There is a lot of talk about “detoxing”, and many different ideas as to what constitutes a “detox” but what exactly is it, how do you do it, and do you actually need to do it?
WHAT IS A DETOX?
Detox is short for detoxification, which is the process of removing toxic substances from the body. This article is not discussing detoxification of drugs or alcohol, but rather a build up of environmental toxins, the toxins that we consume and absorb and ones that our body produces.
WHY DO WE NEED TO DO A DETOX – DOESN’T OUR BODY DETOX ALL THE TIME?
Our body has many ways to eliminate the build up of toxic substances, through the liver, kidneys, skin, lungs and lymphatic system. The process of detoxification is a continual one, but more and more we are exposed to toxins through our food supply and environment. We are eating many toxins in the form of food additives, preservatives, pesticides and other chemicals. Chlorine and fluoride are being absorbed through our skin when we shower and ingested if we drink tap water. We are surrounded by pollution in the air from car exhaust fumes, chemicals in our home and work. Because of this huge increase in the amount of toxins in our lives the body is put under much more pressure to eliminate them and at times can struggle to keep up with the amount of detoxification it needs to do.
So it is a good idea to give your body a rest every now and then and help it along the path of detoxification.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED TO DETOX?
It is a good idea to do a detox at least once a year, to give your body a rest and as a preventative measure against disease.
Symptoms of a toxin build up in our body can include:
- Feeling sluggish
- Poor digestion
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Irregular bowel motions
- Skin eruptions
- Poor concentration and memory
- Weight gain
- Joint pain
ISN’T A DETOX JUST DRINKING JUICES?
There are many detox diets available but it isn’t necessary to starve yourself and live on vegetable juices for 2 weeks to successfully detoxify your body. In fact, juice and smoothy detox diets are not a good way to detox because it is essential to include protein, which plays an important role in detoxing the liver.
The idea is to eliminate your exposure to as many toxins as possible and to eat healthy, nutrient dense, easy to digest food to give your body a rest.
HOW DO I DETOX
There are varying levels of detoxifying that you can do. For someone who doesn’t have any gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea or who doesn’t feel particularly lethargic or foggy in the head, you could just skip the first 2 stages and go onto stage 3. This would be suitable for someone who just wants to remain healthy and give themselves a little pick-me-up.
On the other hand, if you are suffering from some of these symptoms, it would be a good idea to follow all 3 stages.
These are the 3 stages to a successful detoxification program.
The first stage is to eliminate any bad bacteria and parasites in the digestive system. These microbes can cause a lot of inflammation and damage in the intestinal tract as they release their waste and toxins. Herbs such as Wormwood, Phellodendron, Myrrh, Oregano, Garlic, Clove oil and Black Walnut are all great anti bacterial/parasitic herbs. How long you need to stay on these herbs depends on what type of symptoms you have and the severity of the symptoms. If you suffer from bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea or are feeling lethargic and lacking concentration there is a good chance you have a lot of these nasty microbes, so you may need to remain on the herbs for a longer period. Generally speaking a minimum of 2-4 weeks on these herbs is recommended.
The second stage is to replenish your body’s supply of the good bacteria. Like weeds in a garden, the nasty microbes tend to take over the intestinal tract and push out the good bacteria. These good bacteria can be replenished by taking a quality, broad spectrum probiotic.
The third stage consists of taking the load off the detoxification organs of your body by eliminating foods that increase this toxic load and increasing the amount of fresh, healthy, nutrient dense food. This stage is actually best started at the beginning and continued throughout your detox, because a lot of the processed foods that we eat actually feed the bad bacteria and parasites that are causing us so many problems. If we can eliminate these foods early in the detox it will help to starve out these bad pathogens.
What foods do I avoid?
- All forms of sugar – cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, artificial sweeteners etc.
- Eliminate fruit juice, fresh or bottled.
- Any processed foods, including cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread, packet sauces etc.
- Milk products. Organic butter, ghee and natural yogurt are fine if you tolerate dairy products
- Grains – wheat, rice, barley oats etc. (Grains release toxins that inhibit digestion, damage the gut lining and bind to certain essential minerals)
- Barbequed or char grilled meats or vegetables
- Tap water
- Wherever possible, use natural house cleaners and personal care products
Do I eat raw or cooked foods?
