It’s that time of year when we are bombarded with detoxes and cleanses aimed toward pulling on the heartstrings of our newly formed resolutions and reprimanding our overindulging during the holidays. And, right behind the reprimand train are the articles shouting -- “There is no need to DETOX, it is a HOAX, our bodies detox every (damn) day so don’t fall into these nutritional trappings!”
Jeesh! You only wanted to do what’s best for you, maybe lose a few pounds, or MAYBE you really feel like crap and you want to make a big change so you hop on the Cleanse Craze -- but what gives? Is it really all hype or is there a real meaning to the madness?
Often, we can break down the conflicting information by addressing the two sides of the medical community - allopathic V functional/integrated. The former, being adamantly against any form of self imposed detox and the latter recommending everything from water fasting to lemon water with cayenne to juicing to powders and shakes to supplements to whole foods continual cleansing -- this last one being the one I subscribe to 98% of the time.
SO let’s dig in.
Do Our Bodies Need Help with Detoxification?
It is true, our bodies were designed to cleanse, to take out the trash, pee, poop, sweat and regenerate. A major player in the process is our liver of course, but also our kidneys, lungs, skin, lymphatic system and our brain too -- Did you know that when we sleep our brain washes itself of the plaque proteins as a protective mechanism against disease like dementia? Well it does, and it’s an amazing process, that works correctly, every night ...in people with really good sleep habits. That’s not everyone though, unfortunately.
While our bodies create their own chemical waste products, like plaque proteins, and excess hormones, they are simultaneously absorbing chemicals and toxins, including endocrine disruptors, via our lungs and skin and mouth (food). The liver, especially, deserves so much love for doing what it was designed to do all day every day to package up and process out toxins (or to stash them in our fat reserves. Ouch!)
This process works, for every single one of all of us...until it just doesn’t. Our livers are overburdened and, against what some of the medical establishment try to convince you, our livers DO need our help. We just weren’t designed to defend against all of these toxins on a constant basis.
“But what about,” you say, “if we are clean eaters and buy organic?”
First, good for you and high five! -- this helps, it truly does.
But did you know that babies are born today with over 200 chemicals in their umbilical cords? (Scientific American) BABIES! And that chemicals in the US are largely untested for safety in humans? And the chemicals that are deemed safe aren’t tested for safety in children or the elderly? And that tests of farmed and even wild salmon (such as those caught newar Puget Sound) found that these normally wonderfully fatty and typically healthy-choice fish have trace amounts of a large number of chemicals in them -- stored right in their good-for-us fat -- including and not limited to antidepressants, pain relief meds, and fire retardants...WHAT THE HECK...right?
These chemicals are in the air, are tracked indoors on our shoes, are in our furniture and painted walls and cleaning supplies.
We track in lead, for instance, from the outdoors which infiltrates our indoor air. So, remove your shoes as often as possible indoors (I gettit, when you wear heels to a house party, no, we don’t want to remove them for health reasons -- ok, ok! -- then please wipe them on the entrance rug at least 15 times before you step inside. Hey, I SAID you may keep the fashion statement but respect my health and yours too!) Additionally, let’s think about where many people spend 8-12 hours a day -- at work, where removing shoes would just not be practical -- so, lead is carried in from the streets and we breathe the offset.
As for water -- say no to plastic bottles, invest in a filtering system, and drink from glass containers at home. Easy fix.
So...what’s up with cleansing anyway? Are we doomed? Am I telling you to jump on the detox and cleansing wagon then? Or am I telling you food doesn’t matter? Not so fast -- it ALL matters , it also depends on your individual needs, and let’s just make sure you do it the right way.
How? Well, if you’re going to follow a program this is what you need to know:
Three Phases of Detoxification
Did you know there are three phases to detoxification? Each phase is dependent upon specific food sources..so as I will quickly discuss each phase, you’ll see why the right way to cleanse or detox is important.
Phase I - Neutralize: This phase involves P450 enzymes that release and metabolize a toxin (which is typically stored fat soluble) and transforms it into a less toxic form (water soluble). During this phase, the toxins are oxidized, making them even more harmful. So as these free radicals are generated, antioxidants play a critical role during phase one.
