I sat across from my pale and dizzy patient, silently curious what made her join the Master Cleanse fad.
I mean, with a name like that, it certainly sounds enticing. But consuming only lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for days on end is not my idea of a health-restoring protocol. She is but one of many patients I have seen that has sought out detoxes and cleanses.
It’s natural to want to partake in things that make us feel and look our best — and detoxes can be incredibly enticing. However, for the majority of my patients, restrictive detoxification protocols will not yield the lasting results that gradual lifestyle modification brings.
Our bodies are actually detoxifying all the time. Detoxification is a natural process to rid the body of harmful substances that arise from both our own innate metabolic pathways, as well as substances that we interact with from the environment.
The substances in the environment come from foods that we eat, beverages we drink, the air we breathe, the cosmetics we apply to our bodies, the materials used to build and furnish our homes, the products we clean with, the medications we consume and more. The list is long!
The liver is the superstar organ of detoxification, and it has the ability to neutralize an enormous list of toxins. After the toxins become more inert and water soluble in the liver, they get kicked out into the gastrointestinal tract where they ideally get eliminated in the stool.
A huge amount of toxins are also eliminated via sweat or urine. Toxins that the body cannot eliminate get stored in tissues where they have the least likelihood of causing harm to the body; this is often fat tissue or the bones.
A very critical, and often overlooked step, to any detoxification protocol (whether this is gradual lifestyle change or brief diet-like detoxes) is to ensure that whatever toxins you hope to eliminate can actually, in fact, be eliminated.
How are your bowel movements? Do you have them daily and are they well-formed and easy to pass? If the question gives you pause, you may benefit from digestive support long before any extreme detox protocol.
What about the health of your liver? If you need a lot of pharmaceutical medications, drink a fair amount of alcohol and do not get enough micronutrients from fruits and vegetables, it is likely your liver needs some support before more toxins are stirred up from their resting places and sent to the liver.
What about sweating? Do you get regular moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise? Do you use a sauna or take frequent hot baths? Again, before you try to place more work on your body, it’s imperative to get these downstream pathways open and clear.
Practical steps to detox
I am not trying to insinuate that I am against detoxification. I am absolutely pro-detoxification, but for most of my patients, I would prefer that they take the route that leads to more sustainable lifestyle change, rather than an expensive supplement protocol that requires no mindfulness. Here are some of the most important ways that I actually recommend people approach detoxification:
Get those pathways of elimination open. Fiber, from fruits and vegetables, is essential for regular bowel movements. Some people benefit from taking a fiber supplement as well, such as psyllium husk or ground flax seed. If you decide to add more fiber to your diet, make sure you add enough hydration as well to keep things moving.
Brassica family plants (broccoli, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, etc.) are full of sulphur rich compounds. Sulphur is an important element that the liver needs for its detox pathways. The liver also needs a variety of other nutrients to perform it’s detox magic, so, you guessed it, the more varied and abundant fruits and vegetables you consume, the better.
Of course, you likely know that eating fruits and vegetables is important. This isn’t glamorous knowledge. But sadly, most people are still not getting enough. My clinical ideal is for half of each meal to be fruits and vegetables.
Get your sweat on. Sweating is immensely helpful and a major route of detox. Detox wellness centers will have people sweating for several hours per week. This can be achieved through exercise, saunas and hot baths. Ideally, include both passive (baths) and active (exercise) forms.
Gradually work to clean up your home. There are many documentaries you can find that shed light on how unregulated chemicals are within the U.S. Typically speaking, chemicals are thought to be safe until proven otherwise. It can be extremely overwhelming when you first learn about these issues. Fret not! Start small and work to take consistent steps.
Next time your chemical laden bathroom cleaner runs out, see if you can get a healthier form or make your own. Explore the Environmental Working Group and Skin Deep’s websites to learn about the chemicals inside common household and cosmetic products. Work to switch these products out. Consider used or environmentally conscious furnishings, paints, clothes and other home products so you bring fewer chemicals into the house.
There are so many ways you can likely detox your home environment, so just start somewhere and be persistent.
Find a professional if you think you need more help. There are some instances where people need professional detoxification. If you have been exposed to some serious environmental chemicals, if you are recovering from chemotherapy or you have some other significant exposures, there are reasons why a structured protocol may be utilized. But it needs to done correctly or else those toxins can actually do more damage when released from storage.
I hope these simple lifestyle changes inspire you and clarify a huge fad. Slow progressive changes may not be as interesting Instagram content, but in the long term, this approach will likely yield the best results.
Dr. Lauren Gresham is a naturopathic physician and a community health education specialist. Learn more about her by visiting www.