Updated: Aug 28
Detox. Walk down an aisle of your local pharmacy, or input the word into a search engine, and you’ll find hundreds of products claiming to help your body eliminate various toxins. But, while these products may seem like a recent trend, detoxification is no new fad. Detoxification dates back to as early as 2000 BC and was used throughout many of history’s great empires, such as Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. It was featured extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine and factored into many Native American rituals. However, despite thousands of years of practice, today, “detoxification” is somewhat controversial. Let’s talk about it.
What Is It?
Before we get to the finer points, it’s important to understand what exactly detoxification is. Essentially, detoxification is the practice of clearing toxins from the body. Here’s the good news: inherently, our bodies are designed to do just that. The liver is the star of this filtration operation, cleansing toxins and converting them to waste. Imagine the liver as a sink drain, filtering out and catching all the toxins from your blood. But here’s the bad news: while this detoxification may have sufficed a thousand years ago, it hasn’t evolved to keep up with the massive toxic exposure that living in the modern world entails.
So, when you hear someone say, “You don’t need to detox- your liver does that for you!” they’re half right. The liver was designed to detox, but it wasn’t designed to detox from toxic exposure in 2023. Microplastics, cosmetics, cleaning products, polluted air: the drain wasn’t built to keep up with the huge influx of toxins, and it’s getting clogged.
How Does it Work?
Generally, detoxification can be broken down into three big headlines: reduce exposure, flush it out, and bind it up.
Reduce Exposure: This one is pretty self-explanatory. The first thing you can do to help detox is to remove yourself from the toxins in the first place. For one, it’s important to make sure that you’re drinking filtered water. A reverse osmosis filtration system is best, but Berkey filters are great as well! Even a ZeroWater pitcher can be a good (and more affordable option). Additionally, particularly following these recent forest fires, cleansing the air you breathe is increasingly important. Try an air filtration system with a HEPA filter, which helps by trapping particles such as pollen, pet dander, smoke and dust mites.
We live in an inherently toxic world, so try to get into the habit of looking at ingredient lists. Check labels at the grocery store, on your favorite makeup, and on your go-to cleaning supplies. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you identify problematic ingredients. Try the EWG Healthy Living App. With this app, you can scan a food or self-care product and receive a hazard score of 1-10 based on the known and suspected hazards of the product’s ingredients. However, it’s important not to drive yourself crazy here. Reduce where you can, but try not to lose sleep over it. The next two steps will help you support your body’s own detoxification process to filter out what you can’t avoid.
Flush it Out: While we live in a toxic world, you can’t live in a bubble. If we can return to the sink metaphor, this step will help you open up the drain. One great way is by sweating. You can do this in a myriad of ways: from saunas and sauna blankets to good, old-fashioned exercise. Another way we eliminate waste from our bodies is with urination and defecation. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and having at least 1 good, formed, easy-to-pass stool each day.
There are also various ways you can help your body detox through nutrition and added supplementation.
High-sulfur foods are great additions, as they are potent anti-inflammatories and can help protect cells from damage. They also support Phase I and II liver detox pathways!
Cruciferous Vegetables: This includes broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
Allium Vegetables: One of the main sources of dietary sulfur, these include veggies like garlic, onion, leeks, and scallions.
High Fiber Foods: This includes things like berries, avocados, GF oats, and beans. Not only do they help fend off constipation, but they also feed the good bacteria in the gut that aid in detox.
Animal Based: Turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs are great sources of sulfur, with the added benefit of plenty of protein.
Supplements: Supplements can help give your body that extra boost it needs to really open up the drain
Glutathione: The most potent antioxidant, it can help you metabolize toxins, break down free radicals, and even support your immune function!
Milk Thistle: A great supplement to support liver function, and one that’s been used for hundreds of years.
Alpha-lipoic acid: Another supplement that supports liver function, alpha-lipoic acid has been used therapeutically for many conditions, including insulin resistance, diabetic neuropathy, and liver disease.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): NAC is the supplement version of the amino acid cysteine and helps your body replenish its glutathione stores.
You can find all of these supplements and more at our online apothecary here!
Bind it Up: Lastly, you can support your body’s detoxification process by “binding up” the toxins. These binders work as sponges in our system, binding up the toxins in the digestive tract, making them easier to flush out. Pectin, a soluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables, is a great binder. Apples, carrots, apricots, and citrus peels are all great sources of pectin. Several supplements can also help.
Charcoal: Activated charcoal is such a potent detoxification agent that it’s sometimes used in a hospital setting for overdoses and poisonings!
Clay: Clay is a common binding agent, particularly bentonite and zeolite.Just make sure you are getting this from a reputable source that doesn’t have heavy metals
Spirulina: Spirulina is a powerful detox agent that binds to toxic agents such as mercury, arsenic, and environmental carcinogens.
If you live in the year 2023, you could benefit from some form of detox support. While your liver was perfectly equipped to deal with environmental toxins thousands of years ago, the onus today is just too great. In particular, symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and hormonal and gut issues may indicate a toxic burden. It’s generally safe for all and isn’t associated with many side effects. So, work with your provider, take it slow and steady, and keep a close eye on how you’re feeling. Your sink drain should be less clogged in no time.