The days are becoming shorter. Leaves are starting to fall. Around us Nature is starting to turn in for the Winter. Shutting down, resetting, and detoxification will yield to new growth and opportunity in the Spring.
In my newsletter I recently challenged readers to initiate a round of Fall cleaning to detox your body for the cooling months.
Detoxification is critical. Rest assured, there are plenty of websites that sell something to promote the “detoxification” process. Unquestionably we all want to, need to, and can decrease our toxic load.
So what does it mean exactly to detox?
The term “detox” is used broadly. Its meaning depends on who is doing the defining.
Without question, the word “detox” has a vastly different meaning to an Internet salesman and biochemist. Is there a middle ground, a shared interpretation?
The process of detoxification is far more complex than simply taking a supplement or a nutraceutical
Let’s take a look at this, and see if we can apply some basic principles from a scientific perspective. We can begin our Fall cleaning today.
For starters, we need to minimize the accumulation of toxins in our body. Some toxic exposures are involuntary and harder to avoid, like the air or unfiltered water. A class of toxic molecules results from our body’s own metabolic processes, but we really can’t avoid these..
Other toxins are self imposed, like cigarettes, alcohol, or unhealthy foods.
When it comes to detoxification, the resources available to our body are a bit more limited. Let’s start with the factors that we can control. There are four potential ways that toxic molecules can leave our body. They are:
- Sweat (ing)
- Breath (ing)
- Urine (peeing)
- Stool (ing)
We can influence each of these today. Taking a brisk walk at a rate that increases your heart rate will tick the first three boxes. You will breathe harder, sweat a bit, and increase the amount of blood that moves through your kidneys. More blood through the kidneys means that they will produce more urine. This means more detoxification.
That accounts for the first three. Talk about efficiency! Here we are, three quarters along the way to a healthier body with little more than a brisk walk!
Look to the gut as our primary organ for detoxification
If you are not pooping at least once daily, this is delaying your ability to detoxify. Here are three simple steps you can take to increase your stool frequency and quality. (Hint, this includes two of my four favorite supplements.)
- Psyllium husk. I recommend that people use the raw, unprocessed psyllium that you will find at a Whole Foods or local health food store. Be sure to get the one that has only “100% organic psyllium husk” on the label. There is no reason to use any fiber that is processed, flavored, colored or preserved. Start low and go slow, with a teaspoon daily in dilute juice. Increase this to a tablespoon or two as tolerated. If you experience bloating, back down on the dose.
- Magnesium. 50% of adults over the age of 50 are Mg+2 deficient. Add between 400-600 mg of elemental magnesium citrate to your diet (about four capsules daily). It is hard for a person with normal kidneys to become toxic on magnesium. If you get loose stools you’ll need to back off of the dose. In my clinical practice I see this infrequently with these doses.
- Water. Drink plenty of purified water. How do you know you’re drinking enough? When your urine becomes clear. I don’t subscribe to the “so many ounces per pound per day” mindset. If you have clear urine, you are well hydrated. If it is yellow or orange, you will need to drink more water.
The practices outlined here are foundational. They should be a part of your day-to-day activities. We seem to do the best when health choices becomes lifestyle choices. When you are participating in these detoxification practices, and not thinking about the practice, things really start to change.
I can guarantee that as these simple aspects of health become incorporated more into your lifestyle you will begin to feel better, look better, and think more clearly. Aches and pains will seem to miraculously disappear. Toxins do cause symptoms, and there is a clear path to feeling better! Start here!
Start your detoxification protocol today
You will feel so much better, so much more energetic, when your toxic load is lowered
Note that I made only limited recommendations for supplements. No bone broths, coffee enemas, kelp body washes, or the latest fads work in isolation. None of this offers any benefit if your other systems aren’t balanced.
I do feel that there are “alternative” modalities to speed up the detoxification pathways. In later blogs, we can look at some of the research that supports the use of herbs, chelating agents and therapies such as IR saunas.
People get into trouble, or simply don’t get better, when only a single protocol is used
Starting a supplement-based detoxification program without raising your heart rate, breaking a sweat, or having consistent daily stools puts the proverbial “cart before the horse.” I believe that there are nutritional additions that can help the body to rev-up these detox pathways.
First things first. The secret to whole-body detoxification is to bring the entire body into a state of balance.
If your metabolism is slowed by low thyroid function, the rate at which you detoxify will be lowered. Poor gut function, nutritional deficiencies and out-of-balance hormones will slow detoxification process as well.
An effective detox plan requires well balanced body systems
Balanced systems are the result of a biological prioritization. We first need to examine the body as a group of related systems. When we begin to Think Different we then see how nutritional, biological and biochemical dysfunction impedes our ability to clear toxins from the system.
Get nutritionally sound!
We will tackle some of the biology of detoxification in the next post. For now recall that all of these processes require adequate nutrition. I recommended Magnesium earlier. Zinc and Selenium similarly have extremely important jobs to keep our detox machinery running smoothly.
