Everyone knows someone that has gone on a ‘detox’ – maybe it was a 48 hour fast; maybe a juice-cleanse in Bali; maybe just ditching junk food, alcohol and caffeine for a week or two. But what exactly is detoxification, and how can we support our body through this process?
Firstly – if you are thinking about a detox, but are currently eating a standard Australian diet (read processed + fried foods, sugar, caffeine + alcohol), are experiencing digestion problems, allergies, or blood sugar dysregulation (hangry anyone?) – then hold it right there. In the Nutritional Therapy approach to detoxification, we start with a focus of 2-3 months on addressing the foundations first. This includes assessing and working through any issues with your digestion system, blood sugar regulation, proper hydration, proper fat utilisation and mineral balance. Digestion is key to any nutritional therapy protocol, and it must be working properly for any detoxification program to work effectively.
So where do the toxins come from?
Everywhere. Literally. The more you read about this stuff the more you panic and want to run for the hills and live in a commune (jokes – kinda). But on the serious side, we all need to do the best we can with living in this modern world and detoxification can help our bodies cope.
Toxins can come from either inside or outside the body. Inside the body are endotoxins, these can be produced by a dysfunctioning digestive system, which can interfere with a detoxification protocol. For example, endotoxins can be created in the small intestine by bacteria overgrowth (SIBO, parasites, candida) and in the colon by dysbiosis (unbalanced gut flora).
Toxins produced outside the body, but stored in body tissue, fat and fluid are exotoxins. Exotoxins are from chemicals – and these are found everywhere; from the obvious sources like pollution and industrial chemical waste, to less obviously sinister (but very real) chemicals found in our home cleaning and personal care products.
Why is digestion so important?
We need the digestive system to be working effectively to ensure we can adequately eliminate any toxins that are stored in the body. The liver is a key organ involved in detoxification. It breaks down wastes and toxic materials inside the body and prepares the toxins to be safely eliminated. Most waste is eliminated through the colon (feces) or the kidneys (urine). Secondary elimination routes are the lungs and skin. So we need the liver to be functioning optimally to ensure we can break down and eliminate toxins, and we need the rest of the GI tract working, so we are not creating additional endotoxins whilst trying to detoxify.
How does detoxification work?
Once the digestive system is operating efficiently, we will be able to process, conjugate (break down) and eliminate toxins from the body via phase 1 & phase 2 detoxification pathways. These detoxification pathways are the metabolic processes used by the body to clean up and maintain homeostasis. Detoxification is a completely natural process, and is happening all the time in the body. However, by adopting a specific detoxification protocol, we can help support the body in eliminating these toxins.
How do we choose and plan a detox?
There are many different protocols for nutritional detoxification, and where you are on your own health journey will depend on what a detox program looks like for you. The length of time for a detox can vary from a short 5-day cleanse to a 30, 60, or 90-day overhaul. Neither is right or wrong but what feels manageable and right for you. The key elements of any detox are:
- remove stimulants – alcohol, caffeine, sugar;
- introduce more fresh fruit & vegetables – particularly leafy greens;
- remove inflammatory foods or foods you suspect you are intolerant to – common allergies/ intolerances include: wheat/ gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts/seeds, nightshade vegetables – these foods can all cause inflammation in the GI tract, and removing them will give your system a break and allow the detoxification process to work;
- allow your body to rest – prioritise sleep over social activities and nap if you can;
- include gentle movement – walking and yoga are perfect to stimulate the elimination processes of the body;
- support yourself with supplementary therapies – massage, hydrotherapy, saunas, colonics and targeted dietary supplements provided by trained practitioners.
What can you expect from a detox?
The first few days might be a little rough. You’ll likely experience symptoms of fatigue, low-energy, moodiness, headaches and hunger. But after a few days (and up to a week for some), you can expect to experience:
- more energy;
- better sleep;
- improved digestion;
- better concentration (no more brain fog); and
- increased libido!
Remember – start by cleaning up your diet for a few months, ensure your digestion is working properly before starting a detox, and seek the help of a trained professional if you need guidance on where to start.
Have you had success with a detox program recently? What are your hot tips?