How you can detox the healthy way
Detoxification can be confusing and is often thought to occur following a special diet or program. The good news is that you don’t need to put your body through an unsustainable diet of celery and rice in order to detoxify. All throughout the day, your cells are hard at work cleansing your body through its many detoxification processes. Of course, that being said, how you choose to eat, care for your body and expose yourself to harmful environmental toxins can impede the body’s natural detoxification processes, resulting in toxin accumulation. Over time, this could lead to health implications and disease. Taking care of your body by avoiding harmful substances in the environment, nourishing yourself with nutrient-dense, medicinal food and giving your detoxification systems a little tender loving care every so often can make a world of difference in how you look, feel and function for years to come.
The human body is remarkable and is designed to maintain homeostasis and balance. One way in which it does this is through its sophisticated detoxification system. Humans are exposed to toxins every day, both externally from the environment (air pollution, exhaust fumes, pesticides on food and cleaning chemicals to name just a few) but also internally from normal chemical reactions that occur in the body. Our body’s primary motive when it comes in contact with an exogenous (originating from outside our body) or endogenous (originating from inside the body) chemical is to render it inactive and reduce its pharmacological action in the body.
There are six main organs involved in the body’s detoxification process and each plays a fundamental role in keeping you healthy.
The body’s first line of defence is the skin, which serves as a barrier against harmful chemicals and microbes, including bacteria and viruses.
The respiratory system
The hairs within your nostrils create a barrier to help keep dirt from entering your body, mucus that lines the nose and passageways trap invading microbes, and dust and the lungs support detoxification by removing toxic gases when exhaling.
The liver is our body’s most revered detoxification organ. It is responsible for filtering all metabolised exogenous and endogenous toxins including pathogens, cholesterol, hormones, alcohol, drugs, chemicals and heavy metals. The liver breaks down chemicals into smaller by-products so that the kidneys are able to excrete them. If the liver is not functioning optimally, it may not be able to effectively excrete toxins through both phases of detoxification and excrete them from the body — this is when an internal chemical reaction can become toxic.
The kidneys act as a natural filtration system for the body, removing waste, medications, toxins and excess water from the blood into urine to be excreted from the body.
The digestive system
The digestive tract helps excrete toxins from the body by passing a stool, which is why ensuring your digestive system is functioning effectively is so important. Additionally, the mucosal barrier and trillions of bacteria known as the microbiota that line the gastrointestinal tract act as a barrier to prevent pathogens from entering the circulatory system and blood.
The lymphatic system
The lymphatic system consists of the spleen, thymus, adenoids, tonsils, capillaries, vessels and hundreds of lymph nodes. This system works seamlessly together, transporting lymphatic fluid which contains large waste particles and debris from all around the cells throughout the body, filtering out and destroying foreign substances and microorganisms.
How toxins affect your health
If you have been exposed to a high number of toxins or your detoxification organs are under-functioning, it can cause an array of health implications that may result in:
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Mental fatigue or loss of concentration
- Headaches, dizziness and body aches
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Anxiety, stress and mood swings
- Loss of appetite and digestive problems such as constipation, reflux or nausea
- Cravings for sugar
- Sensitivities to smells
- Skin problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Hormonal complications
- Fertility complications
- Lowered immune system
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight
How to optimise your detoxification pathways
We each have varying detoxification capacities based on age, sex, genetics, current health state, diet, jobs, environment and stress levels. The encouraging news is you also have the power to improve your detoxification system and optimise your body’s health through the food you choose to eat and the environmental toxins you’re exposed to, and by giving your body a little TLC every now and then.
Use food as medicine
- Reduce or eliminate food and drinks that tend to cause sluggishness and poor digestion and contribute little to no nutrition such as alcohol, caffeinated drinks, sodas, cigarettes, refined sugars and processed foods.
- Eat the rainbow and enjoy abundant fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants, which fight free radicals that cause disease. Purchase organic foods wherever possible or shop at the markets where they have chemical- and spray-free produce.
- Ensure you have a protein source with each meal. Many of the essential amino acids are required to assist phase two of liver detoxification, plus protein is important to promote the creation of lean body tissues and burn off toxin-containing fat stores.
- Eat foods rich in fibre to help support your body’s natural digestive detoxification pathway (the colon). Fibre binds water-soluble compounds and helps eliminate them effectively via the stool. Sources include fresh fruits and vegetables, including lots of leafy greens, and whole grains or seeds such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff, chia and oats.
