These days detox is a word that you will hear thrown around a lot. Whether talking about diets, products, or teas, promoting items as a “detox” or "cleanse" is one of the new trends in our society. But what does this actually mean and why is it important?
Detox is short for the term detoxification which is the natural process of our bodies taking the toxins that we are exposed to and removing them from our bodies. It is something that is happening constantly as it is one of the ways that our bodies stay in balance or homeostasis. This process is the result of many of our organ systems working together to remove toxins. These organs include the skin, lungs, kidneys, liver, lymphatic and intestines just to name a few. Optimal detoxification is achieved when all of these organ systems are working effectively both on their own and as a team. Detoxing can also be called cleansing.
Detoxification has always been an important process in maintaining health. It is something that we do naturally. Today more than ever it is important to keep our organ systems working optimally in order to support the high levels of unwanted toxins that we are exposed to on a regular basis.
Examples of Toxins include
- chemicals and preservatives used on foods
- antibiotics used in meats
- chemicals used in cleaning products
- endogenous hormones
- additives in vaccines
- drinking alcohol
- and much more
None of these things are inherently bad, they are just not optimal to have in our systems. That is why we try and remove them out of our systems using our elimination organs. This keeps us healthy despite what we are exposed to on a daily basis. The problem arises when our organ systems get overloaded and can no longer function efficiently enough to perform this function and take care of us. This causes things to build up in our cells, tissues and organs and can result in symptoms of dysfunction or disease. When unwanted substances build up it makes it much harder for us to maintain health.
Detoxing the Right Way
When our systems get overloaded they often need some support as they try and deal with the unwanted substances that are building up. This is where certain products and diets can be of service. A recently published study found that the average Canadian can have as many as 53 chemicals stored in their bodies.
Exposure to chemicals has been linked to conditions such as
- respiratory illness - asthma
- neurodevelopement disorders - ADHD
- and much more
This makes it incredibly important to support our detoxification systems when it is necessary.
This is done in two-fold.
- Examine our daily toxin exposure and take steps to ensure that we limit it as much as possible.
- Support our major detoxification organs mainly the liver, kidney and lymphatics.
The liver neutralizes toxic substances so they can be eliminated via bile and the kidneys. It also helps to filter our blood with our kidneys.
The kidneys allow toxic end-products to be eliminated through the urine. It helps to filter our blood.
The lymphatic system deals with fluid movement inside of us allowing it to move from one area to another. It also houses part of our immune system. This makes it incredibly important. It helps to destroy invading substances/pathogens as well as transport them to certain areas to be destroyed and eliminated. Without the lymph, unwanted substances would be stuck in one area and would not be able to be removed.
There are many ways we can support and optimize your ability to eliminate and some approaches are more effective than others. The main goal is to support the three main organ systems. This means provide gentle support to the body in the forms of herbs or homeopathic that will guide these organ systems to perform their needed function.
While herbs can work to increase the function of some organ systems, homeopathic preparations can work on an intracellular level. They can nudge individual cells to begin removing their own toxins. When individual cells start to function better, whole organ systems will benefit. When intracellular detoxification of the elimination organs is optimized, these key organs will function more effectively to remove unwanted substances.
detoxification of the liver, kidneys and lymphatic’s is optimized, these key organs will function more effectively to remove toxins from the rest of the body. This makes intracellular detoxification an important component of a full detoxification program.
- Movement and exercise are important for promoting flow through the body and decreasing stagnation. Stagnation allows certain things to remain stuck inside of us. Through movement, we can begin the process of moving the lymph and subsequently removing things we don't need.
- Balancing exercise with relaxation and sleep is also important. Removing unwanted and stored substances can be an energy-intensive process. In order for us to put the desired energy towards removing these things, it is important to actually take the time to rest. This means putting ourselves in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state multiple times a day. This will allow us to put energy into our organ systems instead of into our minds worrying about our jobs or our families or our stresses.
- Avoiding further exposure. This could mean tending towards organic, whole foods instead of non-organic, packaged foods. As well it could mean avoiding certain environments or cleaning products depending on the chemical content.
- Drinking water helps to flush things through the elimination organs and it prevents unwanted chemicals from building up.
This can be an intense process depending on the person and what is happening inside of them. The process of removing unwanted substances that have been stored inside of us can be hard on our systems and can result in sensations such as headaches, nausea and fatigue. Short-term, one can feel worse during this process. However, in the long-run, this will improve overall health. Therefore it is important to nourish yourself as much as possible during this process.
- Eat whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, goods fats such as nuts/seeds, olive oil, avocados, and lean proteins are all extremely important during the time. The goal of this process is not to limit the amount of food you are eating but to nourish yourself with lots of whole foods to keep your energy levels up. Whole foods will provide nutrients to help you deal with this entire process and introduce as few unwanted substances as possible.
- Add in foods to support elimination organs: A glass of lemon water in the morning daily is beneficial. As well, eating detox foods daily such as vegetables and especially cruciferous vegetables, contain compounds that help to optimize liver function.
3. Support digestive function: Diet changes can help support our digestion as a whole. Drink more water. Eat whole, organic foods especially vegetables that contain fewer chemicals, pesticides and preservatives which can be harmful in large doses. Decreasing the level of chemicals in the food entering our stomach makes it easier for our digestion to function and for our digestive system to excrete toxins instead of absorbing them. The healthy functioning of these organs is imperative in supporting optimal elimination long-term.
Toxin exposure is a continual process. This makes it almost impossible to ever be completely free of them. This means that elimination is a continual process that we are performing to keep us happy and healthy. To care for ourselves any cleanse to support this process and reduce the number of harmful substances entering us is something that could be done more than once for long-term support.
Q: What foods should I avoid during cleansing?
A: When you are on a detox diet, the goal is to nourish yourself the best way possible. This includes choosing foods that best support our elimination organs and metabolism and also decrease the introduction of new chemicals into the body. This includes limiting foods that can be classified as inflammatory such as alcohol and caffeine. It might also include going dairy or gluten-free. These foods groups tend to be more genetically modified and therefore have more chemicals. Pay attention to ingredients in foods and avoid additives and preservatives. These foods will also help promote the health of the entire digestive system including the stomach, intestines and colon. Ideal foods are ones that are anti-inflammatory in nature include lots of omega-3 fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil and lots of organic vegetables.
Q: Does detoxing help with weight loss?
A: This process is not synonymous with weight loss. However, weight loss can be a result of a detoxification process. As we remove toxins that have built-up, our metabolism and organ systems start to work more effectively and efficiently. This, in turn, enhances all of our natural processes including getting to a healthy weight. Detoxifying can help us return to optimal health and equilibrium which can include losing weight if that is what we need.
Q: What kind of detox should I do?
A: There are MANY different kinds of products and programs available on the market. The most important thing when deciding is listening to YOUR body and choosing one that fits YOUR needs. If you are unsure consult a medical or healthcare practitioner. One thing to be wary of is that these treatments can all be of different strengths. The stronger the product the more likely you are to experience side effects. Always make sure to do your research before choosing. The most important thing is to make a cleanse or detox diet into a lifestyle process rather than taking a quick-fix supplement.
Taking a supplement is only one component of an entire elimination support program. The other part of the program involves supporting the main organs through lifestyle factors and avoiding further chemical exposure. Exercise, movement, relaxation and sleep are all important lifestyle factors that should be optimized.