The Truth About Detox (Part 1)

 
 
 

There is so much noise about detox diets and nutrition cleanses - do they really work? Does our body even detoxify? Is it all a load of crap and one big marketing scheme?!

While the specifics of detox diets vary, many of the fasts, raw food diets and juice cleanses I’ve seen do not address how the food (or lack of food) affects the body’s ability to detoxify on a functional level.

The secret to a good detox is to understand our body’s natural detoxification processes. When we do this it is much easier to make lifestyle and food choices that compliment those pathways so that we can then tap into our innate ability to cleanse and heal.

This article: “The truth About detox - Part 1” covers:

  • What are ‘toxins’ and where do they come from?

  • How does my body detox?

  • Do I need to detox?

  • The first steps to detoxing (... and what most people miss)

“The truth about detox - part 2” will dive further into specifics on functional foods and practices that support the body’s natural detox pathways.

Once you understand these main concepts and  - you are equipped with tools and knowledge to make the choice of what is right for you and your body!


What are “toxins” and where do they come from?

The word toxin is used to describe any harmful substance that we come into contact with. We typically think of toxins as foreign compounds - from pollution, contaminated drinking water, inorganic produce, plastics and metals.

But this is not the only thing that our bodies detoxify.

Detoxification is the process where harmful substances are transformed into less harmful ones so that they can safely leave the body. While toxins are mainly from external source, there are many compounds that are internally produced that also need to be detoxified.

In short - compounds our bodies need to detoxify come from:

External sources. Some examples include inorganic produce, contaminated drinking water, pollution, heavy metals and so on (more on reducing your exposure below).

Internal sources. For example, products of normal metabolism like carbon dioxide and lactic acid, hormones and neurotransmitters. Lifestyle and diet can also affect the body’s production of harmful compounds - including unchecked stress levels and an inflammatory diet. Although they’re not what we typically think of as ‘toxins’, it is important to realize that our bodies still need to process and eliminate them.

How does my body detox?

Our body is incredibly good at healing itself - its main job is to maintain balance and is constantly self correcting. For example, the body is constantly regulating its own temperature and circulates oxygen to all of our cells. Similarly (and luckily), our body detoxifies without us having to think about it.

The following graphic show the overview of detoxification …

 
 
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Toxins enter the body through our lungs, skin and digestive tract. As described above they can also be produced inside of our cells like hormones and carbon dioxide.
The liver is the main hub for processing these toxins, which are then eliminated by our skin (via sweat and sloughed cells), kidneys (via urine), gut (via poop) and lungs (via breath).

Do I need to detox?

We are always detoxifying - whether we’re actively thinking about it, or not …

A great analogy is thinking of the body like a bucket of water with a spout on the bottom

  • The water = ‘toxins’

  • The bucket represents our body

  • The spout represents our detox pathways

If water keeps coming into our bucket faster than the spout can work - it becomes too heavy to carry and starts spilling water over the top. This overflow represents symptoms that are often associated with a sluggish detox pathway:

  • White / yellow tongue or bad breath

  • Fluid retention, congestion

  • Bloating

  • Weight loss resistance

  • Fatigue and unrelieved by sleep

  • Insomnia

  • Chemical sensitivities

Usually these symptoms don’t happen in isolation and are often a result of a combination of lifestyle, diet and genetics.

The first step to detoxing

… and what most people miss

Most people are so focused on the nutrients and detox method - that they often forget the most important thing (!) - to reduce the amount of toxins are coming into their bodies - aka the items that fill up their ‘bucket’.

It is important to consistently support your body’s innate ability to detoxify. This means limiting your toxic inputs while also optimizing the outflow.

Think about your consumption how ‘clean’ your consumption is - pesticides, chemicals, plastics and even compounds found in beauty products can be helpful or harmful - depending on our choices.

There’s no reason to stress out over this - use it as an opportunity to educate yourself and to start making more informed choices!

How to Reduce your exposure to common ‘toxins’:

Reducing your exposure is your first step in detoxing. Think about your consumption of the following products as you move around your house. Is it possible to find healthy alternatives?

Clean water - the standards for ‘safe’ drinking water vary throughout the country and its best to filter your tap water before you drink it. I recommend a Berkey filter or a reverse osmosis unit.


Clean beauty - aluminum free deodorant, clean makeup, sunscreen, soap, nail polish. Think about the products that you put on your body (actually - the compounds from skincare products are never processed by your liver and go straight to stored in your fat cells). Here’s the link for the EPA’s guide to clean beauty - Skin Deep.

Produce - choose organic when possible. If you need to choose between organic and conventional produce, follow the EPA’s clean 15 / dirty dozen guide to help you decide.

Plastics - reduce your use of plastics. Buy glass or BPA-free containers and avoid plastic drinking bottles (glass or stainless steel are the best!)

Household cleaning products - can be extremely contaminated. Look for better brands. I like this Think Dirty App - you can scan common household products and it helps rate your choices.

Alcohol - watch your alcohol intake. If you’re looking to detox, I would eliminate this completely. If this seems crazy and you just want to reduce your load - aim for no more than four drinks per week.


“The truth about detox - part 2” will dive further into specifics on functional foods and practices that support the body’s natural detox pathways.