Spring and fall are the best times to clean, as they are periods of transition. In spring, it's the season of growth and renewal, of making space for new life. In fall, it's clearing out space to settle into comfortably for the cool weather ahead, maybe dealing with the wee "mess" left behind after a season of fun. Same goes for our bodies, so align with the season by initiating your "detox" now!
On that note, I intentionally do not wish to provide you with a way to "completely cleanse" in a week, since that's not likely possible, but I would like to provide daily detoxification methods that you can integrate into your life. There are beautiful herbs and supportive nutrients to boost this process if one is in need (see a Naturopathic Doctor for more!), but maintaining these daily methods in some capacity is important in preventing the accumulation of toxins.
I don't think it is news to anyone that our environment is increasingly toxic. From pesticides in our foods to fumes in our air, sugar-laden treats to medications in our water supply, our lives are filled with toxins. And that's okay.
I mean, it's not okay. But it is the reality. I don't want to frighten people into believing that their world is poisoning them. What I do want to say is that our bodies all have mechanisms to remove these toxins. The real considerations are: burden and functioning mechanism.
Burden: how much of these toxins are you exposed to? Is it beyond what your body can clear? And can you reduce your exposure?
Functioning Detox Pathways: Are all your elimination pathways functioning properly? Can we support these pathways so that you are eliminating properly, or better than normal?
The intention of this blog is to focus on ways that you can support your body in detoxifying daily in a sustainable, ongoing way. Sure, you can do a blitz "spring cleaning" if you'd like, but the most effective and lasting cleansing, ideally, is integrating detox-promoting activities into your daily lifestyle, to decrease your toxic burden and consistently clear it from your system.
Who should not detox?
If you're going to drastically change your life with a strong detox, there are a few contraindications, as this might dump toxins from your fat cells into your system, and overload the liver. Thus, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not detox heavily, as your baby may be affected by the toxin load. Also, if you are on medications that involves liver enzymes, since you could be directly altering phases of detoxification in the liver. Arguably, since a strong detox could put strain on the system, those in weaker states may want to avoid this process- this could include the elderly, those with Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, etc. On the other hand, a detox could possibly help these people, so that is a very individual choice.
How do we eliminate toxins?
The pathways of elimination include urination, defecation, breathing, and sweating. In order to properly eliminate toxins from these routes, we must have healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and lymphatic system. Some of the tips below will directly address these systems, but everyone is so different, please consult a naturopathic doctor to make an individualized plan for you.
Water! Around 8 glasses per day minimum. In order to flush toxins and metabolites from the system, have sufficient fluids to sweat properly, and maintain high kidney function so that it may expel waste.
Fiber! Approximately 14g/1000 calories. So most people should aim for around 25-35 grams per day. Fiber is high in fruits and vegetables, as well as beans and legumes, nuts and seeds. For mega fiber, add psyllium husk, chia seeds, or freshly ground flax seed (grind right before consuming, the wonderful oils are rather delicate and go rancid easily) to your meals. Ensure adequate water intake if you do so, or this method will be constipating! Fiber binds toxins and releases them from the system via feces. If there is low fiber, the toxins could be reabsorbed into your system in the intestines. In addition, sufficient fiber will help to ensure proper bowel functioning, relieving constipation by providing bulk to the stool and stimulating the bowels so that stool can be expelled.
Fruits and vegetables! Providing both water and fiber, which we've already discussed, in addition to the plethora of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are too numerous to even begin to touch on. But trust me... fruits and vegetables (vegetables especially) are extraordinarily important for good health. The antioxidant and nutrient goodness contained within will help fight free radicals and maintain proper functioning of every system in the body.
Activity! Sweating is a pathway of elimination, so make it happen, daily! Exercise, saunas (especially infrared, which penetrates deeper into your skin- we have a complimentary infrared sauna at Wholistic Care Center!), sex, epsom salt baths, whatever makes you sweat. Sweating will increase circulation, possibly lymph flow, and expel toxins from your skin.
