It’s definitely a good time to detox now, now that that mad post-January 1st “I’m-giving-up-everything” moment has passed…
Why do we need to detox?
Detox, a wonderful ancient naturopathic term, has become an overused ‘buzz word’, the darling of the glossy magazines and the icon of a new form of preventative medicine. It is a word most often used incorrectly and with no understanding of the real healing it offers. I want to break this word down so that you have a clear understanding of what it means to be toxic and how to detox and clean up your act with pure foods! Naturopaths are clear that the elimination of toxins is the key to good health.
What goes into the body in the form of food, air and water is used to promote health and vitality or must eliminated if it is not useful or is toxic in some way. If it is not used correctly or eliminated it accumulates. Fact. You then become toxic and this is one of the main causes of disease from a naturopathic perspective. If your food, air and water – the three mainstays of life – are polluted with modern chemicals, the need to eliminate effectively becomes a major priority for the maintenance of health. If we add to this the fact that your own body produces toxins as a by-product of metabolism, stress and exercise, you then have a strong case for needing a functioning system of elimination.
How are we exposed to toxins and what are they?
We all live in a filthy, toxic, polluted world. Each day we take in a nasty array of chemicals with our food and drink and the air we breathe. The list is long and quite scary:
• car pollution
• exhaust fumes
• food additives
• chemical pollution
• industrial pollution
Hundreds of new chemicals are created by our scientists each year. Some of these are very useful and safe whilst others are definitely not. World war two saw a massive increase in the production of synthetic chemicals (roughly 55 million kilograms of farm chemicals in 1945 to 1.5 billion kilograms or more today). The important point I want to make here is that for millions of years, as our bodies developed, we were exposed to a fairly narrow range of natural chemicals. Our bodies knew how to deal with these and so very few of the natural chemicals actually accumulated in our tissues and caused damage to our health. With the onset of modern chemical production, stimulated by the needs of world war two, the situation changed and suddenly we had a vast array of unnatural chemicals to deal with. We are in the middle of a chemical war.
Most modern farm chemicals have side-effects and are a good example of the toxins we have to deal with in the modern world:
• Organophosphates – a pesticide
They can cause: headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, sweating, rashes, loss of appetite, weakness, weight loss and general feeling of sickness.
• Organochlorines – a pesticide
They can cause: disruption of nervous system function, mainly in the brain. Headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, excitability, disorientation, nervousness, weakness and shaking.
If these damaging chemical toxins are not eliminated from our bodies, we leave ourselves open to illnesses and the damage associated with toxicity. The more toxic we are and the more toxins we store, the greater our chances are of falling ill.
I want to draw your attention to a very important issue and one that sometimes keeps me awake at night worrying about what I am feeding my kids. I listed some of the chemicals we take in on a daily basis but would now like to concentrate your attention on one particular group – the food additives and chemicals found in foods. Most of us would assume that these food additives are safe? Surely they are tested? The government is obviously extremely careful and makes sure they are all safe for me and my family to eat every day?
NO! NO! This is just not true. The responsibility for testing lies mostly with the companies producing these food additives and the chemicals like insecticides. The testing, when it is done, is performed in a lab, most often on animals and with single, isolated chemicals. This sounds great until you realise that most foods contain a whole smorgasbord of chemicals (flavourings, insecticides, preservatives) – very rarely will a food grower and a manufacturer use only one additive. Basic chemistry applies now. Chemicals in isolation in a testing laboratory cannot react with other chemicals. Put a few chemicals together, especially in your body, and the case is very different. The chances are that they might react creating new and more toxic by-products. The fact is that some food additives might be safe but only in isolation. Mix them with other chemicals in food and we have a potential health time bomb. This fact makes a mockery of most food safety tests done on isolated chemicals.
What damage do these toxins do?
This is the point where I could become very technical and most probably lose you in jargon. I won’t as I want to keep this simple so that you can clearly see what damage toxins do…
• Toxins and weight gain
The body stores the toxins it cannot get rid of in body fat. This is a safe storage place as most of us don’t lose weight (in fact we most often gain weight). The fat depot is stable and does not break down and release it’s damaging, toxic load into the blood and other tissues. Our wonderful, clever bodies also hold onto excess water to dilute the toxins, creating water retention. So, the more toxic you are the more weight you gain and retain!
• Toxins and hormone production
Some insecticides and pesticides mimic the action of our own hormones, the important natural body chemicals that run so many of the processes needed to stay alive (eg: oestrogen, testosterone, adrenaline). Hormones run essential functions like reproduction, energy production and the management of blood sugars. What is very disturbing is the fact that, due to the closeness in chemical structure, these farm chemicals create imbalances in our hormones, leading to problems with the management of many of our essential body processes.
