The word ‘detox’ gets bandied about incessantly these days, and even more so at this time of year. You’d be hard pressed to find a magazine or newspaper that isn’t guilt-tripping you into ‘detoxing’ away the excesses of the festive period. The aim of this short article is to uncover the true meaning of the word detox and to set out a sensible and sustainable approach to detox that will have a long-lasting, beneficial impact on your health.
In biological terms, the word ‘detoxification’ refers to the body’s innate ability to render potentially toxic substances harmless and to allow for them to be gently excreted from the body without us feeling a thing. Our bodies are constantly detoxifying (in fact, they’re probably happily detoxifying as you read this) and our liver, in particular, is incredibly good at this; so why, I hear you say, do we need to embark on rigorous detox programmes?
The answer is we don’t. If your idea of a detox programme is to sip on green juices for three or four days at the beginning of January feeling increasingly cold and miserable and sleeping badly, then think again. A well designed detox programme should seek to gently support the body’s detoxification systems without causing any stress. The main aim of a detox should be to lighten the liver’s load so that it can function optimally.
Nowadays we are exposed to unprecedented levels of toxins and hormone disruptors and our livers are working harder than ever to flush these out. This is why it is important that we give our livers extra support via gentle detoxes when we can (two to three times a year is optimal).
How long should a detox last? Ideally a month - quick-fix three day juice detoxes achieve very little in the long term as this is not enough time for the liver to regenerate. So, what does a well-planned detox look like? First of all it should include food - good food, obviously. There is a belief that detoxes should involve some sort of fasting and whilst these can sometimes be beneficial or give us the kickstart we need to begin a new healthful regime, they are not a vital component of a detox. Plus, if you are going to detox for a month it is important you nourish yourself in the best possible way. Your diet should include lots of fresh vegetables (organic preferably) and moderate levels of good quality protein (again, organic is preferable as it poses less of a toxic burden on the body). Beware of fruit (a classic detox mistake made by many) - fruit contains high levels of fructose which isn't absorbed in the gut but rather has to go to the liver for processing, causing quite a burden. By all means have smoothies on a daily basis but make sure they are vegetable-rich and not fruit-heavy. Cruciferous vegetables should become your new best friends - try to eat eight to 10 servings of kale, broccoli, bok choi (and here come the unsexy ones) brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage per day. They contain compounds known as glucosinolates which actively support the liver detoxification pathways.
Make sure you eat good fats - fats help the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. Additionally, a good balance of fats in the body can help keep inflammation in check, and balanced inflammation means a happy liver. Good fats include olive oil, flax or linseed oil and coconut oil.
Avoid all processed and refined foods and make sure you are not eating anything you may be intolerant to or that you know you react badly to - remember it is about lightening the load on the liver as much as possible.
Drink eight glasses of water a day and avoid caffeinated drinks (these also go straight to the liver to be processed). Herbal teas are a good alternative and there are even a few ‘detox’ blends that you could drink alongside to gently support your system. No alcohol. Not even one glass.
There are lots of supplements that can support a detox, but be wary of ones that make spurious claims on their labels - a good antioxidant support formula is usually all you need. If in doubt about what supplements to take contact a qualified nutritional professional who will be able to guide you to the product that best suits your needs. The herbs milk thistle and dandelion are well known for supporting liver function although it is always advisable to talk to a qualified medical herbalist before taking any of these products.
Because a detox should be a time when you regenerate, you should look into incorporating daily self care practices like dry-skin brushing or 10 minutes of mindful meditation. Taking Epsom Salt baths two or three times a week can also be beneficial.
Lastly, try to enjoy your detox, it should not be a period of extreme deprivation but rather a period of deep nourishment that should leave you feeing refreshed and invigorated and better able to cope with the challenges of modern day life.
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