Detoxing. Detoxing. Detoxing. You’ll see the word more times than you care to at this time of the year. Like ‘superfood’, it’s one of those words used to describe a multitude of concepts, principles and products and has inevitably lead to confusion (and some negative press).
So what is detoxing? Is it a ‘real thing’ or slick marketing speak?
Given that I’m a nutritional therapist, I have a particular view on detoxing which may be contrary to those of a doctor or even other nutritionists. So this is all my perspective. When it comes to all things health-related, you are the ultimate judge – read up, consider arguments and decide what is right for you.
I do think that the word detox can be misused, but in general, credible detox products, detox programmes and detox recipes are generally designed to help enhance the body’s inbuilt detoxification organs. The liver, skin, digestive tract and kidneys are all used by the body to rid the body of toxins – i.e detoxify.
So technically, your body detoxes every minute of the day, but certain ways of eating (or not eating!), can help optimise natural mechanisms.
Many religions have periods of fasting built into their calendars. While these are usually associated with a specific event, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this behaviour exists across so many cultures. There are benefits to periods of abstinence and, if poor health isn’t a trigger, then having a spiritual point of reference can help with motivation!
What are toxins?
Toxins can be broken up into two types: endogenous and exogenous.
Endogenous toxins are by-products of metabolism and energy production. These are naturally occurring as part of the process of living (like exhaust fumes are a by-product of driving a car). They can be used hormones or by-products of exercise and energy production.
Exogenous toxins are those we absorb from the environment. These include toxins from cigarettes, mould, pollen, chlorine from water, insecticides and pesticides from food, alcohol, caffeine, medications, chemicals from food packaging and cosmetics, any many, many more.
You can see from the list above, that since humans were ‘designed’, there are a few new toxins on the market! So, while our bodies are naturally equipped to get rid of toxins from our bodies, modern life has introduced many more elements for our organs to manage.
Therefore, the concept of an annual period of considered detoxification makes sense – give the body an opportunity to get rid of all the nasties that have built up over a period of time.
How does detoxification work?
The liver and digestive system are really key to getting rid of toxins. Very simply, the liver first breaks down toxins and then packages them up into forms that can be excreted by the digestive system or kidneys. The liver needs B vitamins, zinc, sulphur, amino acids and the anti-oxidant vitamins E and C to do its work properly. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, the process of detoxification in the liver doesn’t work well.
Equally, if your digestive system is sluggish due to constipation or an imbalanced gut flora, you may not be able to properly excrete the toxins, so they are reabsorbed into your blood stream. This can make you feel tired, but in some can also manifest as skin issues, headaches and hormonal problems like PMS.
Given that the liver needs a good supply of nutrients to do its job properly, you can see why a balanced diet, which favours fresh vegetables and fibre is very important to good health.
So, why detox?
If you agree that:
- our bodies are continuously exposed to every-increasing exogenous toxins; and
- our diets are not always providing the nutrients our organs of detoxification need…
…then, you can see that at some point something is going to give.
If we’re taking in many toxins and not taking in enough of the fuel an optimal detoxification system, then we’re going to start getting ill.
So, in my opinion, detox ‘diets’ should be about reducing the burden on the liver and providing fuel to enhance natural detoxification.
This is where things start to diverge and you get variations on the best way to detox. These range from juice fasts, colonic cleansing, raw food diets and more moderate programmes which just eliminate lifestyle toxins (alcohol and caffeine).
My approach to detox programmes
I run detoxification programmes which reduce some foods and nourish the body with plenty of fresh produce to optimise our already brilliant detoxification mechanisms.
I’ve participated in juice fasts and there are benefits, but there can be drawbacks and they are not appropriate for everyone. I encourage you to do some research, get some advice and decide if it is for you.
Whatever detox you choose to do, the most important thing is that it is undertaken with a qualified healthcare professional. Detoxification needs to be carefully managed if your liver is not in good shape, or you are on important medication. A registered nutritional therapist will be able to advise you on the best way to detox, based on your individual needs.
January is naturally a time for considering detoxing – it’s a new year and the guilt from the Christmas binge is reinforced by the miraculous shrinking of our clothes! However, in the northern hemisphere January is the middle of winter, so a full-blown juicing or raw food detox is not ideal. However, it is an ideal opportunity to start eating healthily with a view to a ‘spring clean’ in April/May time.
So, in a nutshell, if you are feeling a bit sluggish and know that your diet is not as clean as it should be, a detox can play a really important role in boosting your overall health. You don’t need supplements, or to starve yourself – just some guidance and a bit of will power. Doing it with a friend or family member also helps.
FreshStart Cleanse and Health Reset
I am regularly run a 28-day Cleanse and Health Reset programme called FreshStart. It is a seasonal eating programme designed to enhance detoxification systems and help start you on the road to healthy eating.