January is a month of motivation and changes. We want to start the year on a good note. For those of us who want to be healthy, ‘detox’ may be something you have heard about more recently. There is now lots of websites and companies advertising detox programmes with long list of promises. Amongst the crowd there are some that are well thought out and would do us good but I want you to think beyond short detox diets and support detoxification every day with some simple lifestyle choices.
Fist of all let’s look into what detoxification is. To detoxify means, to eliminate potentially harmful chemicals from your body. Those chemicals include both; those naturally produced in your body as by-products of various essential processes such as basic energy production, as well as those that come from the environment. Our bodies were designed to mainly deal with endogenous (produced inside the body) toxins, as there was little chemicals in the environment. The detoxification process is very sophisticated and able to deal with a multitude of different types of chemicals. When we think about detoxification we mainly think of the liver, as it is indeed a major detoxification organ, but other parts of the body including digestive tract, skin, lungs or kidneys also have their own mechanisms to make sure those things are safely excreted. The whole process is very energy and nutrient demanding. An array of vitamins, minerals and amino acids is needed as well as antioxidants to mop up free radicals produced as by products. If you see a programme that doesn’t cover all of those and focuses on a one dimentional strategy such as juice fasts, don’t do it without consulting with a specialist because if anything it may not have the promised effect and in the worst scenario, it can actually create more damage.
Why supporting detoxification pathways is more important than ever?
Since the industrial revolution hundred thousand of man made chemicals have been introduced to the environment. All of them are recognised as foreign and toxic in the body and have to be eliminated. The chemicals include by products of fuel combustion, these can be heavy metals such as mercury or lead, pesticides such as glyphosate, industrial toxins from plastic manufacturing e.g. dioxins, PCBs, BPA, propylene glycol any many many more. Research shows that they can have many negative effects on our health. Some heavy metals are known as neurotoxins which means they can damage the nervous and brain cells and are linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, Autoimmune Conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis or cancers. On the other hand those plastic derivatives can be very persistent in the environment and are mostly fat soluble. This means they bind to fat in our body and can stay there, often affecting how our hormones work. That’s why many studies associate them with hormonal imbalances and even obesity.
You can name a disease and I guarantee you that there will be at least one link to toxins, it is that detrimental.
Why have I not heard of detoxification form my doctor?
Acute toxicity is well known in the medical world but chronic low grade toxicity isn’t well understood. You will often hear about this or other chemical being safe and not related to health problems. The fact is that many of those chemicals have been tested in isolation and there is often lack of adequate testing to allow them for industrial use quickly. There are so many chemicals that it is difficult to test for each one of them and it can be very expensive. It is also difficult to study the effect of such toxins on diseases because not a single person is exposed to just one substance. The studies would also have to be carried out for years or even lifetime to be able to establish a valid correlation. Some interesting studies found that human umbilical cord blood contains on average 287 chemicals, on top of the things I’ve mentioned they also found fire retardants, Teflon and phthalates (found in plastics and cosmetics). Isn’t it scary that we are exposing newborn babies to such a burden? This is why we have to be a bit more clever and take action before we are told that something is harmful. Just like it happened with bisphenol A (BPA – found in plastic) that was banned from baby bottles after study found it was carcinogenic. There are several ways of testing that will reveal different results. For example testing blood levels of heavy metals shows your current exposure. These metals are assumed to stay in the bloodstream for up to 6 weeks, but what if you don’t have the capacity, the right nutrients or genetic ability to eliminate them properly out of the body? Your body has a variety of protective mechanisms, it will try to temporarily shunt them to the tissue to avoid harmful effects. Unfortunately then, those metals or toxins are stuck there, disrupting many day-to-day processes. And as we are exposed to those things daily our toxic burden continues to grow.
So to summarise, rather than acute toxicity when a person overdoses on drugs for instance and is sent to A&E for immediate treatment we talk about chronic toxic load. The combination of your genetic make-up, your daily chemical exposure, state of health and availability of nutrients will determine how well you are able to deal with it.
Detoxification is a 24/7 process so our lifestyle should support it each and every day.
First of all we need to reduce our toxic exposure as much as possible. This means avoiding sources of toxins in your closest environment.
- Chemicals in your food – pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, you can do this by choosing organic. Sometimes it can be a little more expensive but your health is worth it. If you are on a budget look up the dirty dozen and clean 15 list and do your shopping accordingly.
