I was asked recently, “my sister gave me a detox kit for Christmas. She’s done the 12-day program herself before and wants me to join her this time. Should I do it? Is it safe? Do I need to do it? How often should I do it?”
Indeed, there are many detox supplements and dietary programs out there. Detoxification is a natural, biological process taking place in our bodies at any given moment. Our body is innately equipped to eliminate unwanted substances whether they are toxins from the environment or metabolic waste from inside the body. Unless we are living in the wilderness unexposed to environmental toxins, there are always toxins entering our bodies. Even then, there are pollutants in the air and water as plastic particles have been found on alpines and oceans.
Truthfully, the rates of environmental toxins entering the body and metabolic waste being created within the body exceed the rate that a human body is capable of processing. In this consumer-driven society, we are constantly exposed to bisphenol-A, pthalates, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones, even heavy metals in some populations, to name just a few.
In addition to toxin overload which clogs the outpouring (toxin-elimination) valve, a less optimal health state and unhealthy habits make our body less effective in eliminating toxins and wastes. For example, if we eat a diet high in sugar and saturated fat – creating inflammation – the inflammatory markers, like any waste product which need to be removed, can clog the outpouring valves. For another example, when going through menopause, the increasing level of cortisol and estrone can also clog the outpouring valves. Essentially, any unbalanced state of health burdens the outpouring valves, making our natural detox mechanism less effective.
In that context, a high-quality detox supplement program gently enhances the function of the organs that are responsible for detoxification, and an impressionable detox diet provides essential nutrients critical to supporting the normal function of detox organs – skin, lungs, intestines, liver, and kidneys.
Each detox organ has their unique tasks when it comes to getting rid of toxins, and they may work independently or collaboratively with each other depending on the biochemical properties of toxins/wastes that need to be processed.
Make careful considerations when buying and trying detox kits. They are not one-size-fits-all. For instance, if a program that only optimize the liver and not the kidneys nor the intestines, one may end up feeling very tired and lethargic from the program. I have seen acne and skin lesions manifesting as a result of such imbalanced detox program. Similarly, a program overly focused on the intestines may increase the number of bowel movements, allowing the user to feel lighter and less bloated, but underneath the surface is dehydration and low blood pressure in progress, putting the user at risk of headaches, dizziness, fainting, and even heart distress.
Go low and slow when trying out any detox kits, and do your research beforehand by recruiting the help of a reliable healthcare provider. I get my patients to bring in their detox kit if they are interested in starting a new one, and we go through the ingredients and dosages to see whether the program is the right fit for their health at that time. What worked for your sister or your best friend may not be suitable for you. Let’s look at some detox truths and myths:
#1 It’s normal to feel lethargic on detox programs
Myth. Feeling tired or having a mild headache on the first 3-4 days happens to some people and is normal. These symptoms are a result of toxins stored in tissues and fat cells being pulled out and re-entering into the circulatory system, waiting to be eliminated via the detox organs. When these toxins float around in the circulatory system, they can irritate neighboring tissues and organs, as a result, the individual going through the detox program can feel tired and headache-y. As well, some detox diets dramatically reduce carbohydrate consumption and demand for greater fibre intake. If an individual was previously eating high carbs diet, the sudden change without adequate blood sugar balancing support can bring on mild hypoglycaemia, making the individual feeling tired and sluggish. While these symptoms are normal, it’s certainly not normal to feel lethargic. Being on a detox program shouldn’t require you to take time off from work or be bedridden. If that occurs, the program may be too strong for you, lack the proper supportive component, or may simply be inadequate for you.
#2 Getting loose stool or diarrhea during detox means the program is working
Myth. Getting these symptoms simply means that there are laxatives contained in the program. It gives you the illusion that you’re purging something, but it may not actually rid toxins stored in tissues and fat cells. In fact, if you are getting multiple bowel movements of that consistency, you are losing fluids and electrolytes. This can cause arrhythmia and disrupt heart contractions (dangerous!). A good detox program ensures that you have 1-2 bowel movements per day and that the stools are well-formed of medium brown colour.
#3 Detox program restores liver damage caused from binge drinking
Myth. While a detox program can upregulate liver detox function, it is not meant to “save” the liver. The liver can only be healed by its own regeneration, under optimal condition, ie. devoid of heavy drinking and unhealthy dietary habits. Mind you, one single binge drinking occasion is associated with brain shrinkage, early onset dementia, and alzheimer’s – brain damage not reversible by detox.
#4 Detox can be done as frequent as one likes
Myth. Since the body is already equipped with self-cleansing function, it’s not necessary to facilitate this process all the time. On a daily basis, if we lead a lifestyle with as minimal toxin exposure as possible, plus a balanced diet rich in greens and fibre, adequate amount of water intake, and regular exercise routine, we would already be doing the maintenance work required to keep up our detox mechanism. Implementing a high quality supplement-based detox program every 6 to 8 months is all you need.
#5 Fasting is a form of detox
Myth. Fasting can be a part of detox but does not actively engage detox organs to work more effectively. The body requires multiple nutrients and organ-specific ingredients to facilitated the detox process. Fasting on its own only limit toxin exposure from outside the body. Inadequate fasting without proper guidance and monitoring from a healthcare practitioner can actually promote inflammation and therefore, increase self-generated toxins.
#6 Green-juicing is a better form of detox compared to eating vegetables whole
Myth. Commercial green juices have added sugar or higher proportion of fruits (for picky tastebuds), which we want to eliminate when trying to detox because excess sugar brings on inflammation. I’d recommend whole vegetables over green juicing even if you were to make your own green juice. The reason is that whole vegetables are rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, essential for detoxifying the intestines. In addition, nutrients such as lycopene found in tomatoes and lutein found in colourful vegetables are more concentrated in the cooked form. Last, the chewing motion of your jaws sends signals to the brain so that you will feel more satiated eating vegetables as opposed to drinking their juice.
#7 Sauna, steam room, and physical exercises can help with detoxification
Truth. All of these activate the sympathetic autonomic system which dilates blood vessels and promote circulation, which is ideal during detox. We want waste products moving into the lymphatic and circulatory systems in order for them to be filtered out by all the detox organs. Choose infrared sauna over traditional sauna as the former penetrates heat through the skin up to 1.5 inches and does a more effective job than traditional sauna.
#8 Heavy metal can be eliminated out of the body by eating vegetables that chelates metals such as cilantro, parsley, and celery leaves.
Myth. While these vegetables can bind to heavy metals to promote their elimination, heavy metals are often stuck in areas outside the digestive tract such as joints, blood vessels, and the brain. If you have a heavy metal problem, you’ll need specialized chelation treatment to rid those toxins. Detox kits and diets simply just don’t have the capacity to rid heavy metals.
#9 BPA and phthalates are stores in fat cells. Losing weight can get rid of them from the body.
Partly true. Plastics are stored in adipose tissues. If you’re making progress in shedding extra pounds, chances are that the microplastics stored in fat cells flow into the blood waiting to be eliminated by the liver. During this period, we may feel sluggish. If we are sedentary and dehydrated while cutting out calories and detoxifying, the newly freed plastics can find themselves back in tissues. So while on a detox diet, it’s absolutely important to rehydrate constantly and keep yourself moving so that the plastics don’t get re-lodged again. Note however, plastics bind strongly to estrogen receptors and they cannot be eliminated by weight management. It’s always best to avoid exposure in the first place.