Detoxification, no I’m not talking about the juice fast or cayenne/maple syrup/lemon juice concoctions that leave you feeling dizzy and hangry for days. I’m talking about everyday detoxification that your body (largely, but not limited to the liver) has to preform to keep you alive and keep the toxins from everyday life from building up in your body. Read on to learn all about what toxins are, where they come from, why we need to detox, the fertility connection, how we can support detoxification, and get a delicious detox smoothie recipe. Detoxing doesn’t mean deprivation, it can actually be very delicious!
What are toxins?
Toxins are compounds that are harmful to humans, found in nature or man-made, and they include:
- Heavy metals (like mercury and aluminum)
- VOC’s (Volatile Organic compounds). Examples: paint, air fresheners, nail polish, hair spray, perfume, gasoline, etc.
- POP’s (Persistent Organic Pollutants). Examples: insecticide, flame retardants, unintentional byproducts of processing, etc.
Hormones can also be considered toxic if they are in excess, because your body needs to deal with (aka get rid of) the extra hormones, which can add to the overall toxic burden. A good example of this is Estrogen Dominance, which can cause a host of health issues because the excess estrogen isn’t properly eliminated, and so it continues to recirculate in the blood stream.
Why do we need to detoxify?
Because the presence of toxins in our environment is growing, in fact;
“80,000 different chemicals are used and released into the environment in the US alone” (1).
With the increasing number of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis, our body is forgiving and able to withstand stressors, but, the increased number of stressors put on our body increases the demands on our detoxification system. Your body’s toxic burden is the accumulation of all toxins and unwanted substances at any given time (3). Symptoms of toxic overload can look like a lot of things, but here are a few health concerns that may be affected by a sluggish liver or and overload of toxins:
- Stubborn Weight
- Skin problems (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- Brain fog
Where are these toxins coming from?
Toxins are coming at us from all angles at all times. This idea isn’t meant to instil fear in you or wrap yourself in a bubble, but to become aware of all the areas that toxins are coming from, and making a conscious effort to remove toxins when possible (like in personal care products), so that your system can handle the other toxins that we may not have control over, like toxins in the air we breath. There are 3 main ways toxins come into our bodies:
- Environmental – pollution, heavy metals, pesticides, insecticides, etc.
- Lifestyle – alcohol, personal care products, smoking, processed foods, etc.
- Internal (aka endogenous) – bacterial or fungal overgrowth, undigested food, excess hormones, stress, etc.
I just want to pause here for a moment, and go back to a lifestyle factor that is in many women’s day-to-day lives; personal care products. Depending on the type of personal care products (antiperspirant, hairspray, makeup, perfume, etc) you are using on a day to day basis, you could potentially be exposing yourself to over a hundred toxins a day! In a study about personal care products, it was revealed that the average adult uses 9 personal care products every day with 126 unique chemical ingredients (4). Take a good look at the products you are using, you can even use the EWG skindeep app to scan your products and make sense of the ingredient label gibberish. Once you know what is toxic and harmful, you can slowly and gradually swap out those products with ones that won’t harm your health. The great news is that there are so many companies out there now creating products that contain fewer to no harmful toxins at all.
How your Body Detoxifies – Phases of Detoxification
There are 3 phases to detoxification, in an extremely simplified explanation; Phase 1 (Functionalization) is where enzymes break down toxins that have entered our body (via pesticides on food, alcohol, environmental toxins, etc) and turns them into free radicals. We don’t want free radicals floating around and they must be shuttled to Phase 2 detoxification to package them up (aka conjugation) safely. They then they move on to Phase 3 which is elimination, where the nicely packaged toxins (or excess hormones) exits through your pee, poop, and sweat.
You can see that the detoxification process can be hindered in so many areas, here are some examples of what that could look like:
- If there are too many toxins coming into the body, and the liver just cannot deal with the amount it needs to process.
- If you are not getting enough of the right nutrients to carry out this process (detoxification is incredible nutrient dependent – see image below)
- If you are constipated and don’t poop at least once a day, then the toxins will not be properly eliminated and will recirculate and get stored in your body (typically in your adipose fat tissue)
- If you have elevated estrogen levels, estrogen acts as a toxin in excess. If there is too much, it cannot be properly packaged and eliminated, which will cause it to recirculate (this is estrogen dominance), and can lead to more severe health issues.
Here are the nutrients that are needed during the phases of detoxification:
The Fertility Connection
There is a definite trend here, you will see LOTS of antioxidants and amino acids are needed to carry out each phase. The interesting thing, is look at all the nutrients highlighted in pink above, those are the nutrients that are needed in great amounts to conceive. So you can see just how closely these systems are tied. It also matters what your toxic load is like when you do conceive because that will also affect the toxins that baby absorbs throughout pregnancy.