- Cosmetics – they are literally loaded with chemicals and remember your skin is the largest organ in your body and absorbs about 60% of what you put on it. So if you would not put it in your mouth, why would you put it on your skin? There is plenty of choice now and organic skincare is widely available now. Check out revital or lovelula for some good natural brands.
- Household cleaning products – as with skincare these are based on petrochemicals, bleaches, brighteners, which are neither good for you nor the environment.
- Water – tap water can be a source of heavy metals, residues of pesticides and medication people pee out (doesn’t sound appealing, does it?) and more. There is lots of sophisticated water filtration systems but choose a good jug filter to start with. Try to find one that remineralises your water after filtration.
- Plastic – you may have heard about BPA but that’s only one chemical that has so far been found harmful. The fact that something is BPA free, doesn’t mean that it is better. It’s been simply replaced by another chemical we don’t know much about yet. Plastic derivatives are very difficult to get rid of in the body and can accumulate in our fat tissue. They can also act as hormones such as oestrogen disrupting our delicate internal balance and potentially leading to more serious problems. Choose old fashioned materials such as glass and stainless steel for food containers, water bottles or paper as wrappers.
Don’t get stressed out about it
These things take time, unless you are a super human don’t try to do it all at once. You are likely to get overwhelmed and go back to your old habits when it gets too difficult. I want you to be aware of all those things, because they are so embedded in our culture nowadays that we don’t even question them. Take your time, think what you can start with, explore first and try to make some changes gradually. Once you’re on board you will never look back.
Also, don’t get paranoid about things you can’t control like the air outside. Yes it isn’t very clean but we have many mechanisms in the body to deal with it. By cleaning everything else in your life you are making those processes more efficient because you are reducing your total toxic load.
Of course diet is very important. As I said your liver and other organs require a big array of nutrients to be able to process and eliminate toxins and deal with the consequences. You should be aiming for a rainbow diet, full of fresh fruit and veg, rich in fibre and protein. Here are several foods that are specifically important:
Greens and cruciferous veg- Kale, broccoli, chard, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach.They are rich in many plant chemicals such as indole-3-carbinol that can stimulate your phase 1 detoxification pathway. Also rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, folate, magnesium … They are an all rounder really.
Berries – and other dark pigmented foods – the reds and the blues. They help to protect our cells from oxidative stress.
Fibre and fermented foods – some toxins are excreted via urine, some via skin but a big bulk goes through the gut so maintaining a good microbial balance is crucial, as is having plenty of fibre to get things going.
Protein – Many liver pathways and antioxidants rely on amino acids – the building blocks of proteins. Make sure you have good sources in your diet. Organic meat, eggs, nuts, pulses and wild fish are all great.
There are lots of strategies we can integrate into our daily life to support our body and help us feel better.
Fancy name for alternating hot&cold shower. Old fashioned technique but works well to get your heart pumping and stimulate lymph. Do hot water for 3 minutes followed by 30 seconds or ice cold and repeat three times.
This is a great technique, especially for the ladies that want to keep their skin young and free of cellulite. All you need is a good brush made of natural materials and 5 spare minutes. Dry body brushing has many health benefits. It improves circulation, helps to get your lymph moving (therefore helping to move waste products round the body), stimulates your nervous system and helps to shed dead skin cells for a smooth looking skin. Work in gentle circular, upward motions, then longer, smoother strokes. Once you’ve got a brush check out instructions on the web or even videos on youtube. You basically start from the bottom(ankles) towards the heart in circular movements as this is how your lymphatic fluid flows round the body.
GET IN THAT BATH
And I don’t mean bubble bath of course, as you might have guessed. Instead try Epsom salts. It’s not technically salt as we know it as it is Magnesium Sulphate and tastes rather bitter not salty. But don’t worry you don’t have to eat it, just add a few handfuls to your bath. Magnesium as you may have heard me saying before is crucial to many things in the body and most of us are deficient in it. It can be wonderfully relaxing after a stressful day or great for relieving tension and muscle pain. Sulphate on the other hand is fantastic at supporting your liver in detoxification. For some people it may be too strong so start with a small amount, if you are really sensitive you can just try pure magnesium flakes instead.
Sweat is one way of getting rid of toxins so here is another benefit of exercise you might have not known about. Once you get the heart pumping you are also improving circulation improving removal of waste from the cells. Make sure you jump straight in the shower straight after to wash it all off.Another way is sauna, so next time you go swimming make sure you get in the sauna too.
I would love to hear your thoughts, if you have any question feel free to drop me a message.