Spring time is here and inevitably we start to think about undertaking our customary spring cleaning. Even though this often means we clean out the cupboards, closets and garage many of us want to try an “spring cleaning” for our body; a detox. There are many popular options available at your local healthfood store. Another option that has recently become popular is the Hollywood “juice fast.” Since we want to be trendy, lose a few pounds and shake out the winter cobwebs we try one of may options that are readily available or hear around the water cooler. We start strong the first week, end up maybe dropping a few pounds and increasing the frequency of our bowel movements. Inevitably, despite our best efforts and intentions, we “fall off” the proverbial wagon and never end up finishing the detox we started with such high hopes. Maybe we just became to busy, maybe we didn’t feel any better and the supplement taste awful or maybe we actually felt worse.
This situation is unfortunately very common among most aspiring “detoxees.” The fact is that to effectively detox your body on every level requires some degree of determination, planning and knowledge. It’s never is a simple as using a detox kit of a few supplements for a few weeks. Most often this approach ends like the situation described above. The following is list of commonly held beliefs about detoxing and my response to each point. Hopefully they will give you a better understanding of what makes up an effective detox.
1) My doctor says there is no research supporting the benefits of detoxing. This statement is true that there are no placebo controlled trials measuring an overall detox program but there are many studies showing that the build up of toxins, such as heavy metals, can have a very detrimental effect on your health. Furthermore, the effective removal of those specific toxins does improve the way a person feels. Despite the lack of research studies there is little doubt that safe and effective detoxing can improve the function of your cells, organs and systems, which contribute to your overall health.
2) What exactly happens in the body during a detox?
The body is “detoxing” itself from toxins every second. There are natural processes built into our physiology that prevent the build up of toxins and the damage they can cause. Without these essential pathways we would be dead almost immediately. However many times these pathways and processes become overloaded because toxins from our diet, lifestyle or environment overwhelm our natural detoxification processes. When we start a detox the 2 essential goals are to limit the intake and exposure toxins and to stimulate and aid the body’s own pathways to excrete harmful substances.
3) Is detoxing safe?
The answer here is Yes, if done safely. Sometimes we feel worse when we start a detox. This is sometimes called a “detox reaction.” It simply is the toxins being moved out of areas of storage (i.e. fatty tissue) and our body reacting to them. A detox can potentially do more harm then good if a person stimulates the release of toxins without also activating pathways in the body that are responsible for eliminating them. The same idea would be to do a massive spring-cleaning in your basement, put the garbage on the curb but the collection service is on strike. Of course it will start to stink!
4) A detox will flush out toxins from my body.
This is a very simplistic way of looking at a detox. There actually is many ways your body can get rid of toxic substances. Most commercially available detox kits contain herbal supplements that are little more then a laxative. So many people have started to associate excessive bowel movements and nasty tasting herbs with detoxing. This is only one way the body can get rid of toxins. Harmful substances can be removed via sweat, urination, lymph, bile and finally feces. A good detox will stimulate all of these essential elimination pathways.
5) What can I expect from a detox?
Many people start a detox because “it’s a good thing to do” or “a friend is doing it.” These may be good incentives but the goal of a detox is to rid ourselves of substances that are hindering the cells in our body to function optimally and do their jobs. Common symptoms of poor cellular function and toxin overload are fatigue, chronic health concerns (i.e. joint pain), hormonal imbalances, headaches and many more. Ideally, after an effective detox you will feel more focused, have more energy, less bloating and less aches and pains.
In part 2 of this article we will outline what pathways and systems in our body we can activate to get an effective full body detox that will make us feel better and prevent chronic disease down the road. Plus we will discuss simple ways you can start right at home.
See you next time
Dr Paul Hrkal