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Why detox is essential to optimal health, and how to support it
“Detoxing” is the wellness trend-du-jour. From detox foot pads, to colon hydrotherapy, to juice cleanses, the health and weight loss industry is cashing in on our fears of what this increasingly toxic environment is doing to our health.
But are all these detox diets, potions, pills, and protocols money well-spent, or are we all just buying snake oil?
Many argue that “detoxing”--by way of diet, fast, supplements, or other therapies--is flat out unnecessary. Why? Because your body is adept at detoxing itself. In fact, it has numerous systems and processes by which it does so: liver functions, kidneys, digestive system, immune system, skin, and lungs all play a role in detoxification.
A compelling counterargument to this, though, is that our modern world has far too much toxic buildup than the human body evolved to handle. In other words, our food, water, and air inundate us every day with a harmful chemical load that may surpass what our detox systems can manage.
Bottom line: we live in a world with an unprecedented level of toxins with their side effects, and how efficiently and effectively our bodies filter out these toxins makes all the difference to our health and vitality.
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is your body’s way of eliminating unnecessary, often harmful, toxins and waste. There are many “detox pathways” through which your body eliminates these substances:
-Liver. Your liver is one of the hardest working detox organs in your body. It filters your blood, metabolizes alcohol and medications, produces the bile necessary to break down fat and cholesterol, breaks down hormones, and stores essential vitamins and minerals.
-Digestive System. Extracts essential vitamins and minerals from the food you eat and eliminates toxins and waste through stool.
-Skin is the largest organ in the body. It can act like a sponge for environmental pollutants but also plays an important role in detoxification through the process of sweating.
-Kidneys regulate mineral and pH balances in the body, filter the blood, and eliminate waste products through urine.
What are toxins?
Anything that interferes with homeostasis and affects the body’s ability to function optimally can be considered a toxin. Here are some common toxins we encounter in modern living:
Heavy metals like mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic, and cadmium.
Chemicals used in industrial manufacturing, farming, cleaning products, skincare and makeup, and plastic storage containers.
Air pollution due to urban exhaust fumes, factory and agriculture emissions, cigarettes, and jet fuel.
Mold produces mycotoxins that can be toxic in high or chronic exposure.
Drugs, alcohol, and medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, antibiotics, birth control, and vaccines.
Food additives like preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners, and flavor enhancers (MSG).
Bacteria, fungus, and yeast. While these are important components of the body’s ecosystem, they can become unbalanced and produce toxic byproducts.
Certain foods can become toxins if you have a sensitivity or allergy to them, especially common allergens like gluten, soy, dairy, etc.
Chronic stress and emotional trauma can act as a toxin in the body by disrupting the endocrine system, creating inflammation, and contributing to imbalances in the microbiome.
Almost every aspect of our daily lives--our air, water, food, cleaning supplies, home decor, cosmetics/personal care products--exposes us to these unnatural and potentially harmful chemicals.
Why is detoxification so important?
Even if you don’t live in an urban environment, near industrial factories, or in an agricultural region, you may still be exposed to their contaminants and in need of a detoxification program.
Industrial pollutants leach into the soil, water, and air, where they can travel through waterways and jetstreams and reach destinations thousands of miles from their origin. In fact, industrial chemicals, like PFAs which are used in a variety of commercial products, have become so pervasive throughout our global environment, they have been detected in the arctic and are attributed to causing brain damage in polar bears.
Just as our economy has become global, so too has our environmental pollution.
The Environmental Working Group--a non-profit organization committed to protecting human health and the environment--conducts extensive research and studies on the prevalence and health-effects of toxins. Here are some of their findings:
- Public water supplies serving more than two-thirds of the population contain unsafe levels of cancer-causing chromium-6
- The controversial weed-killer, glyphosate, was detected in all 28 samples tested of cereals made with conventionally grown oats (Cheerios, Quaker Oats, etc)
- There are 10,500 ingredients used in cosmetics, many of them chemical
- Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues
So, imagine you are at a cafe having lunch. You score a little table on the sidewalk patio and order a seared ahi salad and a glass of water. Over the course of that lunch, you will likely consume pesticides from the lettuce, mercury from the tuna, industrial contaminants from the water, exhaust fumes from passing cars, and, perhaps, second hand smoke from pedestrians. This is all without a disclaimer on any of the food packages. In just one hour, you might consume more toxins than your grandparents did in a week, or even a month. This makes getting the proper health benefits, such as hydration, from our food and drinks is difficult due to the fact that they are engulfed in harmful substances.
Now imagine a cup sitting under a leaky faucet. Every drip from that faucet into the cup represents a toxin going into your body: pesticides, one drop, mercury, one drop, water contaminants, one drop, and so on. Until, the drops eventually overflow your cup…
When your body’s detox pathways can’t eliminate toxins as fast as they come in, the toxins accumulate within tissues, organs, and fat cells until they eventually “overflow the cup”. This is toxic overload--the point at which the toxic burden impairs the healthy functioning of your organs and systems.
