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The term “detox” has become well known in our vernacular… That’s a good thing — people are becoming more aware of the dangers posed by vast quantities of toxins they’re exposed to every day through food, water, household products, environment and more.
Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases are linked to ongoing toxin exposure. Skin and joint problems, allergies, headaches, digestive issues and frequent colds are also part of the package.
Though the celebrity detox diets and juicing fads may have fallen by the wayside, this age-old tradition of total body cleansing holds onto its reputation as the magic bullet for weight loss, anti-aging and simply feeling your best. After all, there are thousands of years of health practices that back it up.
But in our modern, busy lifestyles, some people still ask: is detox all it’s cracked up to be?
The answer is: Yes, a healthy cleanse and detoxification program can be your door to optimal vitality. But it depends on how you open that door: There are right ways and wrong ways. If you’re not careful, a poorly planned program can drain your energy and redistribute toxins (such as heavy metals and pesticides) to vital organs.
One problem is that many of today’s detox regimens promise a quick fix, and ignore the importance of a gradual toxin removal program. It can take years for health-robbing pollutants to accumulate in joints, organs and tissues, so we can’t expect to be “scrubbed clean” with a three day cleanse. The goal is to incorporate a cleansing diet, targeted natural supplements, exercise and the right attitudes to help gently remove toxins over time, while promoting overall wellness. With this type of gradual momentum, your body can take it from there and propel you to a greater level of health and vitality.
There’s a common misconception about detoxification. The myth is that when we start to detoxify, we have to feel sick before we can feel good, especially when the body begins releasing toxins into the circulation. We suffer from headaches, constipation, brain fog and worse. This is often called a “detox crisis,” and many people will tell you it’s a good sign that your program is working. In some cases, this is a valid concept. However, it can also be a concern because toxins are being released too quickly and the body can’t handle the sudden load of pollutants in the bloodstream. It’s like a spring thaw: if the snow melts too quickly, the river floods, leaving debris and destruction on its banks.
On the other hand, if we gradually transition to a cleansing diet and slowly incorporate supplements that help cleanse the circulation and digestive tract first, we prepare our bodies for a deeper, more thorough detoxification process. This way, we can avoid uncomfortable reactions and optimize our long term health.
Another potential pitfall during detoxification is dehydration. Inadequate hydration stalls the process, leading to constipation, headaches and toxin redistribution. To keep your organs of elimination running smoothly, I recommend drinking a gallon of filtered water each day, some of which can come from herbal teas and salt-free vegetable broths.
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Perhaps the biggest saboteurs to any detox program are cravings for unhealthy foods. Simple sugars and carbs can be highly addicting — a result of blood glucose spiking and crashing. The good news is, certain herbs and nutrients which promote healthy detox can also regulate blood glucose levels to curb cravings and maintain balanced energy. This makes it much easier to stick with your program.
When to cleanse
Though the abundance of industrial toxins is relatively new, the practice of cleansing and detoxification isn’t. Chinese, Ayurvedic and other traditional medical systems have long recognized that periodic detoxification is essential for long term vitality. These ancient healing systems deeply understood our relationships to the seasons, and designed detoxification protocols to synchronize health with the rhythms of the natural world.
According to these traditions, the spring season is a particularly good time to detox. Winter stagnancy makes us vulnerable to pathogens, toxin build-up and weight gain. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the spring season relates to liver and gallbladder health and emphasizes new growth and regeneration. A gentle spring cleanse is an excellent time to harness this energy, support these organs, and rejuvenate our systems for optimal health throughout the year.
The first step: Diet
Regardless of when we decide to detox, reducing sugar and salt is critical. In addition to sugar’s impact on glucose metabolism and salt’s contribution to dehydration, they are both inflammatory foods. Other items that contribute to inflammation and toxin build-up are alcohol, processed foods, cooking oils and caffeinated beverages. Eliminate these during a cleanse.
I also recommend reducing animal proteins, especially red meat. Switch to plant-based proteins, which are easier to digest. Add fiber, including flax, chia seeds, psyllium and rice bran. Whenever possible, buy organic foods to avoid more pesticide exposure.
The basis of a cleansing diet includes lots of vegetables, which can be juiced, steamed, sautéed in water or soups, or eaten raw. One of the goals of detoxification is reducing acidity, caused by unhealthy foods, stress, lack of exercise and more. Choose alkaline vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and avocado and others which help the body release toxins. I also recommend cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which are rich in compounds that support toxin removal. A brothy vegetable soup made with an assortment of your favorite items is an excellent staple in any cleanse and detox program.
Another key ingredient is probiotics, which add healthy bacteria to support the digestive tract and numerous other areas of health. Kimchee, tempeh, coconut kefir, sauerkraut and miso are all good sources of food-based probiotics.
Exercise and mindfulness
Detoxification is about movement — we are moving toxins out of our bodies. Exercise and deep breathing are critical to this process. Exercise boosts the lymphatic system, a critical part of the body’s detoxification channels. It also increases metabolism on all levels, supporting the removal of toxins from cells, tissues, and organs, including the skin.
Deep breathing is also essential. Toxins are released from the lungs during exhalation, and increased oxygen supports the detox process. It’s also an excellent way to relax, another essential component. If we’re holding on to tension and stress, we’re also holding toxins, and generating new ones in the process. Meditation, walks in nature and yoga — these practices are proven to relieve stress, reduce inflammation and support overall well-being.
Detoxification is a two-part process: toxins are released from organs and tissues; then they become metabolized by the body and eliminated through the urine, bowels, skin and lungs. The first step is to prepare the circulation and digestion with natural ingredients that bind toxins and help the body remove them.
In any detox program, one of the most important supplements I recommend a combination of modified citrus pectin (MCP) from citrus peels, and sodium alginates from kelp. This formula is clinically proven to remove harmful heavy metals from the circulation and digestion, without affecting essential minerals. The formula can also eliminate pesticides, radioactive particles and other chemicals while supporting immunity. With this combination, circulating toxins are tightly bound and eliminated through the urine and digestive tract.
For more thorough detoxification, I recommend adding a comprehensive detox formula with ingredients such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), alpha-lipoic acid, dandelion, milk thistle, garlic, cilantro and others. These ingredients support the organs of elimination and increase vital energy during a cleanse. They work together with MCP/alginates to give deeply stored toxins the heave-ho.
In my clinical practice, I also use a specialized metabolic formula to help stabilize blood glucose and insulin, support metabolism and digestion and reduce cravings. Metabolic ingredients such as holy basil, fenugreek, Gymnema leaf, sodium alginates and certain mushrooms also help remove toxins and boost immunity
Other supplements to consider:
- Proteolytic enzymes: reduce inflammation, support detoxification, boost circulation
- Green drink powders: provide extra nutrients and support detoxification
- Digestive supplements: keep the bowels regular and support efficient detox
Keep at it
Even when going slowly, a gentle detoxification program can seem daunting with so many changes to adopt. But it’s important to consider how all these elements synergize to produce profound improvements in health and wellbeing. And as the body adjusts to the new regimen, and the benefits become more apparent, we actually come to crave the healthier approach. Just as bad practices can be addictive, so can good ones. More energy, less pain, stronger immunity, better digestion and greater emotional and mental health are all noticeable benefits of a safe and gentle detox program.
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