Our master antioxidant is Glutathione. It generates in the liver but it is poorly absorbed from food. However, we can supply our bodies with the building blocks of glutathione namely Milk Thistle*, NAC (NAC N-Acytal-LCysteine)** vitamin E, cruciferous vegetables, ALA, and selenium. B vitamins, iron, Vitamin C and magnesium are also needed during phase one.
Phase II - Conjugation: During this phase the water soluble toxins are combined with specific compounds, making them more easily excreted through the urine or bile. The major pathways are via glucuronidation, amino acid conjugation, sulfation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation and methylation. Simply put, the water soluble toxins need to be packaged up with a carrier escort to usher them out through the various pathways.
However, this can be a sluggish phase. Many people with Hashimoto’s, for instance, may have one or several sluggish detox pathways. Having a mutation in MTHFR, which many of us with hashi's do, it's common actually, may affect methylation. If Phase One releases a lot of toxins at once or too quickly, and our detox pathways are sluggish, those newly released toxins go right back into our bloodstream. So, we need adequate protein/amino acids, sulfur from cruciferous veggies, molybdenum from leafy greens and B12 to conjugate nicely with the water soluble toxins to complete Phase Two.
As you can see, protein is important here for amino acids. You don’t need a lot of protein to detox properly, just 10-15%, and it doesn’t need to come from animals, but you do need an adequate amount. As for B12, a methylated version of the supplement is necessary for those with Hashimoto’s or compromised methylation. So ask yourself when you do a juice cleanse, “Am I getting adequate amino acids?” Or, if you cleanse for three days, is it long enough time to truly create change? It depends on each person AND the process.
Phase III - Elimination: This is when the toxins actually exit the body.
Colon health, digestion and overall flora health are still big players in the detox process. This phase is dependent upon fiber and a healthy microbiome. Probiotics support our large intestine so supplementation helps plus adequate fiber. Resistant starch is also a healthy addition to the diet as it is healing to the gut lining, feeds our flora and contributes to reducing the fat surrounding our liver. (Dr. Alan Christianson)
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Our body deserves so much gratitude for the amazing work it does for us day in and out
Food matters, A LOT -- not just what we put in that creates toxicity, but what we put in that allows the nutrients, enzymes, pathways to do what they are meant to do and get the job done
The TYPE of cleanse/detox matters too
This is why I have a love/hate relationship with detoxes and cleanses.
I sell a cleanse. I cleanse with every 1:1 client. But it’s gentle. I call it Liver Love, that’s how kind it is. And, it’s truly a way of eating that supports daily detox. It’s a way of life, really. It's also an elimination diet that provides clues as to why we are feeling the way we do or not detoxing properly in the first place.
I get prickly sometimes with juices and powders. I’m a big fan of clean juices, especially juiced greens and celery juice. I suppose there is a time and place for powders as well. I do add clean protein powders to my cleansing options. However, fiber is seriously important to proper elimination, so be sure to check that fiber is included in your cleanse.
Detoxing shouldn’t be a one and done. If you don't plan to follow your cleanse with whole foods and true nutrition, what was the point?
Forced, heavy detoxes, which are necessary for some people, should be done under your functional health practitioner’s supervision.
ALL cleanses and detoxes must incorporate the proper nutrition or they aren’t actually doing you any good and could do more harm.
Sometimes a specific juice cleanse will contain higher protein add-ins like spirulina (a plant based complete protein) which is good, however, too often all we gain from a juice cleanse is
1) an influx of many good nutrients our body has been craving so it does feel good (and this IS good)
2) fluids that hydrate us and help flush water retention, (also good)
However, where are the amino acids and fiber? And in quantities that will carry out the garbage as designed? As you’ve read, if your body loses the best ability to carry the neatly packaged water soluble toxins OUT, they will only recirculate. Any 3-day juice cleanse should be followed immediately with days of fully nutritious whole foods. You can’t juice,