Restful sleep! Ensure that you are sleeping properly, 6-8 hours per night. Restful sleep is incredibly important for growth, renewal, and proper functioning of our entire body. A blog post on sleep hygiene is soon to come!
Reduce stress and emotional conflicts! Detox your WHOLE life! Toxic emotions are as important to let go of as the physical toxins in our body. Let go of stress, which can be damaging (Watch this video for how you can modify your view of stress to make it less damaging!). Introducing mindfulness meditation into your daily life and deep breathing could greatly improve one's stress response. Acknowledge the toxic people in your life- they make you feel poorly, they suck your energy, perhaps they are full of negativity. Also, acknowledge and release the toxic emotions within yourself (such as anger, shock, worry, grief, and fear). Follow your bliss, what makes you feel good and happy. Address the things that do not make you feel good and happy, and try to minimize them in your life.
Toxins to Avoid
"The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison"- Ann Wigmore. That is just about my absolute favourite food quote in history. It makes every food choice you make beneficial or detrimental to health. (I will save the discussion of guilt about food for another blog, but if/when you do indulge in poor food choices, at least frame them in a positive way).
Junk food is toxic. Junk food generally is full, obscenely packed, with sugar. Sugar is oxidative, which means damaging. Watch Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Dr. Lustig for an in-depth explanation. Also, simple/refined carbohydrates (stripped of their fiber) causes your blood sugar to quickly spike, insulin follows, and overcompensates for the immediate spike. Thus, when your cells are satiated with glucose, there is still a bunch of insulin kicking around, which signals to your body that you're hungry, NOW. Your very smart body knows that the easiest way to fill a "hungry, NOW" signal is simple carbs, which are released immediately into your bloodstream. It is a vicious cycle, and the best way to stop it is by ceasing the simple/refined carb intake in the first place. Also, junk food is void of nutrients and it actually USES your valuable vitamins and minerals in order to process it! So it's actually anti-nutrients! One of many statistics is that 1 molecule of sugar takes 54 molecules of magnesium to process it! Yikes! Lastly, junk food contains many chemicals. In summary, it is not real food, not even close. So try not to eat non-food.
Do try to eat organic and grassfed foods whenever possible. It is not cheap, so if you need to prioritize for financial reasons, the very first priority is animal products. This is due to the bio-accumulation that occurs in animals- think of eating the plant that was sprayed with pesticides versus the animal that has been consuming the plants sprayed with pesticides all summer- which will contain more pesticides? Also, toxins tend to hide in fat, which is high in most animals products. Take this into account when purchasing any meats, dairy, eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc. Also, when grassfed, animal products produce many more nutrients, even some that we cannot attain otherwise, such as vitamin K2. The second class of organic priority is soy- it is so genetically mutated that I would prioritize purchasing soy products (tofu, soy milk, edamame, tempeh, etc.) as organic. In terms of fruits and vegetables, prioritize the dirty dozen and de-prioritize the clean 15, as these are the most pesticide-laden and cleanest fruits and vegetables, respectively. You can print off the list and keep it in your wallet for reference, or as a general rule remember that if it has a skin, it is likely lower priority to purchase organic since the skin will protect the fruit more from absorbing pesticides. Also, items with small nooks and crannies (such as berries) and that grow close to the ground (such as greens) will be more susceptible to pesticides. In terms of fish, there are sites and apps to inform you of safe and non-safe fish. The major fishes with high mercury content are tuna, swordfish, sole, and shark, so avoid eating these fish. The larger and longer-living the fish, the higher the toxin load (due to bioaccumulation). Likewise, the smaller the fish the less toxins, so focus on sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout, etc.
Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs affect your consciousness. There is a reason they have the power to do so. They're toxins! Try to reduce or eliminate alcohol and drugs.