• Toxins and your body’s cells
I think that the most important damage happens at an atomic level. To explain this I need to introduce you to the most dangerous chemical in your body – the free radical. A free radical is an atom (the basic component of all matter, atoms consist of a nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons) that has lost an electron and I doubt very much you will ever meet a nastier piece of work in your life. An atom that has lost an electron is as damaging as a bull in a china shop. It will stop at nothing to find an electron to steal to complete itself. It steals from your body and in the process wreaks havoc, degrading natural body chemicals, disrupting internal biochemistry and creating disease. Scientists have directly linked free radicals with diseases ranging from cancer to arthritis and tell us that they are created by common factors like stress, over-exercise, environmental pollution and poor food. The more free radicals you have in your body, the more intense the internal damage and the higher your chances are of becoming ill. Now for the scary bit – toxins are a major source of free radicals. Heated oils, rancid oils, cigarette smoke and alcohol are just some of the ways that free radicals are created. The only protection you have against these little horrors is a group of natural chemicals found in abundance in pure foods – the free radical killing antioxidants like vitamin C and the mineral selenium. Enough said. I think we are now clear as to why you need to detox and start eating pure, antioxidant rich foods.
Toxic food file:
Hands up who drinks coffee? Most of us indulge in this little helper on a fairly regular basis. What we don’t know is that coffee contains over a thousand chemicals. Of these only around 26 have been tested and around half of those tested have been found to cause cancer in mice.
How do we eliminate?
The major routes of elimination are your lungs, your liver, your bowels (via the stool), your skin and your kidneys (via urine). What this list seems to show is that nature has supplied your body with a variety of effective routes to get rid of toxins. At first glance this appears to be true but closer inspection of the facts points to a horrible truth. Your elimination pathways are most probably overloaded and failing to keep you clean!
Why are the elimination pathways in trouble?
Time for some home truths. The lungs may be overloaded with smoking, air born pollution and a general lack of fresh air and exercise. The liver may have to deal with fatty diets, man-made chemicals, high alcohol consumption and a vast array of prescription and recreational drugs. The bowels are often constipated and thus accumulate wastes instead of eliminating them. The poor kidneys are often starved of water to flush toxins and the skin does not see cleansing sunshine or regular exfoliation. Another major problem is what naturopaths call ‘enervation’ or low nervous energy. Simply put, your nervous system governs and controls the systems and organs of elimination and in many people it is tired, and just not up to the job. Stress, busy schedules, late nights and the myriad of other commitments modern living throws at you has exhausted your poor nervous system. It is no longer in proper control of elimination and you are becoming toxic. A tired you is a toxic you
In summary: reduced elimination + increasing toxicity = disease.
Not a bad reason to read on and take some positive action to restore and regain real health.
1. Try to eat organic. If your budget does not stretch to include organic foods then make sure that you wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly to remove all surface chemicals and sprays. Most health food stores stock special washes that get rid of surface insecticides and pesticides.
2. Drink filtered water to flush your system. There are some inexpensive activated carbon water filters on the market. Aim to drink around one and a half litres of water a day and add some lemon juice as this helps to stimulate liver function. Drink your water at room temperature as this is better for your stomach and bowels.
3. Reduce your sugar intake. If you need sweetness add some organic honey or rice malt (available from a health food store) to your food. Read food labels as manufacturers disguise sugar content by calling sugar all kinds of technical names like sucrose, maltose, dextrose, lactose and glucose.
4. Eat plenty of fibre as this helps to keep you regular. The bowels are the sewerage disposal unit of the body and we do need to open them every day. Wholegrains, beans, brown rice and vegetables are all a great source of fibre. If you need more help try using a teaspoon of psyllium husks in a full glass of water each morning. Most health food stores stock this great fibre supplement.
5. Say no to junk food on a daily basis. If you can resist the urge to eat denatured, processed foods you will be doing your body a big favour each day. Every little bit of abstinence works.
The top detox supplements
• A daily multi vitamin and mineral – to make sure that you do not miss out on any nutrients, and for the protective antioxidants. The dosage for most formulations is one a day.
• Milk thistle – this wonderful herb helps to gently motivate the liver to break down fats and detox the body. I suggest using a fresh plant tincture (liquid).
• Chromium polynicotinate – to stabilise blood sugars and reduce any hunger pangs and sugar cravings during the detox. The suggested dose is 400mcg a day.
• Digestive enzymes with protease, lipase, amylase, cellulose, phytase, lactase, sucrase and maltase (this is not a definitive list but a good benchmark). Take one with each meal during the detox to calm digestion and inhibit any bloating during the detox process.
• Probiotic supplement with lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus – these beneficial bacteria promote good digestion and help to keep any negative, damaging bacteria under control in the lower bowels.
• Essential fatty acids are hugely important for so many aspects of detox (digestion, weight-loss, blood sugars, stress, sleep and hormones) – take a balanced formula with both omega 3,6 and 9. I suggest using Udo Erasmus (Udo’s) oil which is available from most health food stores in the known universe!
• Green drink – I always ask my clients to take a green drink during detox. I suggest a formula that contains raw, dried organic greens like chlorella, spirulina, alfalfa, barley, rye, broccoli, parsley, and kale Greens are amongst our most important foods as they provide us with all of the essential components of health. They provide fiber and are the best source of antioxidants. They provide phytonutrients, natural plant chemicals that are potent health aids and alkalise the body. Drink your salad!
Max Tomlinson ND (Australia)
Fulham Medical Centre, 446 Fulham Road, London, SW6 1BG