Detoxification - What, Why, How
by Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist
60-70% of the chronic illnesses and allergies that we struggle with like eczema, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer is because of an overload of toxins. Doing periodic cleanses is more vital to our health and future health than ever before.
Table of Contents
First of all, detoxification is not a fad nor a trend. Detoxification is something that happens in the body all the time- if it stops happening you die. Our bodies are carefully designed to detoxify on its own even without following any detox diets, taking any supplements or practicing hot yoga.
If for some reason your body stops detoxifying, you will die.
We are acid forming machines, uric acid, lactic acid. Our bodies go through incredible lengths to maintain an equilibrium within. The bodies primary way of controlling acid is through our breathing when we exhale to release CO2 but we also excrete acid through our skin, urine and other means.
For thousands of years detoxification has been important to traditional medicine. Ayurvedic and TCM medicine had always looked at toxins in the body and strengthening and balancing our detoxification organs like the liver, kidneys and gallbladder.
It’s more relevant now because the world that we live in is loaded with chemicals. God made our bodies to function perfectly, but unfortunately we are not taking good care of His creation, from the earth, to the plants and animals, to ourselves and so we need to intentionally work on bringing our bodies back to its original intended state. In short, detoxification is giving the space, time and opportunity for your detox organs like your liver and kidneys to work at its optimal.
80% of food in the supermarket aren’t food, they're ‘food like’ products. If you take a look at the fresh produce found in the perimeters of our supermarket, it makes up just a small percentage of what is sold. The rest of the items in the inner courts of the supermarket are packaged, with long shelf lives, and because they need to sit on the shelf, they will include preservatives, additives and other chemicals.
It’s not to say that fresh produce doesn’t contain pesticides and other chemicals to keep it fresh, but at the core of it, the apple you’re buying is still a whole food.
We know the importance of our microbiome and it’s direct link to our health and wellbeing, from our immune system, to our skin health and mental health. And when we intake foods with preservatives and pesticides, these very agents that prevent bacteria from growing are doing the same thing to the bacteria in your intestines.
Toxins are not only found in the food we eat though, it’s in the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, and the cosmetics we use. If we just go through your morning routine, and all of the potential toxins you would come into contact with, that alone would be reason enough to support your body’s detoxification process.
1. Synthetic Clothing
There are around 8,000 synthetic chemicals used in fashion manufacturing, most of which contain known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. From non organic cotton, to synthetic ‘performance/antibacterial’ materials, to waterproof and wrinkle free fabrics, many of these materials either suffocate your skin from detoxifying and or contain toxic substances like formaldehyde and phthalates.
Business Insider took an indepth look into the 7 popular chemicals found in our clothing.
Bacteria, excessive nutrients, toxic chemicals like fluoride and even birth control pills and antibiotics can be found in the many cities’ water system. In the past, bacteria and carcinogenic substances were found in our Hong Kong water supply. And even if the government backs the quality and safety of our water, the problem comes into play with our old rusty pipes that the water needs to pass through.
Non organic, or natural toothpastes would typically have on average of at least 3-4 toxic substances.
For example, Tricolsan an ingredient banned by the FDA in hand and body soaps were still being used in Colgate Total formulations up until only January 2019. But what else is in the toothpastes that we are not aware of?
Vani Hari, also known as Food Babe , has an in-depth article dissecting the ingredients in toothpastes and their potential harms.
Download Mark Burhenne, holistic dentist’s list of harmful ingredients to look out for when buying toothpaste.
4. Face Cream
Women put on about 200 chemicals a day, through their cosmetics. And with the increase of men’s personal care products in reflection of the demand, men are not exempt from these exposures either. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors that can interfere with our hormonal systems.
Check the chemicals in your beauty care products in EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) database.
It is clear that we are bathing in toxic chemicals!
1. Abundance of Fat Soluble Toxins
90% of these toxins are lypophiliic, meaning they are dissolved or stored in fat.
Once they’re in your blood they look for fatty tissues to get dissolved in, a protective mechanism from our bodies. When more toxins get absorbed, our bodies then need to protect itself by producing more fat cells. It’s not a wonder that all of our ‘fatty’ organs like the brain, breast, liver and prostate are the most prevalent of cancers. It’s also why our obesity epidemic is so concerning, as it leads not only to diabetes, cardiovascular problems but also cancers and chronic illnesses.
2. Lack of Nutrients in our Food
The liver, kidneys, gallbladder and even our skin have the knowledge and the ability to detoxify - but it needs nutrients to do that and our food is devoid of nutrients. Soil depletion is a big concern. Pesticides and chemicals and unsustainable farming methods like monocrop farming are sucking the nutrients out of our soils. Our vegetables are only as nutritious as the soil that it is grown in. Our animals are being fed the same kind of feed depleted diet and so we have the same problem no matter what kind of ‘diet’ you’re following.
3. Imbalanced Diets
We now eat a very small variety of foods. One type of zucchini, one type of eggplant, one type of kale, chicken, beef, pork and if you ask what fish people eat, the answer is usually always, salmon. It’s not supposed to be like this. There are roughly a quarter million plant varieties for our consumption on the planet yet because of mass farming we are only planting less than 3 percent of these because it is more efficient for us to focus on one type and be good and growing that one type.
This limits the variety of colors and nutrients that our bodies will get. What’s worse, our society is obsessed with dieting, and even ‘good diets’ intended to promote health can be very limiting. Of course, there are times (like in a detox =) that we need to take out certain food groups that are creating inflammation or sensitivities but our society is now using these diets as a day to day lifestyle which can create deficiencies.
