I get asked a lot about whether we should detox.
Is it a con?
Do we really need to detox?
Doesn’t our body do it naturally anyway?
The answer is …. complicated!
Yes, our bodies have built in detoxification systems to deal with our own internal waste products and environmental toxins – we would never have survived without them.
BUT the question is, were these systems ever designed to cope with the sheer amount of toxins we are exposed to today through;
- modern air pollution
- contaminated water
- fruit and vegetables laden with pesticides and fertilizers
- processed foods with artificial chemicals and additives
- alcohol, smoking & recreational drugs
- medications; painkillers, contraceptive pill, antacids, prescription drugs
- new chemicals in personal and household products – put on our skin or breathed in
- EMF’s (electro magnetic frequencies) from wi-fi, mobile and cordless phones
With modern technology, we have devised a huge number of new chemicals that we were never exposed to previously. According to the US Environment Protection Agency, there are more than 84,000 chemical substances listed on their inventory.
Individual chemicals are pronounced ‘safe’ by the authorities and are used liberally. However what we don’t know is the cumulative effect of so many chemicals in our system. This ‘chemical soup’ is a new and unknown quantity, and nobody really knows what it’s doing to us.
These chemicals are treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but shouldn’t it be the opposite? Guilty until proven innocent? I for one would feel a lot safer!
Our genes play a huge part in how well we detoxify and some people can tolerate a huge number of toxins with no apparent effects. However for many of us, these chemicals can cause huge disruption, especially and worryingly to our hormones.
A scientific statement issued by the USA Endocrine Society in 2009 expressed concern about a certain class of chemicals called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) and the grave health issues they can cause, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, PCOS, obesity, thyroid disease, and reproductive issues.
So do we need to DETOX?
Even though we can and do detoxify automatically every day, we do need to give our liver that extra support in the face of the onslaught of modern day toxins – something our bodies were never designed to cope with.
And don't forget that us women also have the added burden of having to detoxify our excess oestrogen. And if our liver is too backed up with other toxins, it can result in oestrogen hanging around too long and we end up ‘oestrogen dominant‘.
The right kind of detox support
Detox has become a huge money spinner with a zillion products on the shelves promising to clean us out and solve all our problems.
But you don’t need to live on cabbage soup and lemons to detox yourself!
All you need to do is to limit your exposure to the toxins, and support your own detoxification systems (your gut and liver)– you don’t need any fancy potions, starvation diets or complicated programmes.
Of course, we live in a bubble, we can’t avoid toxins completely – but we can do a lot to limit our exposure and help our liver along the way.
Eat and drink clean
- Switch to organic for your fruit, veg, meat, eggs and dairy – doing this will avoid the majority of petrochemicals, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones that non-organic foods can contain
- Avoid processed foods – these contain additives, preservatives, colours and other chemicals that never existed in our traditional diet. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient (or your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food!), then try and avoid it
- Avoid farmed fish where possible. They have been shown to contain more mercury and PCB’s than wild or line-caught fish
- Drink filtered water – this should remove any nasty chemicals that may be in your tap water (unless you live next to a mountain spring!)
Nourish your liver (and gut!)
- Eat more cruciferous veg – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, rocket, watercress, kale – these vegetables support the detoxification pathways in the liver
- Increase sulphur containing foods – eggs, garlic, onions – these also help your detox processes
- Eat more fibre – this helps with eliminating toxins through the bowel
- Eat more liver-supporting foods – coriander, parsley, rosemary, turmeric, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, beets, celery, fennel, garlic
- Drink green tea or herbal teas with licorice, fennel, dandelion, cinnamon, burdock root, cardamom or other herbs
- Limit alcohol, caffeine and sugar
- Sort out any constipation – if you can't get rid of the toxins, that's where you need to start!
- Water helps flush out toxins so make sure you are drinking enough
- Limit caffeine & alcohol as they can be de-hydrating
Avoid toxic products
- Swap to natural brands of household cleaning/laundry products, toiletries and cosmetics (check out this useful site for looking up cosmetic chemicals, and this one for some lovely natural brands)
- Particularly avoid anything with ‘fragrance' in it (perfume, air fresheners, toiletries) – these contain phthalates which can be hormone disrupting and carcinogenic. Swap to products containing natural fragrances like essential oils
- Avoid plastic food containers and water bottles. BPA is one of the main EDC’s and is mainly found in plastic as well as tin can linings. Swap to glass or stainless steel, and never heat plastic containers in the microwave (I love these glass water bottles).
- Swap to natural organic hair colourants (or consider going natural!)
- Avoid Teflon coated cookware. Swap to ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron
What else can you do?
- Epsom salt baths – I do go on about these, but the magnesium and sulphur help to mobilize circulation and waste and support the liver
- Get a sweat on! – sweating is one of the ways we eliminate toxins. Exercise and sauna’s are a great way to sweat it all out
- Massage, dry skin brushing, yoga, deep breathing – all great ways to improve circulation and elimination of waste through the lymphatic system
- Get a good night's sleep – recent research suggests that sleep is when the brain cleans out it's waste products – check out more tips on how to improve your sleep.
What about juice diets?
I love juicing when it's done right. There's nothing better than giving your body a huge dose of TLC – the nutrients from a fresh vegetable juice go straight into your cells for a big nourishment hit. Your digestion also gets a bit of a break too – it doesn't have to do much work, so you are likely to feel much more energetic. And great if you have any digestion problems.
BUT, juices don't contain any fibre, protein or fat. You need all of these for your liver and gut to work efficiently, and for absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K.
So if you are doing a juice only programme, make sure you are adding in some protein (protein powder, nuts, seeds) and some healthy fat (avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut oil/milk).
You can juice the vegetables, then put them in the blender with your other ingredients to make a super nutritious juice based smoothie.
So my view is that supporting your own detox process is absolutely essential in this modern world. Ignore it at your peril!
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US Environment & Protection Agency. TSCA Chemical Substances inventory; http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/tscainventory/basic.html
Goldman LR. Managing pesticide chronic health risks: U.S. policies. J Agromedicine. 2007;12(1): 67-75.
Body Burden, Environmental Working Group, 2005.