I you’re still wanting to sneak in a Summer Detox, here are some suggestions from me on how to do it easier and more effectively.
This is a fairly long read but worth it, so I hope you can stick with me…
There’s a lot of talk about detoxification at this time of year. In my experience often when people talk about doing a “detox”, what they really mean is they want to lose weight. Its important to note that the approach for these two things can be very different depending on the individual situation, although there is usually some weight loss with detoxification and detoxification with weight loss (I’ll explain this further in a minute). I’ve done juice fasts in the past and I know many others who have done them, and I don’t actually believe that these are the best way to detoxify for most people, particularly over long periods. I don’t believe they are sustainable, or that they are ultimately effective for detoxification. I know there are people who swear by them, and I do think they can be ok if done for just a few days, however for many people they can cause more harm than good. This is largely because they can prevent weight loss as well as increase toxicity in your body (keep reading and I’ll explain).
First lets talk about what detoxification is. It’s important to note that we naturally “detoxify” every single day. It is the role of our liver primarily to be constantly working on eliminating toxins from our bodies (our kidneys, gut and skin are also involved). These “toxins” can be anything from medication and harmful chemicals including pesticides, gases, petro chemicals, coffee, alcohol, sugar, artificial colours and flavours, heavy metals and even herbal remedies and essential oils (especially if you take them internally). If our liver isn’t working effectively we can have symptoms such as hormonal issues including PMS and thyroid problems, skin problems, allergies, intolerances, joint pain, gut issues, insomnia, fertility problems, constant fatigue, irritability, depression or other mental health problems. Additionally individual responses to toxin exposure can vary a lot due to genetics, age, diet and lifestyle, immune response and other factors. Enhancing our NATURAL detoxification capacity, along with reducing our overall exposure to toxins through diet and lifestyle changes should always be the first defence and action. The role of doing a detox programme over a period of time is to give our livers (and bodies) some extra help in flushing out toxins, by firstly reducing our intake of toxins so that our liver can focus on what’s already in our system, as well as giving all of our organs a bit of a break and some TLC. As a Nutritionist and Building Biologist I will recommend a tailored and integrated detox programme in certain situations such as someone presenting with heavy metal toxicity, severe PMS, fertility problems, other hormonal issues, immune or auto immune problems, major digestive issues etc.
Modern life presents a challenge in relation to toxins /chemicals. Its estimated that there are well in excess of 38,000 chemicals used in Australia (NICNAS, 2008). These chemicals have been found in every part of the world including Antarctica, so there’s no escaping them. In particular persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) are a problem. These are chemicals such as phthalates, found in pesticides, chlorinated phenols and hydrocarbons. They are called POP’s because they persist in the environment and bio-accumulate between species including in our bodies. They are linked to many diseases including learning difficulties, altered puberty, immune disturbances, fertility problems, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, dementia and Parkinson’s. Most POP’s are lipophilic (fat loving – they get stored in our fat). One of the benefits of detoxification is fat loss, and as we release fat stores we also release toxins into our circulation. Studies have shown that during fat release, levels of some chemicals increase, and also co-insides with a reduction in metabolic rate (which can reduce weight loss). It is believed that this is why many people may experience plateaus, non-compliance and weight rebound after initial weight loss. The type of inflammation and oxidative stress created in our bodies from this hinders the weight loss (this is where the term Obsestrogen in reference to these chemicals came from).
In basic terms the liver turns toxins into water-soluble molecules that can be removed from our bodies, so any health issues that affect the liver as well as skin, gut and kidneys can effect how effectively our body detoxifies. As you lose fat and release toxins stored in fat cells, the toxins should make their way to your liver to be detoxified and eliminated from your body. If the weight loss happens very quickly and you’re not getting the nutrients you need for effective liver detoxification then these toxins can end up recirculating in your body and you will put the fat back on in order to store these toxins. This is the vicious circle that many people get on with liquid detoxification – you feel great with the initial weight loss but it does come back, and then a few months later you’re feeling like you need to detoxify again. Many juice programmes are missing important nutrients such as protein (amino acids), B Vitamins, Fibre to help with elimination of toxins, some of the antioxidants needed to neutralise free radials produced as a result of detoxification e.g. Selenium, Glutathione is essential for detoxification and something we naturally produce (you can also take it supplementally) but it can be depleted quickly due to lack of certain nutrients and stress. Additionally there are very few programmes that educate people properly around reducing taking toxins into our bodies from the environment and food, which further adds to the vicious circle of detoxification. So whilst weight loss gives us a good opportunity to capture toxins and eliminate them before they become re-stored, unfortunately our livers cant always deal with this and in the process these re-circulating chemicals can do more damage to our bodies.
