Toxins surround us:
Our bodies are faced with increasing numbers of toxins, especially in the past 50 years. Toxins exist in the environment and in our food and water supply, including pesticides, heavy metals, volatile chemicals, synthetic materials and cigarette smoke, to name a few. These toxins stress our regular detoxification capacity.
Our bodies must also detox internally produced substances, such as hormones and biochemical metabolites every day, and this in combination with external toxins can overwhelm our organs of detoxification.
The liver is the main organ of detoxification, and it’s job is to change potentially harmful substances into non-toxic, water-soluble compounds that an be eliminated by either the kidneys or the intestines. There are two phases of detoxification: Phase I and Phase II. In Phase I, through a process called oxidation, the liver makes toxins more water-soluble, so they can be excreted through the liver and kidneys. Phase II detoxification, through a process called conjugation, then combines these water soluble toxins with sulfur, specific amino acids, or organic acids, which are then excreted in the bile.
Problems with detoxification can arise when there is an imbalance between Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways, because the products of Phase I detoxification, if not efficiently eliminated, can also be toxic.
Increased Phase I detoxification without balanced Phase II activity can be caused by:
- Tobacco smoke
- High alcohol intake
- Consumption of standard vegetable oils
- Eating char-broiled meats
Phase II detoxification can be inhibited by deficiencies of nutrients, certain medication such as acetaminophen, alcohol consumption, and low protein intake. In order to optimize Phase II detoxification, the body needs: the amino acids cysteine and methionine (found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans), and adequate protein intake.
Phase II detoxification is also aided by:
- Bioflavonoids which are found in many fruits, vegetables and teas
- Onions, garlic
- Curcumin (active ingredient in the spice turmeric)
- Milk thistle
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
Foods that increase the rates of detoxification through both Phase I and Phase II are helpful when detoxing, these include: cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels spouts), caraway seeds and dill seeds.
As you can see, detoxification can be a complicated process, that is aided by removing substances that stress the liver (alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fried foods), including adequate protein, lots of vegetables and key nutrients to support both Phase I and Phase II of liver detoxification. A simple juice fast will not address all of these factors.
Signs that you might benefit from detoxification:
- Overall fatigue
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Dull skin, poor complexion or frequent acne
- Regular headaches
- Sore joints
- Chronic sinus problems or stuffiness
- Bloating or water retention
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Frequent mood changes
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Unexplained muscle aches
- Skin rashes or eczema
- Chronic stress in your life
- History of cigarette smoking, or exposure to cigarette smoke
- Exposure to mold
- High or regular alcohol intake
Reducing your toxic load
One of the most pressing reasons to detox regularly is to reduce your toxic load not only for your own current and future health, but also for the health of your future children. When women are pregnant, some of their toxins are passed on to the developing fetus, and further toxins are passed to our babies during breastfeeding. In order to give your children the best start, plan to do at least one detox in the year prior to conception. This should be a minimum of 2 months before you get pregnant, so your body has time to clear any toxins that may have been released during the detoxification process. Regular saunas are also highly recommended in the year prior to conception, since they are the best way of removing toxins that are stored in fat cells. When you sweat, your body releases these toxins to be flushed from the body. Remember, neither detoxes or saunas are safe in pregnancy – they are highly recommended in the year prior to conception.
The other aspect of detoxification that is essential to address is the gastrointestinal system. A cleanse can treat the imbalance in intestinal flora which occurs due to medication use (antibiotics especially), stress, hormonal birth control, and high intake of sugar and white carbohydrate foods. In fact, most people in North America have in imbalance in their intestinal flora which results in: bloating, gasiness, irregular bowel movements and strong cravings for sweets. This is most commonly caused by yeast overgrowth, can also include overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, protozoa or parasites. By rebalancing your intestinal flora, you will notice improvements not only in your digestion, but likely also in your energy, mood, hormone balance and weight. Imbalanced digestive flora is present in almost every patient I see, which is why it is included as a prominent part of most cleanses that I recommend.
Pushing the Reset button
One of my favourite uses for a cleanse or detox is to push the reset button on nutrition, digestion and basic self-care. In our busy lives, it is very common to simply resort to convenience foods, skip the exercise and rely on too much caffeine to get through the day. A simple cleanse takes care of all of these factors and reminds us how simple it can be to eat well, function without caffeine and feel so much better for it! The most common times of year that my patients are looking for a reset are: early January (after holiday season over-indulgence), early spring for fresh renewal in energy, and early fall during this big transition time. A cleanse will start you off with great nutrition, higher energy and improved vitality.
Benefits of detoxification include:
- Improved energy and vitality
- Clarity of mind
- Better mood
- Moderate weight loss
- Brighter eyes and clear complexion
- Reducing your toxic load
- Better digestion with less bloating
- Healthier pregnancy outcomes