Frying and charbroiling when it leads to blackened food creates products of incomplete combustion, which are carcinogenic. Instead, try to steam or bake (without burning!), or "fry" in a liquid such as apple cider vinegar, so that it does not burn.
Food allergies are a massive topic, so I will not go into depth, but either having IgG food allergy tests or trying an elimination diet under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor is a great idea. Many of us have symptoms that can be explained by food allergies, and if you're constantly ingesting a food that you're allergic to, this is increasing inflammation and wreaking havoc in your system. Detox those reactions by determining your allergy and eliminating that food. With gut healing, over time you may even be able to reintroduce the food without a reaction! Some of the most common allergens are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs. It is also important to note that gliadin (found in gluten) also activates a protein called zonulin which monitors intestinal permeability, thus can actually lead directly to food allergies (and various other problems) by allowing large proteins through the intestinal wall. So removing gluten can potentially help all food allergies (and all human beings ever...). Do be careful to not replace with items that are trading gluten for simple carbohydrates such as sugar, tapioca starch, potato starch, etc as these will negatively affect your blood sugar and health.
The cleaning products that most people use are extremely toxic. What's the use in cleaning if you're coating everything in toxins?! Removing inert dust from a dresser by coating it in sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate does not seem like a fair trade. So opt for more natural cleaners that you can find at the health food store, or make your own, very affordable, natural cleaning agents. Vinegar and baking soda are great at cleaning just about anything. There are thousands of recipes online for the cleaner of your choice. Consider replacing all-purpose cleaners, dish soap, laundry detergents, etc.
Avoid smoke, fumes, chemicals and radiation as these are all toxic. Insidious sources of these items could come in the way of carpets (they off-gas for decades), home fragrance, and paint (opt for low/no-VOC paint to avoid toxic fumes). To a lesser degree, but still interesting to consider is clothing- try to buy used clothing as much as possible because fabrics also off-gas and are treated with chemicals in the production process. Lastly, rid your house of plastics, especially those that contain food or water. Replace plastic food tupperwares with glass storage containers (Glasslock is great in terms of durability and cost), replace plastic water bottles with glass or metal containers, mason jars work very well and have an amazing seal. Try to purchase fresh or frozen foods only, and avoid cans (lined with BPA and other chemicals, opt for glass jars if possible).
Fill your house with clean-air plants! Check out a list here. These plants filter your air so that you are breathing clean, highly oxygenized air, and reducing the contaminants discussed earlier. And they make people happy. So do it. Also, consider adding air filters to your home to cleanse the air, and tap/shower filters to cleanse your water of chlorine and/or heavy metals. And don't forget to get out in nature- it knows best, and it's doing all the filtering goodness for you.
I am going to do an entire blog on this topic, but for now, know that castille soap, aluminum-free baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and a pure oil of your choice is almost all you need to cleanse yourself, head to toe. Check out Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database to see how your beauty products rate in terms of chemicals. Be very, very wary of "natural" beauty products- look at the ingredient list and if you see things you don't recognize (beyond latin binomials, which generally they will follow with the common name, such as Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender)), do not put that on your body. As you may have noticed, being "natural" has devolved into a huge marketing ploy, so it is not to be blindly trusted. READ THE LABELS. Your skin is your largest organ, and while it has its barrier properties, about 75% (it varies depending on the product) of what you put on it will be directly absorbed! A good rule: Don't put anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat.
Additional Habits to Consider Adopting Daily
Alternating showers is a great way to increase lymph flow, circulation, and immunity. The superficial blood and lymph vessels in the body will dilate in response to heat and constrict in response to cold, which results in a pumping action when alternated. If you don't have time to alternate, or you're too water-conscious to just spend time alternating hot-cold, or too uncoordinated to do it while showering, then even ending your hot shower on freezing cold is excellent (and surprisingly invigorating!), as long as you're warm and vital. Alternating showers always start on hot (hottest you can bear) and end on cold (coldest you can bear). The ratio is about 3:1 hot:cold, so 1.5 minutes hot to 30 seconds cold, for example. Alternate about 3-5 times, if possible, to really get the vessels pumping via constriction and dilation. This will increase movement of stagnant toxins ultimately out of the system entirely.