Additionally, there may be other issues that prevent effective detoxification. For example if you have poor gut function, you have high exposure to POP’s or heavy metals amongst other issues which most detox and weight loss programmes don’t address. For example our gut is a very important defence in acting as a barrier for toxins entering our circulation as well as being an important part of elimination of toxins. So if the gut is not working effectively then a liver detox programme without first working on the gut could be a problem.
If you think you need a more focussed and personalised detoxification you can see a qualified Nutritionist to help you. To determine the type of detoxification programme you require they will ask questions to determine your heavy metal exposure, digestive function (and potential damage), exposure to toxins through things such as occupation, geography, health and lifestyle history, infections, medical treatments, diet and lifestyle etc. However, if you’d like to do a basic detox and don’t believe that you have any specific needs at this stage, here are some tips around doing an easy (ish) Summer detox (as well as weight loss) over a few weeks:
- The first step is to detoxify your environment (living and working spaces) for the long term. If you continue to take in toxins at the same levels from the environment the toxic cycle continues. We can take in toxins through ingestion, inhalation and absorption through our skin. As a Building Biologist and Nutritionist this is a critical part of what I do in helping people to create Building Wellness. Things to consider in your environment include cleaning and personal care products, building materials and furnishings and plastics.
- Food to include
- Include in your juices and meals lots of dark green vegetables and brassicas to aid in liver detoxification
- Other foods to include are Sulfer rich cruciferous vegies, beetroot, bitter greens, turmeric, garlic, onion, fresh fruit especially berries, fermented foods, herbs and spices, nori and dried seaweeds, good oils, brown rice and quinoa. Ensure that you’re including protein in your meals as the amino acids are needed for production of liver enzymes – this can include organic nuts and seeds, fish (low in mercury e.g. perch, trout, whiting), eggs, legumes, organic pea protein powders and organic chicken (if you’re going to keep eating this). Try to have all the colours in your fruit and veg shop – red, white / brown, orange / yellow, purple / blue, and green so you’re getting lots of different antioxidants and phytonutrients.
- Fiber and water will support your digestive system and elimination of toxins.
- Eat organic so that you’re not taking in pesticides, and eat mostly whole foods and restrict anything from a packet.
- By all means make vegetable juices during your detoxification as this will give you additional antioxidants, but don’t make this all you consume
- Specific Nutrients Required – Glutathione is critical for detoxification. We make it but it can be depleted through toxicity, lack of nutrients, stress etc.; amino acids (protein), B vitamins – 6, 9, 12 (from legumes/beans, spinach, avocado). As toxins are converted a lot of free radicals are released so antioxidants from food and potentially supplementation are important to prevent potential DNA damage – Selenium, C & E (if you are supplementing always take C with E) – will also help recycle Glutathione
- Foods to exclude – sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed and packaged foods, saturated fat and fried foods, wheat and gluten, caffeine, alcohol, salt, dairy (except organic full-fat and sugar free yogurt), red meat (and if you want to all meat) and most condiments as they’re generally highly processed and contain a lot of salt and sugar (dressings, tomato sauce, mayonnaise etc.). If and when you decide to re-introduce some of the foods you have eliminated, do it gradually and try to keep all of the good habits going.
- Baths with Epsom salts, dry skin brushing and saunas will all help to eliminate toxins
- Sleep – Allowing your body to have adequate rest will aid in detoxification and regenerate cells
- If you’re up to it gentle exercise while you’re detoxing particularly walking, yoga, swimming and Pilates
- Aim to drink 3 litres of filtered water each day (including herbals teas) to help flush toxins out as well as reduce detox symptoms. Ensure you don’t have any from plastic bottles as these can leach chemicals into your water. Herbal teas that are good for detoxification include ginger tea and dandelion. Make sure you also use filtered water for your herbal teas, to make sure you’re eliminating toxins in your tap water.
I’m a qualified Nutritionist, Building Biologist and Feng Shui practitioner. I’m passionate about helping people improve their health and create positive change in their lives. If you have any questions about detoxification or Building Wellness in your home or at work please get in contact.