflammation, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, gut disorders, and everyone’s favorite, weight loss.Unfortunately, finding the right detoxification program can feel completely baffling. Visit your health food store or do an online search and you’ll find a large array of detoxification or “cleansing” plans. A few might be effective; most aren’t, and can actually make you more toxic. There’s the
Master Cleanse, a 10-day program where you replace meals with a drink containing lemon juice, purified water, cayenne pepper, and tree syrup. (You might also use sea salt water and a mild laxative herbal tea.) You’ll also find celebrity-endorsed juice cleanses, which can be quite pricey and typically high in sugar, notably fructose. Excess fructose stresses your already-stressed liver, and in excess amounts can create problems including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Many commercial detoxification or cleansing plans also lack the essential nutrients and protein that your body requires to detoxify. Every stage of phase 2 detoxification (elimination), for instance, requires specific amino acids (from protein). If you’re not getting enough protein and other nutrients, your liver might not be able to complete phase 2. In other words, you could become more toxic.
These are among some of the reasons detoxification programs sometimes invite criticism, and why the wrong ones can create far more harm than good. The right plan, however, can give your body the nutrients it demands to optimally detoxify. If you opt to do one, choose a professionally tailored program that includes specific nutrients along with an eating plan that you will typically follow for two to three weeks.
A detox can be great “spring cleaning” for your body once or twice a year, but please, do it correctly to get all of the benefits. A healthcare professional can help you with a detoxification program.
Whether or not you implement a detoxification program, you can help your body optimally detoxify with these seven easy to follow strategies.
1.Choose food first. You can never replicate the nutrients you get from real, whole, foods in a powder or pill. “Using a focus on food to support the highly complex processes of detoxification and biotransformation is the wise approach,” says John Cline, MD. “If an apple contains at least 700 different phytochemicals, it is better to eat the apple as one of a variety of foods than to try to replicate its benefits with single nutritional supplements.”
2.Eat the right foods. What you eat – specifically, nutrient-rich plant foods complemented by quality animal foods rich in protein and healthy fats – becomes the very best way to help your body detoxify. Copious studies show whole foods including cruciferous vegetables, berries, garlic, and spices like turmeric can help your body detoxify through various pathways. Combine plenty of these plant foods with the cleanest sources of protein and healthy fat including wild-caught seafood and grass-fed beef and you’ve got the perfect plate to help detoxify.
3.Choose the cleanest possible sources. Whenever possible, you want to choose organic plant foods. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says conventional produce contains about 178 pesticides! If you can’t choose organic (because of cost or availability), check out the EWG’s guide to the most- and least-pesticide ridden fruits and vegetables, appropriately called the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. Ditto for animal foods: Choose the highest-quality meats and seafood, and eat more plant foods if these are out of your budget.
4.Go clean and green. Besides giving your body the right nutrients to detoxify, you want to reduce its toxic load by minimizing exposure to toxins in household products, cosmetics, food, and so much more. Sometimes these culprits are obvious; many times, they aren’t. A good place to start is with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which provides a wealth of information including identifying toxins in your home and your cosmetics.
5.Drink plenty of (clean) water. “Think about it: Your body is 83 percent water,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. “You need water for every single metabolic process in the body. Water is necessary to digest and absorb nutrients and vitamins. It carries away metabolic waste. It helps ‘flush’ fat and toxins through the liver and kidneys.” Hydration keeps your cellular machinery at peak performance, detoxing optimally along with its numerous other functions. Obviously, you don’t want to introduce more toxins via your drinking water, so always aim for properly filtered water.
6.Sweat it out. Exercise helps your circulatory system work more efficiently, allowing your lungs to expel air better and blood to move more freely as it carries both nutrients and toxins to the proper end-destinations. Sweat moves toxins to your skin, which expels them. Weight resistance, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and hot yoga are great ways to get moving and get sweating. When you’re done with your workout, hit the sauna to further excrete those toxins.
7.Get quality sleep. Several years ago, scientists discovered a brain detoxification process called the glymphatic system that occurs when you sleep. Researchers find sleep deprivation impairs your glymphatic system, so toxins can build up that adversely impact your cognitive abilities, behavior, and judgment. Your liver and other detoxification organs also suffer with insufficient sleep. Simply put, without quality sleep, in the right amounts – aim for eight hours every night – on a consistent basis, your body cannot effectively detoxify.
Reducing your toxic burden requires giving your body the right nutrients to optimize its detoxification pathways while removing obstacles that could make you more toxic. You don’t need a detoxification program to do that, but the right one can help. Regardless whether you use one, eating clean and living green becomes an incredibly powerful way to help your body detoxify naturally, providing the extra benefits of weight loss, more energy, and reducing your risk of disease.
Raised in a holistic family, Dr. B.J. Hardick is an organic food fanatic, green living aficionado, and has spent the majority of his life working in natural health care. In 2009, he wrote his first book, Maximized Living Nutrition Plans, which has now been used professionally in over 500 health clinics. Dr. Hardick regularly blogs healthy recipes and holistic health articles on his own website, DrHardick.com, and speaks to numerous professional and public audiences every year. He maintains a private practice as a Doctor of Chiropractic. In his spare time, he invests his keen interest in sustainable living into urban development in his hometown of London, Ontario.