- Eat sulphur-rich foods; sulphur is needed for correct liver detoxification and found in garlic, onion, leeks and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. The compound sulphoraphane offers potent antioxidant activity that is anti-inflammatory and anticancer, helping to rid the body of harmful toxins and combat their negative effects.
- Add prebiotic-rich fermented foods to your meals wherever possible and consider introducing a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods help recolonise your microbiota (the army of bacteria in your gut) and protect you from bacterial or yeast overgrowths caused by too much sugar and alcohol. Enjoy kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, tamari, miso soup and other fermented soy products.
- Drink up! Drinking plenty of filtered water each day helps to flush out toxins and waste from the body. Aim for two litres a day, which includes fruit and vegetables with high water content and herbal teas. Waking up with a cup of warm lemon and apple-cider vinegar water first thing in the morning can kick start your metabolism and hydrate your body after a night of rest. Sip on a cup of dandelion tea each day; this liver-loving herb promotes bile flow and is a diuretic, which supports toxin removal.
Reduce your body’s burden
Have you ever read the labels on the back of your personal care and cleaning products? It can be quite confronting to see how many chemicals we use each and every day on our body and around our house. Your liver and other detoxification organs have to process all of these chemicals, in addition to other chemicals that we have no control over being exposed to.
Reduce the use of hormone-disrupting plastics
Avoid microwaving plastic — always use glass or ceramic plates where available. Never reuse plastic water bottles and don’t leave plastic containers filled with food or drink in the sunlight or a hot environment. Using plastics exposes you to BPA and phthalates, both of which are hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Chemical cleaners and personal products
Switch to eco-friendly, natural household cleaners and personal healthcare products such as microfibres for cleaning surfaces, natural toothpaste, deodorants and perfumes. It’s important to read the product labels and if there is an ingredient that you cannot pronounce, chances are it isn’t natural. There are a number of products that you can make at home with ingredients you may already have in the cupboard such as bicarb of soda, essential oils and apple-cider vinegar.
Invest in a water filter
Many chemicals are washed into the waterways and to combat this around 50 chemicals including fluoride, chlorine and aluminium are added to kill off pathogens and strengthen our teeth. The understanding is that in small doses these chemicals do not harm us; however, some of these chemicals may accumulate. A small number of chemicals over a long period of time is going to leave some toxic load on your body.
Give your body some TLC
Practise breathing deeply
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for at least five minutes each day. Tuning into your breath helps you relax and also allows oxygen to circulate throughout your whole system, helping to detox your cells.
Brush your body
Dry or wet skin brushing is an easy and effective way to improve the appearance of your skin by exfoliating and regenerating skin cells. Brushing your skin also helps to stimulate blood circulation and the lymphatic system, which further improves toxin elimination.
Massage it out
A great, firm massage focusing on the body’s pressure points helps to release the toxins trapped in your tissues. When pressure is placed on these points, the toxin build-up is broken down and released from its “sticking point”. Once the toxins have been released, it’s important to flush the body out by drinking lots of filtered water.
Enjoy a foot spa
A homemade foot spa takes half an hour, costs no more than a few cents and is a great way to remove toxins. Add half a cup of Epsom salts to a small bucket of warm water and soak your feet for 20-30 minutes.
To really boost detoxification, treat your whole body to an Epsom salts bath once a week to draw out impurities via your skin. Simply add a cup of Epsom salts to warm bath water. Epsom salts can be purchased at the supermarket, health food shop or pharmacy.
Tongue scraping is an ancient Ayurvedic ritual where the tongue is scraped first thing in the morning and before brushing teeth at night to remove toxins and dead skin cells which accumulate on the tongue.
Check-in with your health practitioner
How often do you service your car? Every six to 12 months? How often do you allow time to check in with how your body and mind are “running”? Give yourself the time you deserve to chat about your health and wellness. Your health practitioner can create an individualised detoxification plan for you that focuses on the right intensity for your current health state
This smoothie is quick and easy to make and loaded with liver-loving vegetables, fibre to encourage regular digestive function, protein and antioxidants that fight oxidative damage.
½ cup frozen organic cauliflower (you can buy this at the supermarket or easily freeze your own)
Handful organic blueberries
Handful organic baby spinach
1½ cups coconut milk
1 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp flaxseeds
1 tsp almond butter
Add all ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until mixed.
Add more milk if needed until you reach your desired consistency.