Detox: How to Know if It’s Needed and Simple Ways to Do It
by Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS, IFMCP
You’ve likely seen, or heard, the detox debate. Experts, celebrities, and news outlets have reported the importance of detoxing or doing a cleanse. Over time, it’s thought that an accumulation of environmental toxins weighs us down, saps our energy, and prevents us from living our best lives. As a result, the best way to reduce the “toxin burden” is to bring in everyday strategies to remove them and to have dedicated times of year to do a bit more for a whole-self reset.
Of course, there’s also the school of thought that suggests that our bodies are built for detoxing, and we don’t need a special diet or product to clear out the system. Detox is just a waste of time, they say. Well, there is no doubt that the body does regular cleansing through breathing, urinating, defecating, crying, secreting, and exfoliating, but are we always doing it efficiently?
With all the current data on pharmacogenetics and even nutrigenomics, we now know that every individual is different when it comes to the efficiency of toxin removal. So how would you know if you are one of the “chosen ones” who needs a detox? Let’s look at the body systems from physical, emotional, and mental perspectives, as they may provide the clues.
Let’s begin by looking at what “detox” means. Over the last two decades, this word has taken on a much more dynamic meaning. In the United States, we encounter over 80,000 different chemicals,1 and an estimated 4 billion pounds of chemical pollutants from plastics, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, etc. enter into our environment, finding their way into the air, soil, food, water supplies, our clothing, and eventually, into our bodies.2 Every year, the toxic load continues to increase. Scientists now estimate that everyone of us carries at least 700 contaminants within our bodies!3
While it is true that the human body is well-equipped to rid itself of these potentially harmful chemicals, the sheer volume of what we’re now exposed to can overburden our natural detoxification processes and allow the toxins to accumulate in our tissues.
One of the first indicators that we may be harboring a toxic burden is to look at changes in the body’s immune system, such as increased susceptibility to colds, flus, and becoming sick.4 Additionally, generalized joint and muscle aches and pains, food, environmental or chemical sensitivities, headache, lethargy, weakness, and even abdominal pain could be signs that you need to help your body relieve some of the accumulated toxins.
When we look at detoxification, we don’t just want to look at the removal of physical toxins that weigh down our bodies. We can also be burdened in other areas of life, including emotional and mental aspects that can arise from many areas in life—from the company we keep5 to physical and psychological stressors to sleep habits.
In addition to emotional toxicity, we may also experience mental toxins. Perhaps the most pervasive are the limiting thoughts that invade our minds throughout the day like, “Nobody cares what I think,” “I’m just not good at new things,” or “I can’t say no.” Years ago, I heard we have up to 80,000 thoughts each day, and most of them are negative. Regardless of the exact number, it’s probably reasonable to think that most people are not thinking positively most of the time. These types of mental toxins could add up to mental stress, leading to an inability to concentrate and even sleep. And, without proper sleep,6 we may not be allowing for the flux of toxins out of the brain.
Steps for daily detox
No matter where the toxic burden originates from, there are simple steps to take to help your body detox.
- Be good to the gut: A gut that’s in good shape can easily excrete toxins. Give it 30 to 35 grams of fiber per day from the spectrum of plant foods, including beans and legumes, fruits, seeds, nuts, and nonstarchy, colorful vegetables.
- Let go of limiting thoughts: Identify and release outdated emotions to relieve excess stress. Try journaling, using deep breathing to encourage the release of toxic thoughts and emotions and begin replacing old thoughts with new, expansive, positive, and empowering affirmations.
- Fill up on fluids: Adequate water is an imperative for so many bodily processes, including detoxication.
- Go ahead and cry: Don’t hold back the tears! A study found that those who are “easily brought to tears” have a better immune and neuroendocrine system response.7
- Support the liver: The liver is known for its prominent role in detoxification. Liver health can be supported by consuming high-quality hypoallergenic proteins (such as rice protein), green tea, and cruciferous vegetables.8
- Face your emotions: Many of us have been taught to suppress emotions, especially anger. Yet anger can be thought of simply as “a call to act.” Learning to develop better boundaries or finding healthy, less volatile ways to vent anger can relieve emotional toxicities.
When looking at the abundance of toxins in our environments—physical, emotional, and mental—it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Yet you do have more control than you may realize. Work with a Functional Medicine-oriented healthcare professional to help you discover additional ways to optimize your body’s natural ability to detox.
- National Resources Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/issues/toxic-chemicals. Accessed October 17, 2018.
- http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/us-map.tcl. Accessed November 5, 2018.
- Onstot J et al. Characterization of HRGC/MSUnidentified Peaks from the Analysis of Human Adipose Tissue. Volume 1: Technical Approach. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Toxic Substances; 1987.
- Sears ME et al. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:356798.
- J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:356798.
- Inoué S. Behav Brain Res. 1995;69(1-2):91-96.
- Ishii H et al. http://www.clinexprheumatol.org/article.asp?a=2136. Accessed 10/17/18.
- Guan Y et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015:824185.