Put aside what you know or think about the nutritional detox, just for a bit, so we can take a deeper look at what it actually is. It’s confusing for many. Conflicting information abounds and it knocks at a pandoras box that might be holding body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or a general displeasure with abstinence.
I hear two distinct opinions about the “detox” and they are completely opposite. One camp says, detox cleanses are great, the other group says they are bogus. Which is it? My goal is to clarify the answer, to guide you to look at your own toxic load comparatively to your nutritional quality, and make educated adjustments. My answer in short is this: it’s complicated.
The body has a built in detoxification system, mainly in the liver. We already detoxify naturally, but we may be getting in our own way. As all body guides suggest, toxins can build up in the body, contributing to wide variety of illnesses. Stress, too little or too much exercise, junk food, lack of sleep, use of personal care products, food intolerances, digestive problems, caffeine/alcohol consumption, lack of quality nutrition, and simply living in our toxic environment all contribute to a heavy toxic load.
Follow your day, starting from the moment you wake. What did you wash your sheets in? What is the first thing you ingest? Every item you use, tooth paste, soaps, lotions, hair products, makeup, clothing choices, foods, what containers hold your food/drink/products, and then what environment do you find yourself in? A bustling city with heavy pollution or the country side? Neither are untouched by commercial chemicals and pollutants. How much internal and external stress do you have each day?
Our bodies are becoming increasingly more burdened by the toxic environment and lack highly vital nutrients that are necessary to help clear our system of these chemicals. There are now over 85,000 chemicals currently in production and few have been tested for hazards to human health (www.EWG.org). What the long reaching effect of these and the combination of other chemicals, is largely unknown. Yet, a recent study just published in the International Journal of Toxicology said, “Glyphosate Commercial Formulation Causes Cytotoxicity, Oxidative Effects, and Apoptosis on Human Cells: Differences With its Active Ingredient,” and is what most of us already surmised: Roundup, used heavily in commercial food production and it’s ingredient Glyphosate is killing us in small doses, especially mixed with other chemicals.
Toxic chemicals can have toxic effects through a variety of mechanisms. For example, some chemicals damage or kills cells and tissues in the body. Specifically, some affect the genetic material in the nucleus of a cell, causing damage directly to the DNA, which may create an inheritable defect that is passed on to the next generation. This can lead to gene mutations, which can set in motion a sequence of events leading to cancer, birth defects, developmental or reproductive disorders.
Cancer causing chemicals are called carcinogens. Chemicals that cause birth defects are called teratogens. Those that damage the normal development of the fetus, infant, or child, also damage our reproductive tissues, and are called developmental/reproductive toxicants. Some chemicals can cause damage through their ability to interfere with normal hormone function, and those are called endocrine disrupters.
Many toxins are destructive across all cellular functions and you are likely ingesting many of them on a daily basis. Serious dietary deficiencies or imbalances are the direct cause of health decline. This decline persists because of the standard American diet (SAD) and leaves us over fed and dangerously under nourished. Chronic health problems are rooted in biochemical imbalances as a result of inadequate nutrition and a toxic burden on the body. According to Roger Williams, Ph.D,. in his book Biochemical Individuality, “The pathways of degeneration are infinitely complex and vary greatly from person to person. Metabolic processes can go awry leading to subclinical health problems that eventually evolve to full degenerative disease processes.”
The following is the order of health decline that starts with improper nutrient balance, and ends in chronic disease:
Further impaired cellular and organ metabolism
Inability to repair and rebuild body tissue
Organ, gland, and systemic dysfunction
Source, Clinical Nutrition; A Functional Approach by: Liska, PhD, et al.
“Reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents is a critical area of intervention for obstetricians, gynecologists, and other reproductive healthcare professionals. Patients exposure to toxic environmental chemicals and other stressors is ubiquitous. Preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course.” ~American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Most detox programs may actually increase the amount of toxins released into the system, which causes more harm than good, instead of optimizing the body’s processes of eliminating them. Why is this? There are two phases of the liver detoxification process. (EDIT: Now often considered three phases with the third being elimination.) The first phase releases toxins from the fat stores within the body and suspends them within the system. Most detoxification plans emphasize this phase, but fall painfully short. If you have experimented with them, they are often very uncomfortable. This is not only due to the lack of foods resulting in hunger, but this in combination with a higher level of toxins suspended into the system.
The second phase of detoxification moves to process and eliminate the toxins out of the body. Detoxification moves from fat to water soluble. Toxins are free radicals, and a quality assortment of antioxidants are necessary as well as other vital nutrients to ensure that phase one and phase two of the detoxification process are working in sync. If one of the phases is not in harmony with the other, then toxins may build to a higher level into the system, causing a chain reaction of cellular destruction.
Free radicals are formed when molecular bonds split in a way that leaves a molecule with an odd, unpaired electron. It becomes unstable and reacts with other compounds to get the needed electron to become stable. Generally, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule, taking it’s electron. When the attacked molecule loses it’s electron, it becomes a free radical itself. This creates a chain reaction that may disrupt a living cell. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, by donating an electron. The best antioxidants comes from vital organic whole food vegetables and fruits, but this might not be enough.
Place focus on successfully decreasing the toxic exposure while at the same time optimizing the toxicant removal. This requires a high level of quality nutrition.
What is your body burden? Any molecule that is foreign to a living organism, ingested through digestion, respiration, or skin, is called a xenobiotic. Getting exposed to these disrupts the living cells. Most of us are getting exposed to these harmful substances through:
Prescription and OTC Drugs
Illegal or Recreational Drugs
Food Additives, Flavor Enhancers, Dyes, and Coloring Agents
Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides
Alcohols – Ethanol (Beverages), Paint Removers, and Solvents
Volatile Organic Compounds Formaldehyde, Vinyl Chloride, etc. from Building Materials, and Furnishings
Toxic and Heavy Metals
Personal Care Products
Pick your poisons carefully!
Alternatively, there are ample products at the local health food store that can replace your favorite standbys. The Environmental Working Group has phenomenal educational resources on their website (www.EWG.org), to help navigate through your purchases and stay up on the latest research.
The main goal of a long term sustainable healthy lifestyle should be to lower internal and external toxins, while at the same time increasing nutrition through the consumption of whole foods, mindful use of specific supplements, and improved digestion.
Foods and supplements that can specifically help improve overall synchronization of the two phases of detoxification are:
Thiol foods; garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and all other cruciferous vegetables
Milk Thistle (standardized)
Source, Clinical Nutrition; A Functional Approach by: Liska, PhD, et al.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant that revitalizes and regenerates all other antioxidants. It would be a helpful addition for some. Milk Thistle is inherently an antioxidant as well, and research has shown that combining these two supplements, can greatly improve liver detoxification and liver repair. This helps your body’s natural detoxification process, at it’s source.
There are many other supplements, but these listed are generally safe for most people in this context. You can add pureed vegetable soups, smoothies, and green juices to your daily whole food meals to increase your absorption and assimilation of vital nutrients, thereby improving detoxification, safely. The chemicals did not get into your system overnight, or even over a 10 day period, so it would not necessarily be safe to eliminate them rapidly. A slow systematic approach as a lifestyle is far safer, and in the long term more effective. Please check with your health care provider before adding any supplements or changes to your diet. Adding any of these supplements without checking with your doctor can interfere with some medications.