Detox has become a buzz word surrounded by loads of misinformation. Cleanses and detox diets are all the rage, and can involve everything from fasting to teas to enemas. While not all cleanses or guided detoxifications are bad (they can, in fact, be quite useful), it’s essential that we understand what and why we need to “detox” in the first place.
First off, let’s define the thing we’re trying to cleanse or remove: toxins. Toxins are chemical substances which damage an organism (in this case, you). They can be man made (pesticides, preservatives, cleaning products, fragrances, etc) or produced naturally by plants, animals, or microbes (poison ivy, snake venom, endotoxins from bacteria/fungal/parasitic infections, etc). Toxins are a part of human evolution, and we have built-in protective mechanisms to help remove them from our bodies. The liver, gallbladder, kidneys, lungs, skin, lymph, and colon all help us detoxify. These systems function like a well-oiled machine, until they’re exposed to more toxins than they can effectively handle.
Our modern, industrial world contains more toxins than ever before and our bodies simply can not keep up. When detox pathways are overwhelmed, these pathways start to “back up.” Think of it like a bucket- this bucket can hold a lot, but once it’s full, it starts to overflow and cause all kinds of problems.
The first step to improving detoxification is reducing exposure to toxins. This allows your body to catch up and slowly drain the “bucket.” Because exposure can come from multiple sources, it’s important to look at several areas. The most common sources are processed foods; tap water; cleaning supplies; hair, skin, and makeup products; soaps and deodorant; laundry detergents; fragrances (perfume, body spray, cologne, candles, air fresheners); and mold from water damage (common in the home and workplace).
The second step is “opening up” detox/drainage pathways through bowels, urine, skin, lungs, and lymphatic flow. This means cleaning up your diet and addressing constipation (anything less than 2 bowel movements per day counts as constipation). It also means drinking plenty of clean, filtered water to flush out toxins and support the kidneys. Other ways to support detox and drainage include: sweating (infrared saunas are especially beneficial), deep breathing, exercise, dry brushing, epsom salt baths, and castor oil packs.
The third step is using targeted herbs and supplements to support “weak spots” in your physiology as you heal. These include things like TUDCA, binders, milk thistle, dandelion, B vitamins, NAC, and glutathione. These nutrients support your body’s natural processes and bind toxins to escort them out of the body!
Your body is an efficient machine, but like any machine it needs a little tune up from time to time. Detoxification is a complex system and major nutritional changes or supplementation should always be supervised by an experienced practitioner.