By Deanna Minich, PhD, FACN, CNS, IFMCP
As you walk through health food stores or read through health magazines or blogs, you probably see all kinds of articles or ads promoting the next great miracle cure for all illnesses: a detox or cleanse. The influx or products -- many of which have no scientific evidence backing their promised efficacy -- has led many to think that detox is just a scam or a fad. However, that is not the whole truth.
Although some of these products might be ineffectual, there are also many reputable items and programs out there that actually do work. It is these that will withstand the testament of time and demonstrate that detox is not merely a fad.
Not convinced? Read on and find out why you should give it a shot!
We Live in a Toxic World
The onset of the industrial, chemical, and technological revolutions greatly benefited us in many ways, but it has led to a highly toxic world. Environmental exposure to pollution, chemicals, and other toxins is linked to a variety of non-communicable diseases, including cancer, asthma, neurodevelopment conditions, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
Everyone is exposed to a number of toxins through their water, food, air, personal care products, and other elements in the environment. These include:
- Heavy metals
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Flame retardants
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
The human body can mitigate these toxins, but there comes a time where there is just too much, tapping out the body's own resources.
It Requires Support
Your body has its own detoxification process, which in the scientific and medical community is often referred to as biotransformation. There are three steps to this process: biotransformation, conjugation, and elimination.
During the first stage, toxic molecules, which might come from the outside world or from metabolites of your own body processes, get molecularly transformed into a different molecule. Sometimes, it becomes less toxic, but many times, it actually becomes more toxic! Luckily, the next step mollifies it into a less toxic molecule. In this phase, the molecule combines with another molecule to create something that the body can eliminate. The third step is elimination, which in some discussions on detox is excluded but just as important as the other two. Once your body has transformed the toxic elements into a benign molecule, it must be excreted through your urine, feces, or sweat.
All of these processes occur whether you are on a detox regiment or not, but they need help! Each phase requires certain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. If you have more toxins, then you will need more of these nutrients to handle the increase in the processes while your body tries to remove them from your system.
Some people have genetic differences that alter their detoxification pathways. In some instances, it speeds up either stage one or stage two. In others, it slows it down. Certain foods, medications, and other factors also might impact the efficacy either positively or negatively. In these instances, you might also require additional support to handle the detoxification process.
If both stages are not in sync, then problems might arise. If you churn out more toxic molecules from stage one without being able to handle stage 2 at the same rate, then all of a sudden you have a backup of potentially troublesome molecules in the body. Similarly, if you finish stage 2 but cannot eliminate them, the toxins might get recycled, causing issues.
Good detox programs provide you with the food, nutrients, and herbs that support your body's own natural detoxification system to ensure it works smoothly, in sync, and at the speed you need.
Nutrients Needed for Detox
You want to ensure that you have the nutrients necessary to support biotransformation and elimination process to get rid of the toxins in your body. You can also incorporate foods known to support the process, such as green tea, curcumin, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, and dandelion. Additionally, you want to support your liver, your kidneys, and your gut, the three systems most heavily involved in detoxification.
First and foremost, the process needs energy to undergo the different stages of detox! Phase one requires antioxidant support, since it typically releases a lot of free radicals. Nutrients to ensure you consume to support your phase one include:
- B-vitamins, especially B2, B3, B6, B9, and B12
- Glutathione, the body's major antioxidant
- Protein, especially branched-chain amino acids
- Vitamins A, C, and E
- Coenzyme Q10
- Silymarin (found in milk thistle)
Many of the molecules needed for conjugation are amino acids, so protein is important to support phase two. Specific nutrients necessary for this phase include:
- B-vitamins, especially B6, 9, and 12
- Antioxidants and phytonutrients
Don't forget about getting the toxic metabolites out of your body through supporting your elimination processes. This includes sweating, whether from exercise, saunas, or something else. You also want to ensure you are hydrated and consume plenty of fiber!
Creating a Detox Diet
Many of these nutrients are found in a generally healthy diet made up of primarily plant foods and whole foods. Thus, an essential step in providing your body with these nutrients is replacing calorie-dense foods with little to no nutrition, such as the highly-processed foods rampant in the typical Western diet, with nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean protein, and healthy fats. Furthermore, switching to an organic diet has been shown to significantly lower the level of pesticides in the body even in a short period of time.
To take it a step further, you want to incorporate a detox diet that emphasizes certain foods, nutrients, and herbs known to provide support for the pathways. A good detox diet not only provides you with the nutrients your body needs to process and eliminate the toxins you face every day, but it also should have the nutrients you need for all the other processes your body undertakes, as well as your daily activities!
Don't forget to also mitigate your exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible through using air and water filters, consuming organic foods, limiting your plastic use, and more.
So, is detox a fad? NO!
In the highly-toxic environment in which most people live, our body requires support to do its natural practice of eliminating toxins. In fact, it is essential to not just do a detox or a cleanse as a one-off, but to adopt a detox lifestyle that provides a defense against the toxins to which you will be inevitably exposed.
Deanna Minich, PhD, is a functional nutritionist and mind-body medicine health expert and author of Whole Detox. See her website, www.deannaminich.com, and Facebook page, Deanna Minich, PhD, for more details.