Detoxes have been pretty popular in recent years, but what are they really all about? Today’s post is all about Detox 101 including tips… and myths.
“Detox” has become a pretty big buzzword in recent years. From special detox diets to tea blends, there’s a ton of products and information out there. But there’s also a lot of misinformation, and today I’m diving deep into what detoxification really is, what it isn’t, if we need to detox, and some common myths.
First and foremost… what does “detox” really mean?
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification simply refers the bodily process of neutralizing and removing harmful toxins from the body.
How does our body detoxify? Our body’s naturally detoxify themselves everyday via complex processes in our liver, kidneys (urine), digestion (via bile and bowel movements), and also through our skin (sweating) and lungs (breathing). We are constantly eliminating and detoxifying because if we didn’t, we’d be dead!
The liver is our body’s master detox organ that has more than 500 functions, but when it comes to detox, it plays major roles in to identifying, neutralizing, and eliminating harmful toxins so they don’t accumulate. Liver detoxification involves two phases:
- Phase 1: liver breaks down toxins with very specific enzymes (such as fancy ones called cytochrome p-450s), to be dealt with during phase 2
- Phase 2: toxins are neutralized (made less harmful) and excreted.
What Are Toxins?
“Toxin” a whole other buzzword in and of itself! But what exactly are they? There are two different categories of toxins: endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous toxins refer to potentially harmful byproducts that are produced by the body through metabolism of food, bacteria, or hormones aka metabolites. Exogenous toxins are found externally from sources such as the water we drink, air we breathe, or environmental pollutants.
Here are some examples of toxins we’re commonly exposed to:
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Car fumes
- Off-gassing of new carpets or furniture
- Heavy metals
- Chemicals in building materials
- Plastics and compounds such as BPA, pthalates and parabens, often found in beauty products
- Food additives, preservatives, and fillers
Certain toxins can act as xenoestrogens which are “foreign” hormones that mimic estrogen. These can be harmful as they’ve been shown to play roles in estrogen- or other hormone-related cancers and other conditions.
Myth #1: Our bodies never need help to detox
It’s 100% true that our bodies already have complex detoxification processes in place. That being said, there are times when we need additional support as our bodies are not always functioning optimally to be able to properly eliminate the toxins we encounter. The reason for this is because we live in an environment with significantly higher toxic exposure than our ancestors and our bodies aren’t really designed to be inundated with such a vast array of chemicals.
Thousands of new industrial chemicals have been introduced into our environment over the last 100 years.
Our bodies aren’t designed to be inundated with such a vast array of chemical compounds or environmental pollutants. This means our liver can become overburdened trying to cope with a greater toxic load, especially when we combine those toxic exposures with a diet high in processed or junk food, cigarettes, or high alcohol consumption.
It’s also important to know that disease, vitamin deficiencies, and stress can also compromise our natural detoxification processes. Both phases of liver detox (1 and 2) need specific nutrients which is why the quality of our diet can either help or hinder our ability to detox effectively.
Myth #2: Skinny/weight loss teas are good for detox
One of the most sought after products at the health food store I used to work at were weight loss “detox” teas. And you bet I spent a great deal of time helping others understand these types of products!
The issue with “skinny teas” is that they often include herbal laxatives such as senna or cascara sagrada. These herbs cause your bowels to force evacuate. Not only is this not the proper way to support our natural detoxification processes, but we can become dependant on them to help us go to the washroom. It’s absolutely important that we aren’t constipated and that our channels of elimination are open, but relying on laxative-based products is not the solution.
There are indeed foods and supplements that help enhance detoxification but it’s crucial that we understand the difference between helpful diet/lifestyle habits and gimmicks that claim to be a cure-all.