Another method of increasing lymph flow is dry skin brushing. The lymph vessels are located superficially all over your body, so just lightly pressing on your skin is accessing them (and pressing them too hard is collapsing them!). So using a dry brush can not only exfoliate, but promote circulation and lymph flow. Before your shower, using a dry brush with natural bristles, start lightly but firmly brushing your legs, from ankles up, then abdomen and back, then from hands to shoulders. P.S. This can also aid cellulite.
Castor oil packs are a great way to assist the liver in its functioning. I like to make this process as easy as possible for my patients, so in my method you rub organic, cold-pressed castor oil over the belly, including over the liver (lower right ribcage), and cover up with an old t-shirt (as castor oil can stain). A heating pad or hot water bottle is then placed over the area of concern (if you have, for example, constipation- you would want it over the intestines. In the case of assisting liver function, place it over the lower right ribcage) for 30-60 minutes. Be careful not to burn yourself. If you have a hot water bottle, you can leave the bottle on as you fall asleep as it will cool by itself (you could wrap a scarf around your waist and bottle in order to keep it in place), but unless the heating pad has a timer, do not leave on indefinitely. Castor oil contains ricinoleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory, and stimulates movement in the tissues, thus increasing flow through the liver or gastrointestinal system (or others, depending where the pack is placed), and directly stimulate Peyer's patches (the immune system of your gut).
Nourish with Intention
Lastly, in terms of nutrients and phytochemicals that will assist the body and liver in its functioning, you can integrate specific foods into your daily diet. These foods include:
- Raw garlic and onions- stimulate phase II of liver detoxification.
- Dandelion greens, and all things bitter- bitter flavours increase stomach acid and bile production, stimulating the liver and aiding digestion.
- Indole-3-carbinol found in the Brassicae family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy, etc.)- upregulates phase I and II enzymes in liver detoxification.
- Antioxidants (read: all fruits and vegetables)- quench free radicals, thus reducing oxidative damage, and used in phase I and II liver detoxification.
- Beets- high in betaine, these magnificently magenta vegetables can help liver and kidney function via the methionine cycle, helps metabolize fat in the liver, and its antioxidants protect us from free radicals.
- Curcumin (found in turmeric- it is a fat soluble constituent, so be sure to consume with fat/oil of some sort or you will not absorb it)- slow down phase I and speed up phase II liver detoxification.
- Capsaicin (found in chillies)- increase phase II liver detoxification.
- Green tea- epigallocatechin gallate is the incredible antioxidant found in green tea- reduce free radical damage.
- Probiotics- improper gut flora will downregulate phase I liver detoxification, plus could lead to digestive complaints that could impair toxin removal (i.e. constipation).
- Fish and fish oils- stimulate phase II liver detoxification.
- Sufficient protein- inadequate protein paralyzes phase II liver detoxification, and many amino acids (from protein) are used in both phases of liver detoxification.
- Water water water as discussed earlier.
- Lemon or apple cider vinegar in aforementioned water- to stimulate bile production and hydrochloric acid production leading to better digestion and assimilation of foods, as well as stimulating the liver. The rind of the lemon contains the essential oils most stimulating for the liver, so soaking organic lemons (peel on) in a jug of water overnight is the best way to consume lemon water.
I hope that you are able to integrate some or all of these sustainable ways to decrease toxin burden and increase toxin clearance into your daily lifestyle! Everyone is an individual, so not all of these recommendations should be initiated by every person- for individualized care, please see a naturopathic doctor. Also, the concept of detoxification can indeed continue deeper, but after this it gets more personal and specific. Please feel free to click on the "contact" page to book an appointment for more direction with your health. I hope to see you soon!