If you want to do something to improve your overall health then consider a simple cleanse and detox program. Each of us has a continual onslaught of toxic chemicals that build up in the body and especially wreak havoc with our DNA, immune, endocrine and neurologic systems. With thousands of chemicals released every year into the consumer goods market we are all exposed to and full of toxins. A cleanse is a great way to help our body to eliminate these toxic chemical invaders.
The results of toxin build-up may be symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, muscle or joint aches, brain fog or emotional ups and downs, irritable bowel syndrome, or weight gain. Diseases such as cancer, dementia, heart disease, autoimmune disease and hormone imbalances are linked to various chemicals found in our food, air, water, and consumer products.
One study showed that the average American has about 100 various chemicals directly measurable in the fat tissue where most toxins like to accumulate. These toxins include normal metabolic end-products, bacteria, both over the counter and prescription drugs, alcohol, insecticides, pesticides, pollutants, contaminants and food additives.
Natural Detoxification Phases 1-3
Our body comes with a marvelous system for eliminating toxins, most of which enter our body through the gut, skin, or lungs. The liver is the first and foremost detox organ in the body. All the blood from the stomach and small intestine flows directly to the liver where the various bacteria and toxins are filtered out. The toxins are “deactivated” and made soluble in water so they can be eliminated via the kidneys, skin or gut.
The natural detox system has three main phases that must work in concert to get the job done. Phases one and two occur in the liver and like a “one-two punch” they need to work together to succeed. Phase three is the final “packaging” that allows toxins to be sent on their way out the body.
Phase 1 of detox involves turning fat soluble toxins into intermediate, slightly water soluble substances that may be more reactive than original molecule. This is done by the “cytochrome P450” enzyme system, in which toxins are transformed into chemical intermediates that are even more toxic and must be immediately acted upon by the phase two system. During phase one detox adding or removing an electrical charge from toxins creates the dangerous “free radicals” that can cause so much harm in the body. This is one area where anti-oxidants play a key role in health by keeping control of these free radicals.
Phase 2 of detox is called “conjugation” and it picks up where phase one left off, immediately going to work neutralizing the toxic intermediates by attaching various chemical groups. This is where naturally occurring enzymes such as glutathione, catalase, and super-oxide dismutase go to work.
Phase 3 of detox involves the elimination of phase two conjugates into bile or urine for excretion. Dietary fiber binds to biliary and intestinal toxins and facilitate excretion. Hydration helps with urinary excretion.
When everything works well our body does a fine job of taking care of these toxins so that they don’t harm the body. However, there are numerous reasons that our detox system fails. First, the system can only do so much. Our exposure to hundreds of chemical toxins is not part of the evolutionary plan and we are overloading our capacity to detox. Second, the detox systems rely on abundant nutrients to function, which our standard American diet is woefully short on supplying. Third, impaired gut health is common and causes many toxins to build up while impairing phase two detox pathways upstream. Last, we have discovered only in recent years many genetic mutations that cause some people to have a dysfunctional detox system.
How to Cleanse and Detox
When I say, “cleanse” what I’m referring to is cleaning out the stagnant, built up accumulation of toxins and sludge that interfere with a healthy detox. The first stage focuses on the gut by eliminating foods that cause inflammation, while increasing foods that help bind toxins and stimulate bowel motility. Various supplements are usually added to facilitate this process. This stage is done to “prepare” the rest of the system for detox.
The second stage of a cleanse and detox program is the actual detox portion. Foods and nutrients that support the liver are emphasized. Plenty of water helps the kidneys and skin excrete toxins through the final phase 3 detox pathways.
The third stage of most detox plans involves healing the gut, replenishing the nutrients lost in the aggressive detox, and restoring the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Again, this is usually done through diet and supplements.
Cleaning out the colon is done with foods high in fiber, including carrots, apples and berries, and supplements such as psyllium or flaxseeds. Foods that support the liver detox systems include crucifers such as broccoli and cabbage, green leafy veggies and herbs such as kale and parsley, citrus fruits such as lemon and lime, sulfur-rich foods such as garlic and onions, and foods that heal the liver such as artichoke, asparagus and celery.
There are dozens of special diets to cleanse and detox. A loosely structured detox diet simply eliminates sugar, grains, red meat, dairy, and processed or packaged foods, while emphasizing raw, organic fruits and veggies. Most detox diets also eliminate caffeine and alcohol. Fasting is often done to facilitate the cleansing of the gut. I like the “Fast Track Detox Diet” by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, because it is simple and effective. A whole food plant based diet is a simple detox diet.
There are probably more supplement programs for detox than there are diet plans. We often use a series of supplements which lay out a 4-week program designed to prepare, detox, and repair. But remember, a cleanse and detox can be done without supplements, which should only added to supplement the nutritional core of a detox plan.
Detox for Health
If you have any significant health problems it is wise to consult with your doctor and/or a professional that is well versed in detox programs. All medications are processed through the liver detox systems and a detox program may affect the metabolism of drugs. This is usually helpful in the long run by helping the liver process and eliminate drugs, however it can also change blood levels of drugs such that it could cause problems.
Doing a cleanse and detox is a simple process that can reap big health rewards. No matter what method you choose, be careful to avoid gimmick detox programs. Be sure the program is founded in good nutrition, quality supplements and overseen by a qualified professional.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.