Myth #3: Detoxing is good for losing weight fast
Remember that detoxification means the removal of harmful substances from our body and tissues. Doing any kind of short-term detox diet does not mean burning fat or shedding 10 pounds in 10 days. Many of the gimmicky teas promote this due to those sneaky laxatives which will almost certainly cause weight loss due to the release of impacted stool. But this is not sustainable or healthy. Instead, a healthy weight (and other aspects of health) naturally fall into place when we focus on improving our diet and lifestyle long-term.
Myth #4: It’s good to do a detox after an overindulgance
Basically, no. Our body can handle a slice of cake and some beer in someone living an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Those things do not mandate a major detoxification protocol. What our bodies may struggle to handle is ongoing poor diet, poor lifestyle choices, or chemical exposure as we talked about. The term however that may be appropriate to use when we feel like we need to improve our diet habits is perhaps a “cleanse” which is a much looser term that suggests removing junk food from our diet and consuming easily digestible, nutrient-dense whole foods, sometimes in smoothie or fresh juice form. These can be great things to do, but don’t get too caught up in them as a cure-all to be followed temporarily before reverting back to old detrimental habits. Sustainable dietary and lifestyle changes is what’s most important for supporting our body and natural detoxification processes in the long run.
How to Properly Detox
So the question remains, can we really do a “detox”? If so, how?
There absolutely are specific foods, herbs, and supplements that can be taken to enhance detoxification, but the exact method depends on the individual, such as cases of heavy metal toxicity. Toxins can accumulate inside our bodies, many of which are fat soluble and settle in fatty tissue, which is why some detoxification protocols provided by healthcare practitioners are sometimes several months long. If you suspect you have chemical toxicity or are concerned about your exposure, I encourage you to work closely with a Naturopath who can provide testing and a customized, rigorous detoxification protocol.
For the average person who is interested in detox support generally, the aim is to build sustainable, healthy habits that will help our natural detoxification processes better handle the toxic load we face today. Tips can be found toward the end of this post!
Signs of Needing a Detox
There are a few signs that can be indicative of needing to support our liver and/or gut, although there are many other factors involved. But some potential signs include:
- hormonal imbalance
- neurological issues
- digestive problems
- heavy metal toxicity
- acne and other skin conditions
- smoker or regular, heavy alcohol consumption
8 Tips for Supporting Detox
- Eat more vegetables: Fresh, whole veggies contain phytonutrients that support our liver, and fibre for proper elimination. We should have bowel movements 1-2 times per day.
- Drink plenty of water: This will help flush out out water-soluble toxins and support the kidneys. Opt for a water filter if possible to avoid excess water contaminants, such as Brita.
- Stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption: Cigarettes especially contain highly toxic compounds that our liver works extra hard to process.
- Non-toxic skincare: our skin is our largest organ and absorbs what we put on it! If you’re using a moisturizer, cleanser, soap, or makeup that contains parabens, pthalates or artificial fragrances, make swaps over time to less toxic products. This also goes for pads or tampons, and using aluminum-free deodorants instead of antiperspirants is also a good idea, especially so you can sweat (see number 7).
- Non-toxic cleaning products: Much like our skincare, making swaps over time to less chemical-laden household cleaning products is a great way to lessen the toxic load. Products like bleach, bathroom and glass cleaners release fumes that we inhale. Try making your own or making non-toxic swaps. I personally love Sal Suds by Dr. Bronner’s for versatile cleaning.
- Cookware: yep, the pots and pans we use to heat our food can be lined or coated with all kinds of non-stick materials which leach into our food or release fumes when heated. If possible, opt for cast iron, glass, stainless steel, or non-toxic ceramic (I use Green Pan).
- Exercise: moving our body and sweating is definitely one of the ways our body detoxes. Our skin releases all kinds of things through sweating and exercise is essential for enhancing this activity.
- Reduce plastic use: as we now know, plastic can contain toxic compounds (such as BPA). I strongly suggest switching to glass food storage containers or a reusable water bottle instead of plastics.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to this subject, but I hope I’ve been able to bring a little bit of clarity. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!
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