Written By Amber Moore, Naturopathic Doctor.
It’s a catchy word these days, making appearances in magazines, the supermarket, juice bars, the health food store, and pretty much anywhere else that has a focus on health from some angle. And because of the appeal, “detoxes” have come under much scrutiny lately, leaving people with many unanswered questions – to do a detox or not? Let me settle the confusion by separating the fact from fiction, and tell you how the right detox plan can benefit you!
Fact: Detoxes can help you feel and look healthier.
This is why we’re addicted – we have seen it work for both our patients and ourselves!
Every day, our body is bombarded with chemicals, pesticides, hormones and other pollutants from our surrounding environment and the foods we eat. Under ideal circumstances the body is able to detoxify and eliminate many of these toxic substances safely through perspiration, urination, respiration and bowel elimination. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a natural world, and people today are taking in more toxins than the body was designed to process. Under these conditions, the body may fail to detoxify at the same rate as toxins are introduced, resulting in a host of health concerns. We need to give our bodies a break. This is why a detox is helpful – it gives the organs of elimination a break (and some support) to help restore your body’s natural ability to detoxify.
What does this mean?
Minimizing our exposure to toxins from the environment and our diet + supporting the organs of detoxification and elimination =
- increased energy
- weight loss
- healthier skin
- improved mental clarity
- fewer headaches
- improved digestion
- strengthened immune system
- less pain
How does it work? By cleaning up the diet and environment, you are preventing exposure to things our bodies aren’t supposed to be exposed to – things that our bodies react to by producing a range of symptoms. Many symptoms including headaches, fatigue, mood disturbances, pain, digestive concerns, brain fog, rashes, etc. can be a signal from the body telling you that it’s overburdened by toxic compounds – so listen to it!
Fiction: All detoxes are safe.
Much of the scrutiny surrounding detox plans stems from this misconception. Because so many types of detoxes exist, it is helpful to be well informed of the potential risks (and seek out guidance from you naturopathic doctor). Many approaches such as the Master Cleanse, liver flush, and straight juicing have a number of potential harms:
- Most are very low calorie, which research shows can slow your metabolic rate and increase your risk of weight gain (Fricker 1991). You also risk losing muscle, since your body can break this down to use as a “fuel” when caloric intake is insufficient for demands.
- Vitamin deficiencies, blood sugar problems, and electrolyte disturbances due to restrictive diet plans (which is especially harmful for those with diabetes, kidney or heart problems, and those taking certain medications such as diuretics).
- Many plans are water or fluid-based, and this combined with laxative teas causes diarrhea, dehydration and loss of the bacterial flora that keeps our intestines healthy. Laxative teas (such as senna) also cause habituation over time, decreasing the natural peristalsis of the colon which means your colon requires these substances to function.
How to avoid these potential harms and benefit? Be informed and seek guidance. Because each individual is unique, there is no single “best” or “safest” detox, and that’s why we’re here to help.
Fact: Your liver is able to keep up with demands to detoxify your body.
It is true that your liver can handle a lot. Every day, our body is bombarded with chemicals, pesticides, hormones and other pollutants from our surrounding environment. The liver is quite good at handling chronic exposure to toxins by up-regulating necessary enzymatic pathways, but as the demands placed on the liver increase we begin pushing the limits of this vital organ. Sure, in most cases our liver can keep up, but why would you want to keep it working at 99%? And depending on demands sometimes the liver cannot keep pace with our toxin burden, resulting in a range of “toxic” symptoms including brain fog, headaches, fatigue and chronic pain.
To add to this point, the role of detox is not solely on the liver – it’s a team effort! The lymphatic system, lungs, skin, digestive and urinary systems all play a role in detoxification since these organs assist in the elimination of by-products of liver detoxification. So if any of these organ systems are impaired (a common example being constipation), your body’s ability to detoxify is impaired.
This highlights another common misconception, that if our liver is functioning well we are efficient at detoxifying. This is misguided not only because other organ systems are involved, but also because it isn’t only the toxins going into the liver that are “toxic” – the byproducts the liver makes in the process of detoxification can be harmful too! For example, the alcohol from that glass of wine you occasionally have is metabolized by the liver into acetaldehyde, a highly unstable and toxic compound that forms free radicals capable of causing tissue damage. Ever heard of a hangover? When we have “one too many”, the liver’s ability to neutralize acetaldehyde’s effects using the antioxidant glutathione is reduced, in part leading to those unpleasant hangover symptoms (Penning 2010).
Bottom Line: a detox isn’t necessary to “clean” the liver of toxic buildup, but that isn’t the objective anyhow – a detox gives the liver and other detoxification organs a much needed break, while providing the body with a “spring cleaning” by limiting exposure to pesticides, hormones and other toxic compounds.
Fiction: Detox plans = costly supplements and juicing programs.
A detox is a way to “clean up” the body by decreasing exposure to harmful compounds and supporting detoxification and elimination pathways. Period. There are many ways to do this including:
- Avoid processed foods
- Choose organic – at least with some foods. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15” produce here.
- Stay well hydrated – optimizes kidney function to aid in elimination of toxins
- Avoid alcohol
- Exercise – promotes blood flow, optimal respiration and sweating, all of which are helpful to mobilize and eliminate toxins
- Get a massage – helps move lymph through the lymphatic pathways to send harmful substances to the liver for detoxification
Since spring is a great time to detox and is on its way (finally!), the Wylde Natural Health Team is offering a “spring detox” program starting this March. This program combines an individualized detox plan and 1-on-1 consultations with Amber, one of our Naturopathic Doctors, with unlimited hot yoga at Your Affinity Place – yay! Check out the details here, and book early since space is limited!
~Amber Moore, BSc (Hons), ND
Amber is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor practicing as part of The Wylde Natural Health Team. She enjoys helping patients with a variety of health concerns, and has a special interest in sports medicine and pain management, skin and digestive concerns, weight loss and mental health. In addition to her private practice, Amber is currently part of the competitive Clinical Residency program at CCNM, teaching naturopathic therapies to students and supervising fourth year interns at the college’s teaching clinics.
Fricker J, Rozen R, Melchior J, et al. Energy-metabolism adaptation in obese adults on a very-low-calorie diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Apr; 53(4):826-30.
Penning R, van Nuland M, Fliervoet L, et al. The pathology of alcohol hangover. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2010 Jun; 3(2):68-75.