When you think of a detox, what do you think of? Maybe it’s health gurus promoting juice cleanses, yoga, clean living and abstenance from alcohol. This might make you feel better, but the real meaning of detoxification goes a lot deeper..
The organs of our body are always working as a system to reduce the body burden or toxic load of chemicals. So if detoxification is a natural process, why do we need to do anything to support the process? A common belief, promoted by the media is
To be honest, I do cringe when I use the word detox because of all the connotations in the media, but medically speaking it is an essential process in the body that does need our attention if we want optimal health or an absence of chronic disease. An accurate definition, but less catchy definition, of detoxification is:
We need to pay attention to our body’s ability to detox for 2 reasons:
- Our modern world has becoming increasingly toxic and this is overburdening our detoxification systems.
- Our ability to detox these toxins through our liver and other organs is impaired by our genetics and ill-health associated with a typical diet and lifestyle
Increasingly toxic World
Every day, our liver, kidneys, lungs, large intestine, lymphatic system, and skin (sweat glands) are working to eliminate toxins that come from our environmental, from the food we eat, and toxins produced by the body itself.
Toxins in our environment include pollutants, plastics, heavy metals, toxins in food itself. These exposures commonly occur through ingestion or inhalation of water, foods, and air in the home, work environment, and even in our cars!
There are too many sources of these toxins to list here. But to give you an idea of their pervasiveness, they can come from materials used in new construction, chemicals in carpets that can oﬀ-gas into the air, paint, household cleaners, air fresheners and fragrances, synthetic materials used in dental products, and even personal hygiene products applied to face, skin, and hair. Depending on where you live, these chemicals are typicaly poorly regulated, if at all.
Another example of detoxification in your body is triggered by the food you eat. Food is one of the biggest external sources of toxins that your body has to contend with. Some of the most common toxic chemicals are from agricultural production (pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers) that find their way into our food system. Our body then has to transform these toxins into in-active forms and get them out of the body.
But we’ve been eating toxins in food and the bacteria in our guts have been producing toxic by-products for millennia so what’s changed?
In the last few decades, the rate of exposure to environmental toxins has dramatically increased – we’re now subjected to more than ever before.
Your toxic burden
The number of toxins you come into contact with everyday is called your total body toxic burden. The toxins that make up this burden are cumulative, and so it’s not just a case of monitoring individual toxin exposures. In the world of toxins, 1+1 does not equal 2. Often 1+1 can equal 10, or even 100!
A combination of different toxins can increase damage that they do, overpowering our detoxification systems. Scary, right? Unfortunately, chemicals are rarely safety tested together, and even if they were, a person’s ability to detoxify varies greatly.
A person’s toxic body burden is a result of three main factors.
- First, there is the toxic exposure over a lifetime. This includes ongoing and current exposures, including those previously discussed.
- Second, each person’s physiology and state of health has a big impact. This includes their genetic predisposition which significantly eﬀects our ability to produce detoxification enzymes to process these compounds. This can vary greatly from person to person, but can always be affected by nutritional support. Chronic illness, poor nutrient intake over a lifetime, stress and trauma, and auto-immunity also have an impact. A history of reactions to medications, supplements, and skin care can also indicate poor detox capacity.
- Lastly, the proper nutrition and helpful nutrients support’s the body’s natural capacity to detoxify and to reduce the presence of toxins in the body.
Medical researchers are now finding associations between the toxic build up of chemicals in the body and health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, auto-immune diseases, cancer, fatigue, infertility, allergies, behaviour and mood disorders, neurological conditions, as well as diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
A personal detox
The goal of a detoxification protocol, as performed in my clinic, is to reduce both our ongoing exposure to toxins and support our detoxification processes in order to eliminate some of the toxins stored in the body. In most cases, this detoxification process needs a helping hand (through nutrients and lifestyle) as the detoxification system simply can not process all the toxins within our increasingly toxic environment. Nutrients act as co-factors in the enzymatic reactions in the body that transform and eliminate toxins.
As most of the detoxification process happens whilst we sleep, ensuring a sound night’s sleep is a priority. We consider other factors such as ongoing psychological stress, dental health, physical activity and at least a 12 hour overnight fast.
In summary, reasons for impaired detoxification include:
- A system that is overloaded with toxins
- Being constipated and thus unable to excrete toxins in the stool
- Being deficient in specific nutrients, eating a nutrient-poor diet or not eating enough protein
- Psychological stress or trauma
- Chronic disease and excessive inﬂammation
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Not enough restorative sleep
Before anyone performs a detox, particularly when using specific compounds to release toxins from toxin stores, a number of factors need to be considered:
- Optimum vitamin and mineral levels (minerals compete with toxins for absorption from the gut and so having adequate minerals can limit this)
- Diet and supplemental anti-oxidants to deal with the oxidative stress associated with the detoxification process
- A fully functioning gut (don’t attempt a detox when constipated as the body can’t get rid of the toxins)
- A healthy liver that is functioning well
Only then, can we focus on providing nutritional support to push the detoxification process and encourage the release of toxins. At the same time, we can also use natural compounds called to bind toxins and pull them out of the gut and the body.
As you can see, detoxing is about using nutrients as medicine (these nutrients act as co-factors that enable detoxification reactions), and not just about abstaining from alcohol and meat as is commonly believed. If you are interested in working with us on a detox, please get in touch.
The effect of a detox that reduces the toxic burden in the body can be measured through a before and after hair mineral analysis test for heavy metals or GPL-Tox for toxic non-metal chemicals if resources allow. But it can also be measure by how you feel and improvements in chronic disease symptoms. Many people find their energy and wellbeing is increased and the clarity of their thinking is improved with a detox.