What does 'detox' mean?
'Detox' is a word we see a lot in the Spring. It seems to be one of those sensationalist headlines - usually accompanied by strange diets and restrictions. Do we really need to do it, and how does it help anyway? This article separates the help from the hype...
Detoxification is something that happens all over the body. Often overlooked, our skin is actually the largest organ of detoxification. When we shed dead skin cells, we are shedding toxins as well. The organ that gets the greatest press, however, is the liver. Everything goes through our liver - whether its food, drink, drugs or supplements. A bit like an airport departure lounge, the liver is a very busy place and has to get the traffic through in a speedy and efficient way. It has three different processes (think baggage-drop, check-in and departure) and six alternate pathways to get you there. It's not surprising that sometimes this doesn't work too well. If the relative speed of the processes is out of step, you could have too many toxic compounds hanging around causing havoc until the next stage is ready to process them, or you could find that some of the pathways don't work because of nutrient deficiencies (think airport staff shortages!). If the skin is not too good at detoxification, then that means more load on the liver, so more traffic to process. The kidneys remove some toxins and get rid of them in urine, but if you don't drink enough water to support that, those toxins have nowhere to go and keep cycling around the body. This can cause a range of symptoms from itchy skin and rashes to brain fog, headaches, digestive disorders and achy joints.
So yes, detox is completely necessary and we are all doing it all the time, just more or less efficiently. It may be good to think detox twice or three times a year, almost like a spring clean. We are what we eat, so for sure, certain foods will hinder detoxification and certain foods will help. Any good detoxification process will, therefore, concentrate on those good foods and make sure the base input is what is needed.
Should you fast or take supplements? The answer is it depends. Fasting gives the digestive system a break from the continual onslaught of food and allows it to repair itself, and supplements give a concentrated boost that kick-starts the body, whether this is with cleansing or building up reserves. Putting all these measures together makes up a good detox programme, but using our airport analogy, it's no good creating a 'fast-track' though baggage-drop if nothing else is improved. Just fasting or juicing or supplementing alone will not work. Some people with particular health concerns may feel worse after trying to detox without support, so it is always best to have the guidance of a qualified nutritional therapist to bring all the elements together in a way that makes sense for you.
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About Helen Adams
I help clients to break free from pain and long-term health and weight issues so that you can enjoy the freedom that good health provides.
Naturopathic nutrition diploma (CNM)
Senior associate of the Royal Society of Medicine
Member of BANT and CNHC
20 years experience of dealing with chronic conditions