We need all of the amino acids. These building blocks of life help us to bind and conjugate toxins prior to their elimination in the urine and stool. Recall that of the 20 amino acids, nine are essential, meaning that we need to get them from our diet.
There are several reasons why we might be deficient in amino acids. The first and most obvious reason is due to diet. The branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), leucine, isoleucine and valine, are typically found in meat and eggs. A strict vegetarian diet could lend itself to deficiencies in these amino acids and others.
A poorly functioning gut, or one overgrown with the wrong kind of bacteria could also influence nutritional state. Are you taking an acid blocking drug, or one that binds cholesterol resins? This too could be contributing to a nutritionally deficient state.
We need the right amounts of healthy fats, proteins and the essential phytochemicals and fibers found in vegetables. Many plant-based chemicals drive our detoxification pathways. In later blogs, we will see that here we can use our diet to begin to drive different aspects of our biology to help us to detoxify..
Get your energy in order!
Stress (cortisol), insulin dysfunction and hypothyroidism all slow detoxification. Be sure to know where you stand on each of these important hormones.
In low thyroid states, our bowels become more sluggish. This makes it harder for us to pass a bowel movement consistently. Review the clinical signs of hypothyroidism, and always have your doctor check TSH, Free T3 and Free T4.
Cortisol, too, can limit bowel function in both elevated, and low states. Scientists have known for almost a hundred years that stress (through adrenaline and cortisol) negatively impacts bowel health. In states of high stress, we shunt blood away from our bowel. This changes our digestion, absorption of nutrients, and balance of the bacterial microbiome within.
Through these mechanisms, we start to break down the lining of the gut. This single-cell layer is a barrier that protects our inner castle from everything in the outside world. As the barriers fall, as we develop a more leaky gut, so to does our ability to protect ourselves from the external environment. Lacking this barrier, our delicate inner workings become more exposed to potential triggers and toxins in the environment.
To really detoxify, your energy needs to be balanced. Measure thyroid, insulin and cortisol, and get these three hormones in order.
The dynamic gut: our primary detoxification organ
The gut takes out the waste, for sure. Earlier in this blog I reviewed some of the easiest ways to pick up transit time to keep things moving.
The gut also helps us to detox through its microbial inhabitants. These hundred-trillion bacteria all have a say in what nutrients (and toxins) are accessed by our body.
An antibiotic is a toxin by definition, especially if you are a bacteria. Bacteria are getting more and more clever. They are passing antibiotic resistance genes back and forth to one another, minimizing their toxic exposures. We are selecting for the more toxic bacteria as we increase our indiscriminate antibiotic use.
The gut bacteria modify and create numerous chemicals that enter our body
Our gut participates in Phase II detoxification. This is where toxic compounds are neutralized for final departure.
One of the pathways by which we rid our body of toxins is known as glucuronidation. Species of bacteria secrete a compound known as glucuronidase, which basically undoes the work that was already done.
This is a bit like wheeling the trash bin out to the street, then having your well-intended neighbor return it to your driveway before the trash truck comes.
If you are constipated, bloated, gassy, or have ongoing stomach pains, it’s time to think even more about the gut. Be sure that this principal detoxification organ is working well. Find a qualified functional medicine doctor, and do an advanced gut study to get insight into your gut’s health.
Inflammation is the tie that binds. It is the common process that promotes, and propels, all chronic disease. All inflammation is the end-product of the immune system defense. Immune cells make inflammatory chemicals in response to molecules and microbes that threaten our body. Toxins are some of these molecular forms.
A vicious cycle ensues.
As we become more toxic, we become more inflamed
This progressive inflammatory cycle impairs our body’s ability to respond to the toxic load. The cycle continues.
So to adequately drive the detoxification process, we need to address our inflammatory state. Infections, pesticides, autoimmune processes, heavy metals and our own biochemical byproducts all tip us towards increased inflammation.
Be sure to measure your inflammation with a test like high-sensitivity CRP, and take a crucial step to improve your health.
Let this conclusion be your beginning
In conclusion, we all need to detoxify to some degree. Why not start today? The first two critical steps are summarized here.
First, we need to decrease the toxins that are coming into the body. We can educate ourselves about what a toxin is, and how it may be gaining access to our body.
I recommend checking out a website published by the Environmental Working Group. The Skin Deep portion of the site outlines all of the known chemicals in common products such as soaps and beauty supplies. Learn where you stand with what you are putting on, and in, your body.
There are but a few ways that toxins increase in our body. The toxin can bypass our skin or can be absorbed across one of our mucus layers. Mucus layers include the sinuses, lungs and gut, with the addition of the vaginal tissues in women.
Second, start with smart detoxification. To detox well, we need to stick with the basics. Later on I will get into the specifics of how we can modify these biological pathways.
For now, I recommend that you take steps to…well… take more steps. Move, breathe, sweat and pee. Have a good bowel movement at least once or twice a day.
Take these first few steps towards sensible detoxification!