Although we also began 2015 with the subject of detoxification, we thought it was a topic worth revisiting as it is the time of year people are most receptive and motivated to make lifestyle changes that lead to improved health and happiness. It is also a time when many of us return to work, refreshed in some ways after a few days off, but at the same time feeling a little sluggish after a month of busy social engagements, indulging in too much food and alcohol, which very often continues during the time off work. However, an extreme detox, especially without professional guidance, may not be the best solution.
Symptoms of excess toxic burden can be abstract and varied but may include fatigue, digestive issues, poor concentration, mood disturbances, headaches and allergies/sensitivities. All these conditions should, of course, be investigated, however toxicity could be a factor. There can be serious consequences of long term toxicity, particularly in combination with poor nutrient status.
As mentioned in last month’s article, common consequences of drinking excess alcohol, consuming more sugar and getting less sleep than usual, are dehydration and depleted nutrients. Without sufficient hydration and nutrients, our bodies do not have the tools to detoxify, so a strict detox regime may not be helpful. In cases where this (strict detox) is indicated, the individual design of programme, support and monitoring should also occur with the help of a qualified health practitioner or at a residential health centre where healthcare professionals are on staff.
There are three distinct phases of detoxification, which are extensively described in the literature and require a book to properly explain, however a brief summary is as follows….
Phase 1 is best known as the Cytochrome P450 system (describing a complex enzyme system occurring in the liver and in the cells), or activation stage. This is when certain toxins (e.g. alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs) are oxidised in preparation for Phase 2. This system is genetically influenced (varied capacity to produce certain enzymes) and can be both induced or inhibited depending on level of toxic exposure and nutrient status.
The intermediate stage between Phase 1 and 2 results in free radicals and the metabolites produced are often more toxic than the original toxin, potentially leading to inflammation and cellular damage. This means there is increased demand for anti-oxidants. This is where choosing high nutrient, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory foods and superfoods is essential to support the process.
Phase 2, best known as the conjugation phase, requires powerful endogenous anti-oxidants called Glutathione and Superoxide Dismutase and to neutralise and transform the toxins into a form that can be excreted. Again, sufficient raw materials (nutrients) are required for the body to manufacture these substances. Efficient transport systems are necessary for this process.
Phase 3 describes the excretion phase. This stage also requires functioning transport systems to move toxins out of cells and organs (liver, intestines and kidneys). This phase is often overlooked and can be significantly impaired by inflammation, causing a recycling of toxins contributing to chronic disease. Supported by hydration and fibre.
Symptoms commonly described as ‘detox’ symptoms should be mild. If severe, it can be an indication that the toxic metabolites have overloaded the system, toxins are recirculating or the body is not detoxifying effectively. Stimulating phase 1, without providing enough support for phases 2 and 3, for example, will lead to more circulating toxins, more inflammation, and more symptoms. This can be exacerbated when a ‘detox’ is used to ‘kick start’ a weight loss programme. Fasting will lead to weight loss, however, the toxins stored in the fat cells will also be released into the circulation, over burdening the body further. If weight loss is an objective, then helping the body function better first, rather than an extreme ‘kick start’ fasting detox is ultimately likely to be more successful.
The main purpose of this overview is to illustrate the complexity and propensity for individual variation, and therefore the individual’s response to any given toxin or combination of toxins. This is why we provide general guidelines only on ways in which to introduce dietary and lifestyle changes, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ programme.
Another key influencing factor that needs to be addressed to facilitate detoxification is gut inflammation, dysbiosis and/or ‘leaky gut’. Next month’s issue will describe the important links between digestive health and other systems in the body, particularly the immune and neurological systems.
Our detoxification capacity is also compromised when we are stressed due to excess activity of the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, resulting in poor nutrient absorption (as digestive system is impaired) as well as excess and prolonged cortisol production. Other factors that impede detoxification are infections, moulds and insufficient sleep.
It does sound a little as if we have advised avoiding detox altogether. Really though, we are suggesting that the best way to detox for most people is to support the body do what it does naturally, by avoiding toxins and adding nutrients. Our bodies work hard to detoxify all the time; it is fundamental to life for us to be able to detoxify by-products of normal metabolism as well as an increasing amount of external toxins. When our detoxification organs become over-burdened, their function will ultimately become impaired. The liver for example, although perhaps best known for its critical role in detoxification, also has a number of other essential functions, such as storing energy (in the form of glycogen), and manufacturing bile, enzymes and proteins. The good news is that damage inflicted and consequent under functioning can recover with lifestyle correction.
If following the guidelines below provoke symptoms other than very mild, it may be worth consulting a health practitioner for further investigation.
That is, primarily, avoid alcohol, sugar, soft drinks and processed foods as much as possible. Some may also wish to reduce or eliminate coffee. It is important to note, however, that coffee and sugar withdrawal is likely to cause headaches, but this symptom should not last long. If intake is high and you wish to reduce symptoms, weaning process may be indicated.
Even introducing one new habit that you think is achievable will assist your body detoxify.
Below are a few of our favourite ways to facilitate our process to detox and nourish…..
Add superfood powders to smoothies – this is one of the most efficient ways to boost nutrients. One of our favourites is elemental wizdom’s range. We have been adding ‘transmutation’ powder to our breakfast smoothies (usually acai) for approximately six months. This highly bioavailable superfood powder contains a plethora of nutrients, including protein, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and detoxifying and anti-inflammatory compounds (such as chlorella), all from plant sources. There is a link on our page to order these products.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables for nutrient and antioxidant support and fibre intake. As much as possible buy fresh, seasonal and local. Eat organic to avoid pesticide/herbicide residue.
Include probiotics (may be supplements, or fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir). Healthy gut flora is essential to good health (more information coming next month)
Include other anti-inflammatory foods include ginger and turmeric. These spices can be used in a number of ways from fresh juices, in tea (ginger), or in cooking.
Teas – a number of teas can assist with the detoxification process, dandelion is an example. Others, such at matcha ground tea powder (our favourite is Matcha Maiden) assist with essential anti-oxidant support. There are so many ‘detox teas’ on the market though that it can be difficult to know which to choose. They are generally made from medicinal herbs, and ideally should be prescribed by someone with knowledge of the action of these herbs. Some may have a laxative effect that should not be used long term for example.
Other supportive factors:
Sleep – Poor or insufficient sleep is well known to be inimical to health for many reasons, one being impaired detoxification processes
Exercise – To stimulate circulation, including lymph. Find a level and type of exercise that you like, is sustainable and is enjoyable
Skin care – Remember that the skin is a very important organ that can both absorb toxins and help detox. More information is in this issue (and on the blog) in a separate article.
Oil Pulling – This is an ancient Ayurvedic practice which is gaining popularity. It involves swishing oil (ideally organic, pure coconut oil) around the mouth for 5 to 20 minutes. The process is said to draw out toxins and bacteria which are then spat out. Oral bacteria is known to negatively affect health as well as contribute to dental cavities. This practice can be difficult in the beginning, although made easier by using individually packaged Keeko coconut oil pulling sachets with added essential oils for improved taste and antibacterial properties. In addition to assisting the detox process, enhanced oral hygiene also significantly impacts our health.
Infra-red saunas – Sweat induced through IR saunas helps detoxify the body and improve skin. As we are fortunate enough to have a small sunlighten sauna at home, it forms a regular part of our detox maintenance. There are a number of clinics/day spas that offer this treatment.