“Cord blood of the average baby in the US contains 200 chemicals that aren’t naturally present” (2).
This can be a scary thought, that is even more motivation to try to remove toxins from our life, even before we are thinking about conception, because it does affect our children and what they inherit from us.
What can we do about it
Once again, I don’t want to scare you (because I have definitely felt fear when learning about this), I just want to give you some basic information and simple steps you can take to support your body in proper detoxification and elimination processes. Here are specific foods, supplements, herbs, and lifestyle activities that can support you on a daily basis.
Food and Diet
Detoxification needs a lot of nutrients, and for that reason it is critical to eat real, nutrient dense foods. So you can see how a juice fast may not be sufficient to support proper detoxification. You need to eat enough calories for your body, and make sure to get the needed vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Here are some foods that support the detoxification process:
- Antioxidant rich foods (berries, apples, citrus, beans, artichokes, prunes, plums, leafy greans)
- Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale)
- Resveratrol (red grapes, green tea, blueberries, cranberries, pistachios, cocoa)
- Fish (aim to eat the skin and even bones if it’s canned for maximum fats and minerals)
- Celery juice (root and leaves)
- Fiber through whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes (this binds to the toxins and helps with elimination)
- Liver, organ meats, healthy proteins
- Ginger, onions, garlic
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, dill, mint)
- Citrus and their zest
Supplements and Herbs
Always start with the food, and then use supplements just as they should be used – to supplement! Incorporate all the foods above on a regular basis, but then if you feel like you need more, these supplements below are incredibly supportive. Remember to work with a practitioner, because some of these supplements can be harmful if not taken correctly, and can also have contraindications. Here are the nutrients that are needed in higher amounts to support the detoxification process.
- Antioxidants (CoQ10, Vitamins C, E)
- B Vitamins (which supports healthy digestion, and the detoxification processes)
- NAC or glutathione (NAC is the precursor to glutathione and much more affordable)
- Adaptogens (Ginseng, Ashwagandha, astragalus, cordyceps). These are a collection of herbs that support your body during extra stress.
- Sulphur rich Amino Acids (methionine, cysteine, taurine, glycine) – found in animal products, collagen
- Dandelion root
- Milk Thistle
- Grape seed extract
- Green tea
- Trying to Focus on Dirty dozen and clean 15 list when choosing produce (see images above) for foods that are naturally higher or lower in pesticides.
- Water – Drinking filtered water. There are a host of heavy metals, antibiotics and hormones in tap water. Consider an under-sink water filtration system, whole house system, or on-counter system like Berkey or buying large jugs of Spring of Reverse Osmosis water.
- Remove all harmful personal care products. Look closely at every product you use (antiperspirant, perfume, hairspray, make-up, creams, ointments, etc) Use this website/app to look critically at the ingredients and their harmful effects.
- Remove all harmful household products, cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc. Instead switch to simple and easy household cleaners you can make yourself, vinegar, baking soda and lemon essential oil will go a long way!
- Ditch the plastics! Be especially conscious of using plastics with heat and cold because this releases the toxins into your food/drink. Even if a plastic is BPA free (one of the worst offenders), it most likely still contains harmful toxins that just haven’t been as thoroughly studied yet. Switch to glass and stainless steel whenever you can.
- Get rid of all “scented” products; candles, room sprays, air fresheners, etc. Unless they are made naturally with essential oils, they most likely contain very harmful phthalates which don’t technically need to be on ingredient labels, they are usually labeled fragrance – so always be wary if a product contains ‘fragrance‘
- Deep belly breathing, toxins are also eliminated through breath
- Exercise – make sure you are sweating a few times a week at least, this is a great way to release toxins.
- Sauna – sweating is one of the 3 main ways toxins are removed from body. Just please do not sauna if you are pregnant.
- Improve digestion, if you aren’t pooping at least once a day, this needs to be a priority before staring any of these detoxification practices! This is a huge consideration, see below for simple tips on improving digestion.
A side note: Every item on the above list requires money. Organic produce costs more, buying new products that aren’t harmful, buying new tupperware that is glass, etc. But I encourage you to take it slow, this will not be an overnight change. Every week or month, make one small replacement, or when you run out of a product, buy one that is less harmful. Just know that this is a process, and personally, I am still slowly making swaps when I can. You will never be ‘perfect’, but depending on your motivation (especially if you are dealing with any health issue), this is a critical step.