Toxic overload is associated with many health problems including autoimmune disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Symptoms of toxic overload
Just fifty years ago, it was estimated that 1 in 5,000 people suffered from an autoimmune condition. Today that number is closer to 1 in 5.
Autoimmunity is complex and likely results from a combination of factors, but there is strong indication that toxins play a role in the development of autoimmune conditions. Many symptoms of toxic overload and autoimmunity are, after all, one in the same:
- Low energy/ fatigue
- Brain fog
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestive symptoms: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas
- Joint pain/muscle pain
- Allergies/sinus problems
- Unexplained weight gain / weight-loss resistance
- Skin problems: acne, rashes, eczema
- Hormonal imbalances
- Dark under-eye circles/puffy eyes
What can you do to support detoxification?
Don’t let the voodoo detoxes out there deter you completely. There are many scientifically proven ways to support your body’s own detoxification systems and ensure your detox pathways are functioning optimally.
While you don’t have complete control over many environmental factors, like air quality or water contamination, you do have control over your dietary consumption. Supporting your gut health and eating foods that promote detoxification is a powerful way to combat toxic exposure.
It is important to eat organic whenever possible to minimize exposure to harmful pesticides. The fewer chemicals you ingest, the fewer your body has to eliminate.
Fiber and antioxidants are essential to detoxification. Leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables are naturally high in both fiber and antioxidants, which help your body to flush out toxins and combat free radicals.
Sulfur-containing vegetables, like cruciferous veggies, onions, and garlic, have been shown to support elimination of heavy metals like cadmium. Certain herbs, like Cilantro, have also been shown to enhance chelation of heavy metals and promote detoxification within the body.
Prebiotic and probiotic foods like sauerkraut, chicory root, and whole grains, can help restore and rebalance the gut microbiome, the helpful bacteria that live in our digestive tract and promote good digestion and gut health.
Of course, you also want to limit sugar, processed foods, and alcohol, which can stress and damage the organs and systems essential to detoxification. High sugar and/or alcohol intake, for example, have been linked to fatty liver disease which impairs the liver’s ability to function properly. And, as you recall, the liver is one of the most essential detox organs in the body.
Lifestyle & Home
Our indoor environments may be more toxic than the air pollution we breathe outside. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of some pollutants are two to five times higher indoors than typical outdoor levels. And, with the average American spending 90 percent of their time indoors, it becomes apparent why detoxifying your home is essential. Here are a few tips:
- Filter your air by placing quality HEPA air filters in common areas and bedrooms
- Vacuum regularly
- Eliminate plastic storage containers which contain endocrine-disrupting toxins like bisphenol A (BPA). Use glass or silicone instead.
- Use natural cleaning products
- Detoxify your skincare and cosmetics which are highly unregulated and can be full of harmful chemicals
Developing a consistent exercise routine or utilizing saunas is a great way to cleanse the body of toxins like lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and BPA. Deep sweating is one of the oldest forms of detoxification, as evidenced by sweat lodges found in most traditional cultures. With infrared saunas, you can enjoy the benefits of safe, extended detoxification through sweating without the uncomfortable high-heat of a traditional sauna.
Supplements & Therapies
Do to modern agriculture and mineral-depleted soil, many of our foods just aren’t at nutrient-dense as they once were. And given the sheer volume of our toxic substance exposure, even the best detox-promoting diet and lifestyle can sometimes fall short in combating toxic overwhelm.
There are many supplements and therapies specifically formulated to support the body’s detoxification systems. Antioxidants like curcumin and glutathione, for example, are touted for their ability to enhance liver and immune function, combat free radicals, and bind to toxins.
Glutathione and many other vitamins and minerals with targeted detoxification properties, are also available as an IV therapy. The Detox IV at Next|Health is specially formulated with taurine, folic acid (folate), vitamin B12, theanine, magnesium, B complex, and vitamin D.
Learn Your Genetic Risk Factors
There are some genetic mutations, like MTHFR, that can interfere with your body’s ability to detox efficiently. If you suffer from symptoms of toxic overload, you may want to test for these genetic risk factors so that you can compensate with supplements or lifestyle interventions to better support these detox pathways.
The Bottom Line
The human body today faces an unprecedented volume of toxins, the long-term health effects of which are yet to be understood. But, if rising rates of autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses are any indication, there is certainly cause for concern.
We are not separate from our environment. As the environment becomes increasingly polluted, the toxic burden on our bodies increases as well. This is why it is so important to support our detox organs and systems, like our liver and digestion/intestinal health.
Eating plenty of organic, colorful vegetables and detoxifying our home environment can help reduce our toxicity exposure and provide a detox program to our pathways to help with the necessary phytonutrients to eliminate toxins and fight free radicals.
Incorporating targeted supplements and therapies, like curcumin, glutathione, and infrared saunas can help fill in where diet and lifestyle leave off to optimize our detoxification processes and have healthier lives without constant trips to our healthcare providers.