Detoxification: your questions answered
Detoxification, or "cleansing" has gained popularity in recent years as a beneficial healthy lifestyle practice. It's like a full body spring clean, a reset to clear out all the junk and feel better, brighter and lighter. But is it necessary? Is it safe? I'm going to answer these, and other common queries about detoxification here, so stay tuned!
These days we are lucky enough to benefit from the advances in industry and technology to make our lives more comfortable. But with these improvements come a soup of chemicals that weren’t around even 100 years ago in the form or magnitude they are now. Research is still in the process of uncovering the effects, good or bad, that these new substances are having on our bodies. Although we still don’t have the full picture, we do know that many xenobiotics (compounds foreign to the human body) are persistent, sticking around in our bodies for months and even years, and are very difficult to remove completely.
What kind of substances are we talking about?
Well, honestly they’re everywhere. Some of the chemical pollutants implicated in long term storage and heath effects are found in plastics, food preservatives, cosmetics, flame retardants, conventional cleaning products, smoke, vehicle exhaust, wood products, pesticides, bug sprays and the list goes on.
Why do we care?
Ok, so chemical pollutants are all over the place and we know that many of them take quite a while to be cleaned out of our bodies. So what? I bet you hardly notice them right? Maybe, or maybe not. Everyone has a different ability to process and eliminate unwanted substances from their bodies, depending on things like genetics, and the amount of things they have lined up for elimination. People who are more efficient detoxifiers may not notice any changes to their health, while people with less efficient machinery, or a larger “detox to-do list” may experience real health effects, which have the potential to multiply in the long run.
So is detoxification necessary? Maybe.
It is absolutely true that everyone is constantly performing detoxification reactions through their livers and kidneys. This is the basis for the argument that cleansing and detoxification treatments are unnecessary. BUT, picture your liver and kidneys as a car that is always running. Over time gunk builds up in the engine, causing it to run less efficiently. Wouldn’t it make sense to take it in for a service, change the oil and make sure everything is running properly so you get the most out of it? That is how you should be thinking about detoxification – as a support to your natural mechanisms.
Do you need to do it all the time? Absolutely not. Frequency depends on the types of choices you make in your daily life. Someone with a very healthy lifestyle may never need to provide detoxification support, because they’re always keeping things clean. Kind of like using premium gasoline in your car rather than a lower quality product.
What is the right way to detox?
This depends on your preference. Some people really like following a set routine for a set period of time, while others would prefer to incorporate healthy practices into their every day life for continued support. The latter is my personal preference, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add in an extra week of more aggressive detox if it suits you.
Do I need to buy a kit?
In short, no. The best ways to support natural detoxification mechanisms involve removing things that put pressure on your liver and kidneys to give them space to work, like certain foods or alcohol, as well as encouraging sweating through exercise, saunas etc. Most kits will tell you to do these things anyway! On top of this, it would be helpful to add in vitamins and nutrients that are specifically involved in the liver detoxification pathways to make sure they run properly, and this is where many kits come in if you want to use one.
A word of warning though, not all kits are created equal. Some kits out there (one in particular that happens to be popular…) are nothing more than a handful of laxatives and diuretics (more peeing). Herbal or not, this is not a healthy way to detox, and if you do decide to use a kit, it would be wise to get the advice of your naturopathic doctor to ensure the kit you’ve chosen is actually worth your time.
What about juice cleanses?
This is a major fad right now, and I can’t say I fully agree with it. There are good intentions behind juicing, as it can provide a concentrated dose of vitamins and nutrients, and will make you feel very fresh and light while doing it. However, juicing removes all of the fibre associated with those healthy fruits and veggies, which alters the macronutrient profile and ends up delivering a bunch of carbohydrate that gets absorbed much faster, potentially encouraging fat storage as well as depriving you of much needed protein and fat – both extremely important to detoxification pathways. If you’re going to juice, I recommend smoothies, which preserve much of the fibre content, and you can add protein powders and healthy fats to it if you like. You can also incorporate juice or smoothies into your daily diet to make sure you hit all your nutrient requirements while getting that extra kick of detox support. Again, it is best to speak with a health care professional about this for the best information.
There is a lot of information out there about detoxification, and this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but I do hope it sheds some light on the general ideas behind detoxification, and when it might be a good idea. Also keep in mind, most of the information here is meant for someone who is in fairly good health and looking for a way to boost their well-being. If you are trying to support detoxification for a specific condition, you may require a more focused treatment protocol to see meaningful results. If this is the case, be sure to seek the advice of a trusted health care professional.
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