Is detoxing for dorks?
So it’s that time of year again, almost everyone I know is going to start his or her January detox. In the process they are going to post untold amounts of pictures of their nasty tasting green juices and plates of food that resemble eating dinner with Rodger Rabbit, or even better they are going to squirt water up there backside claiming to be cleansing their digestive system.
Perhaps you are going into the New Year with aspirations on how this year is going to be the year that you finally feel great and you achieve the body you have always desired. How else do you start off that process except by drinking juices and shakes 7 days straight then going on a super low carb diet, which inadvertently turns into low calorie diet and smashing your body into oblivion with more exercise in 1 month than Jessica Ennis did in her preparation for London 2012?
You then celebrate “getting through” January with a meal out with friends and a couple of bottles of wine, because of course you’ve not drank for 30days and what better reason to drink!
You then wake up the next day with a hangover from hell feeling terrible because of the wine and that basket of bread you stuffed your face with before the meal had even arrived. Unfortunately now the defenses are down and you cannot help but to say “just today I’ll eat some bad food, lets start again on Monday”, except Monday never comes. You then become overwhelmed by guilt for the next 11months, and fall back into your engrained habits before planning your next detox in January 2016.
To an outsider this scenario sounds ridiculous right? Well at least I hope it does anyway! The frustrating thing for me is the intention is there for so many at the start of the year with a goal to improve their health and body composition. The trouble is everyone is looking for a quick magical fix, and you will be inundated with emails, Facebook posts, adverts promoting the next best 7, 14 30 day detox.
Short-term detoxes are flawed and they actually do nothing to promote health and even better they do nothing to detox the body in any meaningful way.
Does this mean we should not be trying to detox? Certainly not, in fact detoxing should be and is part of our everyday life. From the moment we are conceived our body is constantly getting rid of toxins naturally as part of every day life and as the exposure to environmental toxins increases and is likely to continue increasing, the need to be supporting detoxification increases with it. Please let me reiterate though, this is not a short-term process this is every second of the day and every day of the year.
Through the rest of this article I want to touch on:
- How an accumulation of toxins affects our health?
- How can you lower your toxic load?
- How the accumulation of toxins affects our health?
I’m going to start with a quote from Dr Crinnion in Alternative Medicine Review Journal back in 2000.
Humans are now struggling under a burden of environmental toxins. For many, this is not from workplace exposure, but from simply living in a polluted world. Some individuals appear to be less able to clear daily chemical exposure from the body than others, leading to a total load of toxins that exceeds the ability of the body to adapt. When the toxic load reaches this point, damage to certain organ systems can occur. The major organ systems affected are the immune, neurological and hormone systems.
One of my mentors Dave Hompes, who has a genius way of making the most complex of physiological processes simple, states that:
Poor health, symptoms and disease result from basically too much ‘bad’ stuff in the body and not enough ‘good’ stuff in the body.
Whilst extremely basic this is fundamentally true, and one of those ‘bad’ things include toxins. So what toxins are we exposed to?
Over the past couple of hundred years we have managed to create in excess of 100,000 manmade chemicals including things like drugs, pesticides, petrochemicals, solvents, PCB’s, food additives and plastics, then we are exposed to other toxins such as heavy metals, the bugs that live naturally in our digestive tract and phytotoxins from plants.
It is impossible to get away from toxins; they are as much a part of our life as death and taxes.
The toxins themselves tend to build up in the body as they are fat-soluble, hence they generally get stored in your fatty tissue, which might include your fat cells your brain and even your nerves.
Our bodies to some degree are designed to hold on to fat, as before the times where food was plentiful we would go through periods or famine which would lower our body fat and periods of feasting as we gain body fat in preparation of a forthcoming famine. Back then though the body would not have been so exposed to the thousands of chemicals it is today, thus when we gained and lost fat the toxic burden would have barely changed.
Nowadays we spend years gaining fat and accumulating toxins that we then try to rid ourselves of during the next best diet or detox. The trouble is these days we get fat mostly from eating empty calories loaded with toxins rather than just overfeeding on healthy whole foods. We then restrict calories, hammer our body with nutrient depleting excessive levels of exercise, in an attempt to try and force the fat off our body, in doing so increasing the body’s toxic burden both during weight gain and perhaps even more so during weight loss.
Unfortunately the accumulation and exposure to the variety of toxins we are now exposed to increases strain on the immune system, nervous system, hormonal system and the mitochondria that sit within our cells playing the primary role in energy production and cellular function. The trouble is, if you effect the health of the cell you have the potential in effecting every single tissue and organ system in the human body, hence the symptoms of toxin overload can vary widely and in all honesty can present differently in every single person.
In my health quiz however I have included a section on toxins/detoxification and the most common symptoms experienced when over burdened with toxins.
How can you lower your toxic load?
As you may have guessed by now, detoxing the body is a whole body lifestyle change. It is generally not something that we can do short term and there are certain nutrition and lifestyle practices that you can look at introducing today that will help lower your total body burden.
First of all reduce what is coming in the body.
