As a Naturopathic doctor, patients routinely request information on a “cleanse” or “detox” without a complete understanding of what these words or concepts mean. Often patients assume that by taking a pill they will somehow purge themselves of “toxins”, and in the process lose weight. My concern with the misuse of these terms is that often these “cleanse” or “detox” kits can negatively interfere with medications, and they generally operate as laxatives, which are habit forming and can also be dangerous. They can also be expensive and wrought with false advertising.
To truly cleanse one must first understand how they come into contact with these toxins: the fact remains that we are exposed to more toxins in the home than outdoors, specifically through the food we eat, the cleaning supplies we use and the beauty care products we apply. It is well known that substances such as PCBs, plasticizers, pesticides, phthalates and flame retardants bio-accumulate in the body and contribute to ill health. Bisphenol A (BPA), for example, is a well-known endocrine disruptor. Today, a great deal of research exists and indicates that even in doses as small as parts per billion these chemicals have the ability to alter our physiology. Our bodies are designed to remove the waste that we don’t need, however, if this were being done efficiently in all people we would not commonly find evidence of bio-accumulation of many known toxic substances in samples of blood, urine and adipose tissue.
Detoxification is necessary for a healthy state. Our cells are constantly forming toxins as normal waste products of metabolism. Our cells release these toxins into the blood. While they are in our bloodstream, circulating antioxidants latch onto them, neutralize their oxidizing capacity, and escort them to the liver. Once there, the liver’s job is to render these toxins harmless through a process known as Phase 1 and Phase 2. In Phase 1, chemical reactions within the liver breakdown and attempt to eliminate toxins by sending them into the bile, which allows them to be excreted through our stools. The toxin may also get converted into an intermediate compound where it needs the help of Phase 2 to neutralize it.
Due to the overload of chemicals our body encounters on a daily basis, the liver is not always able to filter the blood of these toxins easily. Liver detoxification relies on the induction or inhibition of the P450 system, a group of enzymes which is largely affected by nutrient intake, exposures to other toxic chemicals, medication, and the genetic polymorphisms of these enzymes. Modern life has added thousands of toxins to our daily life. Foods today are loaded with chemicals and are heavily processed. Instead of eating nutrients, we digest food-like molecules that trick the body into absorbing them. Once inside, they can’t be used and can cause irritation, inflammation and interfere with our body’s normal signalling. This, in addition to the many chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we wash with and drink, the cosmetics we use, and the chemicals we clean our house all bombard our system.
It is actually our diet that is an important determinate in our ability to detoxify, as it is the primary source of the vitamins and minerals required for efficient detoxification. More importantly, the quality of foods we choose to eat greatly affects our health by either supporting the elimination pathways in the body or by adding to our toxic load. I do not promote fasting and feel it is a detriment to human physiology as the P450 enzymes of the liver require products of the Kreb’s cycle in order to properly function. For optimal function, the P450 enzymes need nutrients such as Vitamin C, B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, sulphur and amino acids like methionine and cysteine. If we ate a whole food diet high in fresh, raw and alkalinizing plant foods, we would have the anti-oxidants needed to protect our bodies from oxidative damage caused by circulating toxins. We would also have an abundance of all the nutrients the liver needs to perform phase 1 and 2 detoxification efficiently.
During a healthy cleanse, where the emphasis should be on diet, certain foods are excluded, such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar because they stress the P450 mechanisms that the body requires for the bio-transformation of toxic chemicals. Non-organic meats and dairy are also excluded as they are a known source of PCBs and xenoestrogens. Other excluded food items include processed and preserved foods and those that are difficult to digest and increase intestinal permeability of toxic substances.
I highly recommend doing the The-CLEANSE.com as it is based on relevant and current scientific data on the physiology of detoxification. It involves one week of consuming a healthy diet with a focus on fruits and vegetables, mostly plant protein, healthy fats and fibre. It is known that a diet that supports detoxification is balanced in carbohydrates (60%), protein (30%) and healthy fats (30%).
It seems like today we are exposed to more toxins than our bodies are designed to handle. Until our systems can evolve to keep up, we need to be kind to ourselves and be as conscious as we can when we eat and drink.
The message is clear: there is no quick fix. The choices you make each day affect your health. Through information and awareness we can make wiser choices and pass that knowledge on.