Spring has traditionally been recommended as the best season for an annual detox. As we watch the snow melting and new buds sprouting through the softened ground we think of new beginnings. We may have packed on a few winter pounds over the holidays that still haven’t left us. We may feel a little sluggish and slow after spending our time being huddled indoors. But we literally come out of hibernation…. evidenced by the flood of Torontonians out and about in shorts at the first sign of patio weather. As we prepare our homes for a fresh season, we can prepare our bodies too.
Detoxes get all kinds of publicity these days – good and bad. The bad is really unwarranted. The typical argument is that it’s not evidence based and our bodies don’t need to be “detoxed”. Frankly that is a bunch of BS. If you want evidence for “detoxification” pick up a physiology textbook!
Have you ever heard that you shouldn’t eat grapefruit when taking certain medications? It’s precisely because constituents found in grapefruit influence a group of enzymes in the liver, which results in an increase in the bioavailability of drugs in the blood stream, therefore altering clinical effects and toxicity. What does that mean? By ingesting certain substances, we know we can manipulate the body’s ability to metabolize and eliminate.
If you want evidence that our bodies are exposed to toxins every single day – think about our food supply (pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, arsenic, mercury…), air quality, water, cosmetics and personal care products (phthalates, formaldehyde, parabens….), alcohol and drug use etc. etc!
In fact, some of these toxins are so resilient that they become stored in our bodies for long periods of time and are passed to our offspring. A study conducted by The Environmental Working Group identified 287 industrial chemicals and pollutants in a group of 10 babies born in the United States in 2004. “Of the chemicals detected, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal test models” (http://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns/detailed-findings). A similar study was repeated in infants born in 2007 and 2008 with similar results (http://www.ewg.org/research/minority-cord-blood-report/bpa-and-other-cord-blood-pollutants). Since exposure to these substances begins even before birth, it seems prudent to me that we keep conscious around these issues and take at minimum a few weeks out of the year to give our bodies a break (from what’s avoidable) and encourage elimination, healthy cell turnover, and rest.
We have systems in our bodies that are built to eliminate unwanted substances that are either produced in our bodies, or ingested …our skin, lungs, kidneys, intestines, and my personal favourite – the liver, which filters nearly 2 litres of blood per minute! There are 2 parts to the liver’s detoxification process, Phase I and II. During these phases, our body carries out reactions that neutralize harmful substances and prepares them for removal. If these processes are not functioning at optimal levels; either because there is poor availability of required cofactors (necessary helpers in reactions), intake of certain medications, constipation, poor liver/kidney health, or an overload in toxin ingestion, then these systems get backed up and toxins (mostly fat soluble or fat “dissolvable”) become stored. Where? In our fat cells, a common reason for resistant weight loss, but that’s a whole other topic!
When detox plans, protocols, or products are prescribed the goal is to maximize elimination via these channels and minimize intake. Plans are extremely varied considering what foods or liquids are allowed and how many products or lifestyle recommendations are layered on. Buyers should look at products with a critical eye…since natural health care products aren’t regulated in the same way pharmaceutical drugs are – you can’t always be sure you’re buying a quality product that’s actually doing what it’s claimed to do.
When I prescribe a detox for my patients it is an individualized plan based on what their treatment goals are, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Dietary changes and homecare practices are always prescribed. I then choose specific herbs and nutraceuticals to target chosen pathways, processes and organ systems.
But here are some things you can do on your own to clean up your “house” for 10-21 days.
Consume lots of: Water (2-3L), veggies – especially green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (ex. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, bok choy…), nuts, seeds, legumes, organically farmed grass fed meats and poultry, wild fish low in mercury.
Choose organic produce, or follow the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15/Dirty Dozen rules (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/) which list the “dirtiest” or most heavily sprayed produce vs. the “cleanest”.
This should NOT be a starvation diet and the goal is to choose foods that will nourish you and optimize wellness, not to lose weight – which does tend to happen when you eliminate processed and refined foods and alcohol. So eat when you’re hungry and pack snacks to minimize those hunger pangs that can lead to poor choices at the local café.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of fibre so you’re movin’ those bowels at least once daily. Rest up to ensure your body has enough time to repair and regenerate. Exercise to promote healthy body composition, improve mood, reduce stress and boost energy.
Avoid the following: wheat and other gluten containing grains, dairy, soy, corn, conventionally farmed animal products, caffeine, sugar, alcohol and recreational drugs.
Breakfast: Blend together 1 large handful of spinach, 1 cup almond milk, ½ cup frozen blueberries, ½ frozen banana, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds, 1 tbsp chia seeds for a delicious smoothie
Snack: 1-2 tbsp hummus with cucumber slices and chopped carrots; green tea
Lunch: Large mixed salad (get creative – add grape tomatoes, roast eggplant, steamed asparagus….) with ½ an avocado, 2 tbsp EVOO 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Snack: 1 sliced apple, 1 tbsp almond butter and chamomile tea
Dinner: Baked chicken breast (garlic, fresh herbs), steamed green beans, roast sweet potato