Part I: DETOX, is it Real?
August 12, 2009
By Alejandro Junger, MD
When I was a little boy, my mother always said, “Do not go swimming after a meal. Your muscles will cramp and you will drown.” For a long time I laughed it off thinking it was a scare tactic so she could take a nap after eating without having to watch me in the pool. As soon as she nodded off, I would jump in and swim even more. I was lucky…
Throughout medical school I was secretly waiting for the moment when I knew enough that I could disprove my mom. Nothing.
Many years later, reading Runner’s Magazine, I found an article about a frequent experience common to women in training for a marathon. They stop menstruating. While training intensely. A rusty bell went off in my thinking brain. Here is another case of the body shutting off a function when another function is demanding it’s attention and energy. When we wake up in the morning, we have a full battery of energy to spend. At the end of the day, we fall asleep, recharging the now almost empty tank. This full tank of energy has to be distributed among the many functions of the body.
There are functions that cannot be shut off, or we would die. The heart is the prime example. It has to keep beating. The brain is next. And in order of priority, one by one of our body functions is funded. When one function is used more intensely, other ones, less important at the moment of increased energy expense, will slow down, or shut down. This is the case of the marathon running ladies. The body wisely realizes that it will not get pregnant while training hard, so it momentarily shuts down the whole cycle of preparing the uterus for a baby and then discharging all the work every month. Once these women stop running, they resume their periods.
In the case of my mom’s theory, it wasn’t that obvious, but it was the first clue to my greatest discovery about the workings of our body systems.. If her ‘folk culture’ advice is true (to this day I have never heard of anyone drowning from muscle cramping because of swimming while digesting), it would mean that digestion is given such importance that our muscles would be shut down to protect it, with the obvious risks. My instinct tells me my mom was right all along. And I have a theory of how this came to be.
When it rains in a desert that seems dead, life sprouts as if by magic. A closer look reveals how evolution resulted in plants developing very sophisticated roots to capture every molecule of moisture.
For thousands of years, humans did not know where or when their next meal was going to be. Life basically consisted of surviving while looking for the next meal. And we developed a digestive system that absorbs everything it can, in case the next meal takes a long time to arrive. For thousands of years our genes evolved in such a way that when a meal was thrown in the processing tube (your intestine) and other than the heart, everything else was put to sleep. Just watch what happens next thanksgiving. We stuff ourselves to the point of stupor.
But suddenly, everything changed. The conditions that shaped our genes for thousands of years changed overnight, from an evolutionary perspective. In just a hundred years we have food available 24/7. The amount of time we used to spend hunting, we now spend eating.
But our genes still act as if every meal was the last meal. So our body absorbs everything it can, and it stops or slows down other functions while doing it. Digestion and absorption became so sophisticated by necessity in the past, that it requires the body to put a lot of energy into it. It will take evolution thousands of years to adapt into simplifying our digestion and absorption systems to relax a little and know that the next meal is only a few minutes away and therefore not need to take everything in.
I never go swimming after a meal any more. But I picked up a much more useful tip for life. One that would completely transform my way of thinking and my approach with patients and their sufferings.
This is what I am talking about: “When digestion is happening, the detoxification systems slow down”. They cannot completely stop because we would die in minutes. But their slowing down creates damage and disease in the long run. And this is one of the most important reasons why human health is in such a critical state. At a time when we are exposed to more toxins than ever before in the planet’s history, at a time when we need our detox systems to work extra hours, we are putting these systems practically into hibernation because we are too busy digesting. And we don’t even know it.
Part II of Detox, is it real? coming tomorrow…!