Is your plan to endure a detox plan after a period of indulgence, but you don’t know where to start? January is the time of the year when a vast number of us in the UK will type into a Google search words such as “detox” or “diet” to look for inspiring plans or programmes. However, the amount of information thrown back at you can be overwhelming! And which programme does actually work? In today’s blog we cover the science and the story behind detoxification and cleanse in order to help you understand the importance of diet and lifestyle to achieving optimum health.
‘Detox’ is a method used for centuries based on the ancient Greek and Egyptian theories that a majority of foods consumed were a source of toxins harmful to the body; thus, ancient civilization encouraged a day of fasting or self-denial as a result of that.
It is even more vital now than ever to support the body’s natural detoxification systems not only through healthy food choices all year around, but also through lifestyle changes. We live in a toxic environment: vegetables and fruit herbicides and pesticides, chlorines in household cleaning products, parabens and phthalates in cosmetics and plastics, heavy metals and PCB’s in farmed fish, and dioxins and antibiotics in most industrialized and commercially produced animal products, just to mention a few types of toxins people are exposed to every day.
A study in the US indicated the average woman applies onto her skin cosmetic products, which contain around 168 chemicals. Despite eating organic produce, choosing better quality cosmetics, and avoiding commercial cleaning products, it is hard to avoid the pollution in our environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of toxins released onto the land increased by 19 % from 2010 to 2011, predominantly due to upsurges in land disposal at metal mines.
The main purposes of detoxification are supporting the functions of the liver, skin, bowel and circulation. Therefore, nutrient dense foods, rich in fibre to support regular bowel movements, with liver-supporting nutrients will encourage the detoxification and eradication of toxins from our body.
The liver helps us break down and neutralise toxic components that enter our body from the outside (‘exogenous’), such as pesticides, pollutants, and medications; and compounds created within our body (‘endogenous’), including hormones. These toxic components must be neutralised via enzymatic pathways inside our liver cells, a process which happens every single day, not only during a detox programme. However, if the amount of toxins entering the body is higher than the amount of toxins the body can deal with this can lead to toxins being accumulated in fatty tissues in the body.
Unfortunately, toxins can be stored for many years before being released during times of stress, fasting or exercise. When toxins are being released symptoms of detox can be experienced, including headaches, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, fatigue, dizziness, poor memory, and heart palpitations. This is called the Herxeimer’s Reaction. In order to avoid such bad symptoms, it is vital to provide necessary nutrients to support the body’s natural detoxification systems.
Starting a detox plan when your body is nutrient-depleted and the consumption of adequate key nutrients is low can only result in compromised health. There are specific nutrients your body needs for successful detoxification, such as minerals selenium, magnesium, zinc, copper, molybdenum, manganese, and B vitamins and vitamins C and E. The liver has two pathways, Phase I and Phase II, intended to convert fat-soluble substances into water-soluble substances so that they can be easily excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile and urine.
Phase I converts dangerous chemicals into (generally) less dangerous compounds and makes fat-soluble toxins more water-soluble so that the body can remove them from the body via the bile (and bowel) or kidneys. This is attained by several chemical reactions, which consequently produce dangerous free radicals (reactive oxygen species – ROS). Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and natural carotenoids are required to lessen the damage initiated by these free radicals.
Toxic chemicals from Phase I enter Phase II to complete the detoxification process. As stated above, some of the Phase I compounds are more dangerous than the original toxin. For example, benzene, is a dangerous organic solvent that can be found in gasoline and cigarettes. The enzymes in ‘Phase I’, change benzene to carcinogenic benzene quinones. In order to efficiently and safely complete the detoxification of benzene, the body needs ‘Phase II’.
In Phase II, these dangerous chemicals are combined with amino acids, sulphur or organic acids and then removed in the bile. The ‘Phase II’ is especially disturbed by excessive toxic load and nutritional deficiencies. As mentioned, sulphur plays a vital role in detoxification, and can be found in eggs, meat, fish and dairy products. Beans, nuts and seeds are vegetarian sources. This is why it is critical to incorporate some (but not excessive) protein foods in a detoxification programme.
When toxins have been ‘deactivated’ by the liver they can then enter the bile and the bowel to be removed in the faeces. However, if you tend to get constipated some of these toxins may be reabsorbed and have to go through the liver’s detoxification routes again. Consistent bowel movements (at least once a day) are essential for a successful elimination of toxins.
What to look out for when enduring a Detoxification Plan?
The information in this blog contains suggestions as part of a detoxification programme. It is not recommended to conduct any detoxification during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Nevertheless, a detoxification as part of pre-conception planning may be favourable for both the mum and dad-to-be.
Also, if you suffer with any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication, please check with your doctor first before starting a cleansing programme. You should not commence a detoxification plan if you are ill without direction from a healthcare practitioner.