- Choose organic produce where possible, or use the Environmental Working Group guide ‘Clean Fifteen’ and ‘Dirty Dozen’ to help you choose what are the best foods if on a budget but still concerned about your chemical exposure.
- Choose wild, or organic meats and fish where possible. If not choose leaner cuts of meats or fish.
- Drink quality water, bottled or filtered is generally best. Ideally a home water filter system like the reverse osmosis systems would be best, but bottled water not exposed to excessive heat or sunlight or even just a simple filter to get rid of some of the toxins.
- Reduce alcohol where possible. On the most part alcohol is going to be disruptive and overburden the detox systems preventing other substances from being detoxed.
- Eat fibrous foods. Fiber helps bind to chemicals, toxins and hormones in the digestive tract and pull them out of the system.
Try to avoid polluted environments as much as possible. Exercise in non-polluted environments and even consider some natural air cleansers in your home.
A couple of years ago I wrote an article after finding some research by NASA looking at how certain plants can help detoxify your home. Here are some of the most useful plants for improving the air in your home.
- Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) – Shown to detoxify many air contaminants but particularly good at clearing benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.
- Hedera Helex (English Ivy) – a good detoxifier as it efficiently filters formaldehyde aerosols and fecal particles from the air.
- Philodendrons – The two most efficient kinds of philodendron are the Heartleaf philodendron and the Elephant Ear Philodendron. Philodendrons are excellent at removing formaldehyde, especially so at higher concentrations.
- Gerbera Jamesonii (Gerbera Daisy) – Not only is this my wife’s favourite flower, the Gerbera also has air filtering properties. It is most suitable for removing benzene (a carcinogen) and trichloroethylene from the air.
- Dracaena marginata (Red-edged dracaena) – The Dracaena marginata removes not only benzene and formaldehyde from the air, but also xylene and toluene . Other air filtering Dracaenas include Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’), Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’), Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’).
One of the major sources of toxins these days are the lotions and potions we apply to our skin on a daily basis. This includes the shampoos and conditioners, moisturisers, make up, deodorants and so forth.
Try and find cosmetics that are free from as many nasty chemicals as possible. The Environmental Working Group guide to cosmetics has reviewed around 80,000 cosmetic products and may be helpful in assessing the burden or your current products. Check out http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
Once you have reduced some of your exposure how can you support your body’s natural ability to detoxify?
By improving the organs of elimination this can go some way in supporting your natural detoxification processes.
Probably one the most crucial systems when it comes to detoxification. The majority of eliminated toxins are done so through our stool. Thus ensuring you are going to the toilet regularly is a must. Primarily make sure you are eating enough fiber and drinking enough water, but also be aware that other imbalances like a magnesium insufficiency, lack of digestive enzymes or acids or bacterial imbalance, infection or overgrowth can all have an effect on transit time.
Another route for detoxification is through our skin and our sweat. So long as you remain adequately hydrated and are not losing excessive salts from the body, increases in sweating can be very beneficial. Using a sauna, heat therapy and exercise can all play a role in increasing sweat and thus the detoxification processes.
Interestingly if you suffer with bad skin, this may in part be due to poor detoxification, either through the skin or other areas of the body.
Another primary site for elimination is our kidneys. The most effective way of supporting the kidneys is drinking adequate water every day. Check out this article to help calculate how much water you should aim to drink per day.
This would of course change in hot weather, as exercise increases or if you are introducing saunas.
Interestingly through the air we breathe in and out we bring in and eliminate toxins continually. Unfortunately these days many of us have inverted shallow breathing patterns. I’d recommend regular breathing and exercise to help support this method of elimination.
Check out this article on diaphragmatic breathing.
The lymphatic system relies upon muscular contraction to help move waste substances around the body, thus exercise/movement is one the most effect ways of stimulating this detoxification system. Other potential methods include skin brushing which also seems to stimulate the lymphatic system.
Liver & Gallbladder
You cannot talk about detoxification without acknowledging the huge role the liver and gallbladder play in detoxification. It is the liver where the body will turn these fat-soluble toxins into water soluble compounds that can then be excreted by the body. The liver relies primarily on vitamins, minerals and amino acids to make this process happen, but there are numerous compounds and foods that have been shown to help support or even speed up these pathways of detoxification, many of which you will be able to learn about in future articles and in my health transformation interpretive guide (out Feb 2015) that accompanies your health transformation quiz results.
The moral of this story is that our bodies are designed to detoxify every second of every day. It is up to you to help support it along the way.
We can help lower our toxic load a number of ways, by reducing the exposure to toxic substances, eating clean wholesome nutrient dense foods, eating fibrous foods and foods rich in pre and probiotics, exercising and good daily movement, ensuring we have optimal digestive function, sweating and drinking plenty of water.
These are some of the basic principles I teach all the clients I see, and will make up some of the foundation principles I will be teaching in my online health foundations course launching in 2015.
All of these changes do not have to be made in one go, try to implement one strategy at a time, changing your habits along the way and for crying out load don’t fall in the January detox trap only to get spat out again one month later.