“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 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: the liver, kidneys, digestive system, skin, and lungs all play a role in detoxification.
A compelling counterargument to this, though, is that our modern world is far more toxic than the human body is 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, 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:
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:
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.
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:
So, imagine you are at a café 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. In just one hour, you might consume more toxins than your grandparents did in a week, or even a month.
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:
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 what you eat. 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:
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 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.
Eating plenty of organic, colorful vegetables and detoxifying our home environment can help reduce our toxic exposure and provide our detox pathways 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.
Dr. Darshan Shah is a physician, surgeon, entrepreneur, and is considered by many to be the "Doctor of the Future." His passion is educating the public on the newest technologies in health & wellness and how to look and feel your best!