If you have digestive issues, it is best to focus on eating cooked foods that are easy to digest like soups and slow cooked casseroles, in particular protein which is harder to bread down than vegetables and fruit
If your digestive system is strong, incorporate both raw foods in the form of salads and cooked foods like soups and slow cooked casseroles. The raw foods are higher in nutrition and contain enzymes to help break them down and the cooked food allows the digestive system a bit of a well earned rest.
What foods do I eat?
- Eat whole organic foods. If it comes in a packet, it is not a whole food
- Plenty of fresh, organic vegetables. Lots of coloured vegetables and green leafy ones
- 1 – 2 pieces of fruit per day. Include more of the colourful fruit like citrus and berries. Fructose is broken down by the liver, and excessive consumption can put pressure on the liver.
- A small to medium serving of quality protein with each meal. This can include organic eggs and wild caught fish, which are easier to digest, organic chicken and 1-2 times a week organic, grass fed beef or lamb. Slow cook the meat and chicken for easier digestion.
- Include organic raw nuts and seeds that have been soaked overnight for easier digestion
- Make dairy free pesto from basil, parsley, coriander
- Coconut oil for cooking and Olive oil for salads
- Start the day with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon in some warm filtered water, ½ before eating breakfast
- Include 1-2 fresh organic vegetable juices every day – beetroot, carrot, cucumber, celery and spices like ginger and turmeric. I like to juice the vegetables because you can fit in a lot more compared to smoothies. If you have a good juicer, then most of the nutrients are retained in the juice. I then add back a little of the fibre and put the juice into a blender with a handful of organic berries, a handful of spinach and the ginger and turmeric. Adding 1-2 teaspoons of Spirulina is also very beneficial for detoxing and alkalising. Just be careful not to overdo it, or it can overpower the taste of the juice.
- Breakfast could be 1 or 2 eggs with some wilted spinach, avocado, mushrooms or tomatoes lightly fried in coconut oil.
- Snacks could be pesto with some cucumber slices to dip and/or the vegetable juice
- Lunch could be a slow cooked casserole, mainly consisting of vegetables with a small amount of meat.
- For dinner, another slow cooked meal with the emphasis on the vegetables.
- Make sure you are eating slowly, chewing thoroughly and not overeating at each meal. This all helps with digestion
- Drink 2 teaspoons of a quality, organic Apple Cider Vinegar diluted in a little water before each meal to aid with digestion and to help alkalise your body.
Other than food, how can I detoxify?
- Exercise is a great way to detoxify your body. Choose exercise that works up a sweat and gets your heart and lungs working
- Saunas are also a great way to detoxify. You skin is the largest detoxification organ of your body
- Body brush. Buy a skin brush made from natural fibre. Always rub your skin towards your heart, so start from the bottom of your legs and work your way up your legs. Then rub from the wrist towards the shoulder and up your torso. Body brushing detoxifies the body by helping the lymphatic system release toxins. Watch this YouTube video on how to body brush. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ANy_2xWLAo
- Deep breathing and meditation. Detoxing your mind is just as important as detoxing your body. Stress causes chemical reactions in the body that increase the toxic load, so de-stress as much as possible.
- Taking a quality St. Mary’s Thistle tablet will help your liver to cope with detoxifying.
While you are following this detoxification diet, your body will be releasing stored toxins, so it is important to include an antioxidant like Vitamin C to help mop up all those free radicals. Take 2 – 3 grams of a buffered Vitamin C spread throughout the day in 250mg doses. If this amount gives you diarrhoea, just reduce the dose.
If you have a lot of toxins stored in your body, you can get some side effects from detoxifying. Some people can get headaches, feel nauseous, get altered bowel motions, or feel foggy in the head. These symptoms should only last for a couple of days so persevere. You can increase your dose of Vitamin C to help alleviate any side effects.
For your first detox, it is a good idea to seek professional help to guide you through. Once you have done your first detox, do one every 6 months to a year to maintain good health.
Detoxing is not recommended if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a chronic health condition or are a child.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705