4. Too much energy spent on digestion
Energetically, we are using all our energy to digest our breakfast, lunch and dinner and we don’t have the energy left to detoxify. If you log how often you eat, you may be surprised to find that you’re probably always on digestion mode.
Food was what we were dependent on for survival. Our ancestors were naturally fasting while they were out hunting their next meal. During feasting, the body developed a way to maximise survival and optimise life by putting as much energy into digestion and then storing what you eat for energy use in the future. The body doesn’t know that the next meal is coming 2 or 3 hours later. Energetically, we shouldn’t be on digestion mode all the time.
1. Adopt Fasting Habits
Notice how a lot of the detox diets people create are based on juices, smoothies and soups? There’s some logic to that. Fasting is a good first step when planning your detox. You can do the intermittent fasting which typical requires 16 hours of fast (including sleep) and 8 hours of ‘feed’. Men, if you can, it’s better to reach the 18 hours of fast.
For those who are already doing 16:8, you could choose to do alternating days of liquid fast instead to change things up. For those who are diabetic or have very sensitive blood sugar levels and you can’t work up to that 16 hour fast, you can simply replace a meal with a shake or a soup.
Find something that works for your schedule and lifestyle. Also adopt a strict elimination diet of likely foods that cause stress, namely wheat, dairy, gluten, soy, for 2-3 weeks then slowly include one possible stressor one by one and see how your body responds. You can also consider doing a food intolerance test to figure out what foods are creating an immune response in your body.
2. Enhance Your Intestinal Flora
Take care of your intestinal flora and you will be taking care of your detoxification. The health of our microbiome is crucial in ensuring our toxins are excreted and to prevent new toxins from being reabsorbed. If you have a leaky gut, this allows bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream which can cause widespread inflammation and other autoimmune issues. So without taking care of our gut, no matter how healthy we eat, this will not matter.
How to enhance and heal our microbiome ?
- Avoid or eliminate processed foods and foods with preservatives
- Avoid or eliminate sugar
- An elimination diet : avoiding common food triggers like soy, dairy, wheat and gluten
- Eat the rainbow : variety will provide a greater variability of flora , also more nutrients that your liver needs will be available
- Take a probiotic and include fermented foods like natto, kimchi and sauerkraut. I would avoid yogurt at this stage unless you are making it yourself and you have no intolerance to dairy.
- Include gut lining healing foods like bone broths, collagen, aloe vera and healthy fats like avocados
- Include prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, leeks and artichokes to ensure probiotics keep recolonizing
Although our organs are designed to be able to detox on their own, our toxic load can be quite heavy and it would be beneficial to include some supplements to help our organs work optimally. It is however extremely important to choose quality supplements that do not contain fillers and other things like binders and colouring that will only add to your load.
Especially when it comes to supplementation it is wise to work with a knowledgeable healthcare provider that understands your body and can recommend which supplements to take. There are a lot of beneficial supplements, but you won’t need all of them, and the last thing you need is to overload your liver in breaking them down.
Here are a few suggested supplements to look into:
(e.g. dandelion, milk thistle, artichoke, fennel, turmeric)
Understand which organs may need extra boost and focus on those herbs that can help them. If you don’t know, going with liver supportive herbs will never go wrong.
And if you’re like me and always looking for convenience and coverage, then I would recommend the Flora Essence Herbal Tea that encompenses 8 herbs that work synergistically to support your major detox organs. I was personally on this tea during my rounds of chemotherapy back in the day and am so thankful to have it protect my body and organs while the chemo killed off all my other cells - both good and bad.
(e.g.garlic, oregano, goldenseal, honey)
The anti-microbials are more to help with cleansing your gut in case there are any parasites and worms lurking around.
If you suffer from digestive issues (like me!), including a good digestive enzyme to help aid your digestion will help ease off the load and allow energy to be placed in detoxifcation.
Again this one is for gut health. Getting the idea?😀 Go for a probiotic like Udo’s that is multi-strained. Diversity is key when it comes to our microflora.
(e.g. NAC, glutathione, Alpha lipoic acid, selenium, B complex, folate)
These nutrients can help fill in the gaps where our bodies are lacking to help ensure our detoxfication pathways are running smoothly. Just one deficiency in a nutrient can inhibit our detoxification. You may consider a multivitamin before and during your cleanse.
For those who are interested, you can do specific testing to see what nutrients you are lacking or even further and do a DNA test that shows which polymorphism you have that make it harder for you to break down certain chemicals.
Like me! I have a SNP (polymorphism) that makes it extremely hard for me to break down benzene gases and another SNP that makes it very difficult for me to detoxify - general. A double whammy! Knowing this, I make sure my home has a very good heavy duty air purifier as well as house plants and I supplement more heavily than others with nutrients like NAC, glutathione and milk thistle in order to help my body with the detoxification.
Having said all that, detoxifcation doesn’t need to be complicated, our bodies do it at the get go at birth. You can simply just eat cleaner, drink more water and take one supplement and you’ll already be better off.
You can also run deeper cleanses where you focus on enhancing different organs. What matters is doing something, even if it’s just one thing, to limit your toxins coming in and eliminate the toxins and move them out. Don’t let complex cleanses prevent you from starting.
Remember, we are bathing in toxins every day, so the earlier you start to clean up your habits the better off you’ll be and the less work you’ll need to do in the long run.