If you aren’t popping at least once a day, DO NOT attempt detoxification, or even a weight loss regime because when the toxins are released out of the fat tissues where they are stored, if they cannot be properly eliminated through regular bowel movements, you will actually be making you toxic burden worse, the toxins and free radicals will be circulating with nowhere to go. Here are some simple steps to help improve digestion and get your bowels moving daily.
- Take digestive bitters 20-30 minutes before eating. This helps stimulate the enzymes needed to start digestion. Examples of digestive bitters: dandelion tea, dandelion greens, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice.
- Get body into parasympathetic mode (aka a relaxed state) before eating. If your body is in a stressed state when eating, the digestive processes are simply not doing their job. Take 3-5 deep, long, belly breaths before eating. And don’t eat on the go, sit down at the table to eat when you can.
- Eat more fiber through whole foods; fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds.
- Make sure you are drinking enough water. This is such an easy fix, that many people overlook. For every cup of caffeine, have two cups of water.
- First thing in the morning, before coffee or food, drink a large glass of water with a squeeze of lemon and pinch of Himalayan or sea salt. This can really get digestion working as well as replenishing minerals.
- Walking – the physical movement can sometimes be the trick. Try to add some walking into your everyday routine.
- Use a Squatty potty when it is time to use the toilet. This gets your body in a more optimal and natural position to poop more comfortably.
What isn’t helping
While it’s great to add in all of these nutrient supporting foods and supplements, you may also need to eliminate some that aren’t helping. I would focus on this if you are currently experiencing a health issue, skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, acne), hormonal issues (bad PMS, cramps, irregular periods), infertility, diabetes, celiac or any autoimmune disease, IBD/IBS.
Things to Eliminate:
Alcohol – this is a major stressor on the liver, so any resources that your body does have to eliminate toxins are shuttled to deal with and remove the alcohol. This depletes antioxidants and raises free radicals circulating (which we don’t want). Damaged Fats (hydrogenated, oxidized, fried foods etc) and processed foods can also tax the system and use up all the detoxification resources. So focus most of your diet to come from whole, unprocessed foods.
The age old idiom “the straw that broke the camel’s back” describes the seemingly small but routine action that can cause a large and sudden reaction from the cumulative affects of small actions. This is a great way to think about toxins on the body, many small sources of toxins that don’t seem to be a big deal, until they are and people are dealing with cancer, infertility, autoimmune diseases, skin issues, or more.
Considerations when Detoxing
- Go slow, and use the guidance of a qualified practitioner, especially if you need more support and plan to use supplements.
- Do not attempt detoxification when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Your baby is a little sponge and they will absorb the toxins if they are circulating, and their liver is not yet developed to deal with detoxification itself. That being said, you can absolutely still eat all the supportive foods, I just don’t recommend going the supplement route unless advised by your health practitioner.
- If you are thinking about getting pregnant soon, focus on detoxification first, your baby and body will thank you, and it will be like starting with a blank canvas.
- Avoid losing lots of fat in a short time period – excess toxins are stored in our fat tissue, and when we start ‘losing’ fat, it gets released and will increase the toxic burden on our body. If you are losing weight, try to go slow.
- You shouldn’t have any ‘detox symptoms’! This is such a misconception, and so many practitioners will regard acne or other manifestations as a sign that detoxification is “working”, but really it is a sign that you are taking things too fast, your system is overwhelmed, and you should consider scaling back and going slower.
- Before you even attempt any detox protocol, you need to build a foundation, a few ways to do so is adding in the supporting foods mentioned above, adaptogens, reducing stress levels and making sure you are getting good sleep. If you want to read more about getting good, quality sleep, read this blog post.
Delicious Detox Green Smoothie
- Ginger – 1 inch knob
- Cucumber – 2-4 inches chopped
- Celery – 4-6 stalks (with leaves) chopped
- Kale – 3-4 large leaves with stems
- Avocado – 1
- Cauliflower – 1 cup frozen
- Lemon juice and rind – 1tbsp grated rind, juice of 1/2 lemon
- Banana – 1-2 frozen
- Collagen – 1 tbsp per person
- Hemp – 3 tbsp per person
- Ashwagandha – powder of 1 capsule per person
- Water or nut milk – 1-2 cups, keep adding until desired consistency
Add all to high speed blender and blend for 1-2 minutes until smooth.
- Chevrier J, Dewailly E, Ayotte P, Mauriège P, Després JP, Tremblay A. Body weight loss increases plasma and adipose tissue concentrations of potentially toxic pollutants in obese individuals. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000;24:1272-1278.
2. Environmental Working Group analysis of tests of 10 umbilical cord blood samples conducted by AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, BC) and Flett Research Ltd. (Winnipeg, MB).
4. Environmental Working Group (2003). Body Burden. Pollution in People. January 2003.