The Secret to Making Your Detox Effective
October 22, 2010
By Frank Lipman, MD
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is what your body does naturally to neutralize, transform or get rid of unwanted materials or toxins. Although it is mostly ignored by our current medical system, the detoxification system is a key component of our body’s functioning, constantly working and interacting with all the other functions of the body. So a good detox program improves and optimizes the function of your body’s own built-in detoxification systems. This is done by decreasing the amount of toxins we put into our bodies while, at the same time, supporting our detoxification and elimination systems with the nutrients they need to function properly.
Why is it necessary?
Internally our bodies harbor toxins produced by the billions of bacteria and other flora in the intestines as well as the waste products produced by normal metabolic processes. Externally, our exposure to chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the personal care products we put on our skin and the household products we use is greater than ever. Our bodies are constantly neutralizing and eliminating all these toxins, that is, detoxing. It is a totally natural process. And while we are obviously equipped to deal with low levels of some toxins, our bodies become overtaxed by the overwhelming number of toxins to which we are exposed.
When our own detoxification systems (predominantly the liver and the gut) become overloaded and do not function properly, toxins get stored in various tissues in the body, including fatty tissue. This prevents our system from functioning at optimum strength and efficiency and is a factor in the development of various chronic diseases including cancer.
Just like with our cars, our own internal engines are subject to waste build-up and can become sluggish over time. They both need an occasional tune-up and run better when clean.
Detoxing helps our bodies cope with this onslaught of toxins that are an unavoidable part of modern day life. Boosting the detoxification system helps bring the body back into balance. It’s an important first step in restoring function and getting the body back to optimal health.
Why is toxicity not recognized by most doctors?
Our conventional medical system does not recognize toxicity nor know how to treat or prevent it. This stands in stark contrast to Eastern medical systems where the notion of detoxing has been in place for thousands of years. The detoxification system involves complex interactions between organs that depend on each other to function effectively; it needs to be seen from a systems point of view. It cannot be mechanically reduced or compartmentalized, symptoms vary greatly from person to person, and there is no single magic bullet to fix it. In fact, if anything, traditional medications given for some of the presenting symptoms often make the problem worse because they put an extra load on an already overtaxed liver to metabolize them. Until the way doctors are trained and what they are taught changes, and until doctors open up to different ways of seeing problems and different modalities to treat them, detoxification will have to be done outside of the conventional medical system. In functional medicine — one of the many systems I incorporate in my practice — detoxification is a key component.
Is there research on detoxification?
Although doctors may not recognize detoxification and many will think it’s a strange concept, there is a lot of research documenting its role in health and disease. We even have a scientific term for chemicals and substances that are foreign to the body and come from the external environment: xenobiotics. In the last 20 years, scientific discoveries have shown us more about our biochemistry and the intricacies of how the detoxification system actually works. We now know how to help its functioning through nutrition and lifestyle. We know what nutrients are needed for the system to function, what chemicals inhibit and which ones stimulate enzymes in the system. Cutting-edge science is giving us a more sophisticated understanding of how all of these chemicals from the environment interact with our bodies on genetic, cellular and molecular levels – how they are broken down and eliminated, what may prevent this, and what may help this process. There are also vast amounts of literature on where the huge amount of external toxins are coming from, and what they are doing not only to the environment but to our health and especially our children’s health.
What is an effective detox program?
To be completely effective, a detox program has to address both internal and external toxins. We obviously need to eliminate, as far as possible, the toxins we eat, drink, breathe and put on our bodies. But it’s just as important to address the internal toxicity created by the body as it performs its normal everyday functions. These biochemical, cellular and bodily activities generate substances that also need to be neutralized and/or eliminated to maintain good health.
The two key components of any detox program are decreasing the number of toxins going in and, at the same time, assisting the body’s capacity to neutralize and eliminate the toxins.
A comprehensive detox program must supply the appropriate nutrients to do this, and should include nutrients specifically to support the two most important detoxification organ systems: the liver and gastrointestinal tract.
Most detoxes on the market decrease the amount of external toxins and irritants that we put into our bodies. That is, they eliminate the foods that often cause sensitivities, reactions, irritation or inflammation. The most common ones are gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods, factory-farmed meats, genetically modified foods, alcohol and caffeine. My “Remove Diet” gives a complete list of what you can and cannot eat during a detox.
But most do not adequately assist the body to neutralize and eliminate the toxins. In this day and age, supplying the specific nutritional ingredients to boost the body’s own capacity to detox is essential for a detox to have long-lasting effects. To prevent the accumulation of toxic products in the tissues, these nutrients should enhance liver function (as it is the main organ involved in transforming toxins into metabolites that are easier to excrete) and also promote gastrointestinal function. Because abnormal bacteria, yeast and parasites can release toxins and overload the liver’s capacity to deal with the flood of toxins, removing these and helping to balance the flora in the gut are essential. Aiding digestion with digestive enzymes to assist the body break down food properly ensures fewer negative effects from undigested foods. Adding fiber to “sweep” the intestines is also helpful. Fiber promotes the elimination of toxins and also binds to toxins, which helps to prevent their absorption. Dietary fiber is also metabolized by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which feed the cells lining the intestines thereby supporting cellular integrity and decreasing inflammation.
In my view, an effective detox is not achieved just by fasting or limiting the intake of foods or simply juicing. That is just half the story. It is equally important and necessary to boost the body’s own detox function at the same time by supplying therapeutic amounts of the targeted nutrition you need to achieve this. From the results I’ve seen in my practice, I am a firm believer that a well-functioning detoxification system will keep your engine humming and is one of the essential keys to maintaining good health.
Photo Credit: Maschinenraum