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Demystifying Detox

Demystifying Detox

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Scientific approaches to detoxifying your body

Why detox?

Where I live, they only pick up the trash every two weeks. This is usually no problem, as we are mindful to compost and recycle all that we can and we avoid purchasing items with excessive packaging. This holiday season was a different story, however. We had a few parties, hosted some out-of-town guests, and wrapped – and unwrapped! – presents. We created a lot of joy, laughter, and memories. And trash. A lot of trash. The trash bin is completely filled, and three other bags are stacked next to it.

This might not be much of a problem if only my household stopped producing trash. We would just patiently wait and every two weeks pack another garbage bag or two into the bin. Or if only the bin was larger. Or if only the trash got picked up twice a week, instead of twice a month. Within a couple of weeks we’d be all clear!

Trouble is, that ain’t gonna happen.

What’s more, after a season of high stress, pretending to enjoy being around people non-stop when I’d rather be alone, stretching my budget, and indulging more than usual on sweets, alcohol, and various other treats, I think the “trash” has piled up in my body too. Thankfully, unlike the trash pickup situation at my house, the matter of my health is more pliable. I can stop – well, at least significantly reduce – the production of trash products within my body. And I can increase the rate at which the trash gets taken out, picked up, and hauled away.

Thank goodness for detox. ‘Tis the season for cleansing!

Here are some tried and true strategies for “taking out the trash” during detox season:

Reduce trash production in the body

Slowing down “trash production” in the human body includes abstaining from hard-to-digest, pro-inflammatory, high-glycemic, and low-nutritional value foods like alcohol, sugars, artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, genetically-modified (GMO) foods, and gluten-containing grains.

This also means abstaining from any known food intolerances or foods you know your body doesn’t tolerate well. For instance, does dairy make you congested? Do raw tomatoes give you reflux? Does soy may your stools a looser consistency? Does corn make your asthma worse? Your body is talking. Listen. And give it a break.

Beyond food and drink, avoiding tobacco, environmental toxicants, and stressful people/situations can all help minimize the dirt buildup, making it easier for the liver, gut, and nervous system to catch up on their backlog of work.

Milk Thisle field

Love your liver

The liver is the detox workhorse, breaking down and packaging up the various toxins associated with medications, alcohol, unhealthy foods, and environmental exposures for export out of the body.

In addition to avoiding alcohol and harmful foods, loving the liver also means minimizing exposure to unnecessary medications, abstaining from recreational drugs, and avoiding air pollution – which not only includes car exhaust and industry byproducts, but also chemical-laden room sprays, synthetic perfumes, and many commercial cleaning products.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is perhaps the best-known botanical for liver health, and can easily be incorporated into a detox regimen. Milk thistle’s constituents silymarin and silibinin have been shown in animal studies to reduce liver injury caused by such liver-toxic substances as alcohol, acetaminophen, and radiation.[1] Silymarin has also been shown to increase levels of the powerful antioxidant glutathione in both the liver and intestines, thereby protecting the cells of the body.[2],[3]

Fuel up on detox-focused nutrition

Almost every biochemical reaction required for detoxification in the body requires one or more of the B vitamins.[4],[5] A methylated B complex supplement can therefore be helpful in supporting cleansing. Nutritional yeast is also a great way to get in more B vitamins through the diet, particularly for vegetarians and vegans.

Almost every biochemical reaction required for detoxification requires one or more of the B vitamins.

Magnesium is another important detox nutrient, as it’s required for the proper functioning of P450, the main detox pathway in the liver.[6] In addition to supplements, magnesium can be found in seaweeds (especially kelp) and various nuts (especially almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts).[7]

Antioxidants are also important. Antioxidant foods and supplements help mitigate the effects of free radicals and the oxidative stress they cause. Whether oxidative stress is caused by a poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle choices, high-stress levels, or sleep deprivation, it can be quenched with antioxidant go-getters like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), green tea extract, grape seed extract, and reduced L-glutathione.

Excellent food-based sources of antioxidants include green tea, acerola cherry juice (which contains 13 times more vitamin C than orange juice and twice as much vitamin A as other berries!)[8],[9] and chlorophyll-rich foods like wheatgrass and chlorella.[10],[11] Wheatgrass is not only gluten-free when properly harvested and processed, but is also rich vitamins A, C, and E, as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium.[12],[13] Chlorella, another detox superhero, is rich in protein, RNA, DNA, and carotenoids, which help it ease inflammation[14] and boost the body’s ability to ward off infections.[15] It also acts as a gentle chelator, and helps the body detoxify from heavy metals while simultaneously acting to protect it with its antioxidant-promoting properties.[16],[17]

Anti-inflammatory agents – like quercetin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) – can also alleviate not only body aches and pains, but also the brain fog and neurological ailments often felt after an indulgent season. That said, individuals with sulfite sensitivity will want to avoid both MSM and NAC which both contain sulfur, and will benefit instead from molybdenum, which supports sulfite metabolism.[18] Probiotics have also been shown to mitigate the inflammatory response by way of supporting gut health, often improving problems with “leaky gut.”[19]

Pack it up, pack it out

The most obvious way in which our bodies “take out the trash” is through the bowels. However, a substantial portion of the population struggles with constipation, having less than three bowel movements weekly and difficulty eliminating when they do have a stool.

A good goal for most people is to aim for at least one substantial bowel movement per day while cleansing. Bowel movements should feel complete (meaning it doesn’t feel like there’s more in there afterwards). Although it can be tempting to use laxatives during a detox, these can cause dehydration, and over time can potentially become habit-forming.

A safer bet is to consume adequate fiber while cleaning, to keep well hydrated, and to engage in regular exercise or movement. Water not only helps flush toxins through the kidneys and urinary system, but also combats constipation[20] – after all, the stool is mostly comprised of water!

Modified citrus pectin detox benefitsModified citrus pectin can also be quite helpful in supporting healthy detoxification through the digestive system. In addition to bulking up the stools, citrus pectin has shown a particularly strong affinity for binding to toxic agents within the gut, thereby effectively eliminating them from the body.[21] Unlike other detox agents, which bind to harmful toxins and the essential minerals we need for optimal health, modified citrus pectin has been shown in clinical trials to leave the “good guys” (essential nutrients) in the body and push the “bad guys” (lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic) out[22] in both adults and children.[23]

Modified citrus pectin has been shown in clinical trials to leave the “good guys” (essential nutrients) in the body and push the “bad guys” (lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic) out.

Other ways to “take out the trash” include sitting in a sauna, dry skin brushing, and (gently) exercising. These are all wonderful adjuvants to a detox program, supporting the natural eliminatory mechanisms of the skin, circulatory system, and lymph.[24],[25],[26]

The body already knows how to detoxify, but by reducing the amount of “trash” we give it and by helping bring more bags to the curb, we can not only clean up the way we look after an indulgent season – but also the way we feel.


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The information provided is for educational purposes only. Consult your physician or healthcare provider if you have specific questions before instituting any changes in your daily lifestyle including changes in diet, exercise, and supplement use.

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