The term “detox” has turned into a popular buzzword. In some ways, that’s a good thing because it means people are becoming more aware of the dangers posed by the vast quantities of toxins we’re exposed to every day through food, water, household products, our environment, and more. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other diseases are linked to ongoing toxin exposure. Skin and joint problems, allergies, headaches, digestive issues, and frequent colds are also part of the package. And with all the celebrity detox diets and juicing fads sprouting up, this age-old tradition of total body cleansing has also gained a reputation as the magic bullet for weight loss, anti-aging, and simply feeling your best. But is detox all it’s cracked up to be?
Yes, a healthy cleanse and detoxification program can be your door to optimal vitality—but it depends on how you open that door. A poorly planned program can drain your energy and redistribute toxins (such as heavy metals and pesticides) to vital organs.
Many of today’s detox regimens promise a quick fix, ignoring the importance of a gradual toxin removal program. It takes years for these health-robbing pollutants to accumulate in joints, organs, and tissues, so we can’t expect to be “scrubbed clean” with a three-day cleanse. The goal is to incorporate a cleansing diet, targeted natural supplements, exercise, and the right attitudes to help gently remove toxins over time while promoting overall wellness. With this type of gradual momentum, your body can take over and propel you to a greater level of health and vitality.
There’s a common misconception about detoxification. The myth is that we have to feel sick before we can feel good, especially when the body begins releasing toxins into circulation. When this happens we may suffer from headaches, constipation, brain fog, and worse. This is often called a “detox crisis,” and many people will tell you it’s a good sign that your program is working. In some cases, this is a valid concept. However, it can also be a concern because toxins are being released too quickly and the body can’t handle the sudden load of pollutants in the bloodstream. It’s like a spring thaw: If the snow melts too quickly, the river floods, leaving debris and destruction on its banks.
On the other hand, if we gradually transition to a cleansing diet and slowly incorporate supplements that help cleanse the circulation and digestive tract first, we prepare our bodies for a deeper, more thorough detoxification processes. This way, we can avoid uncomfortable reactions and optimize our long-term health.
Another potential pitfall during detoxification is dehydration. Inadequate hydration stalls the process, leading to constipation, headaches, and toxin redistribution. To keep your organs of elimination running smoothly, I recommend drinking a gallon of filtered water each day, some of which can come from herbal teas and salt-free vegetable broths.
Perhaps the biggest saboteurs to any detox program are cravings for unhealthy foods. Simple sugars and carbs can be highly addicting, the result of blood glucose spiking and crashing. The good news is, certain herbs and nutrients which promote healthy detox can also regulate blood glucose levels to curb cravings and maintain balanced energy, making it much easier to stick with your program.
What if I told you that you could start to transform your body from the inside out (literally!), and all it would take is for you to suspend your beliefs about what fitness and wellness mean to you?
When to Cleanse
Though the abundance of industrial toxins is relatively new, the practice of cleansing and detoxification isn’t. Chinese, ayurvedic, and other traditional medical systems have long recognized that periodic detoxification is essential for long-term vitality. These ancient healing systems deeply understood our relationships to the seasons and designed detoxification protocols to synchronize health with the rhythms of the natural world.
According to these traditions, spring and fall are particularly good times to detox. Winter stagnancy makes us vulnerable to pathogens, toxin buildup, and weight gain. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the spring season relates to liver and gallbladder health, and emphasizes new growth and regeneration. A gentle spring cleanse is an excellent time to harness this energy, support these organs, and rejuvenate our systems for optimal health throughout the year.
On the other side of the calendar, fall offers another opportunity for detoxification. In TCM, the fall season relates to the large intestines and lungs. A detox program during this time of year emphasizes the deeper removal of toxins to support immunity and energy during the winter.
The First Step: Diet
Regardless of when we decide to detox, reducing sugar and salt is critical. In addition to sugar’s impact on glucose metabolism and salt’s contribution to dehydration, they are both inflammatory foods. Other items that contribute to inflammation and toxin buildup are alcohol, processed foods, cooked oils, and caffeinated beverages. Eliminate these during a cleanse.
I also recommend reducing animal proteins, especially red meat. Switch to plant-based proteins, which are easier to digest. Add fiber, including flax, chia seeds, psyllium, and rice bran. Whenever possible, buy organic foods to avoid more pesticide exposure.
The basis of a cleansing diet includes lots of vegetables, which can be juiced, steamed, sauteed in water or soups, or eaten raw. One of the goals of detoxification is reducing the acidity caused by unhealthy foods, stress, lack of exercise, and more. Choosing alkaline vegetables—such as spinach, broccoli, avocado, and other—will help the body release toxins. I also recommend cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, which are rich in compounds that support toxin removal. A brothy vegetable soup made with an assortment of your favorite items is an excellent staple in any cleanse and detox program.
Another key ingredient is probiotics, which add healthy bacteria to support the digestive tract and numerous other areas of health. Kimchi, tempeh, coconut kefir, sauerkraut, and miso are all good sources of food-based probiotics.
Exercise and Mindfulness
Detoxification is about movement—we are moving toxins out of our bodies. Exercise and deep breathing are critical to this process. Exercise boosts the lymphatic system, a critical part of the body’s detoxification channels. It also increases metabolism on all levels, supporting the removal of toxins from cells, tissues, and organs, including the skin.
Deep breathing is also essential. Toxins are released from the lungs during exhalation, and increased oxygen supports the detox process. It’s also an excellent way to relax, another essential component. If we’re holding on to tension and stress, we’re also holding toxins, and generating new ones in the process. Meditation, walks in nature, and yoga are proven to relieve stress, reduce inflammation, and support overall wellbeing.
Detoxification is a two-part process: Toxins are released from organs and tissues, then they become metabolized by the body and are eliminated through the urine, bowels, skin, and lungs. The first step is to prepare the circulation and digestion with natural ingredients that bind toxins and help the body remove them.
In any detox program, one of the most important supplements I recommend is PectaClear, a combination of modified citrus pectin (MCP) from citrus peels, and sodium alginates from kelp. This formula is clinically proven to remove harmful heavy metals from the circulation and digestion, without affecting essential minerals. The formula can also eliminate pesticides, radioactive particles, and other chemicals, while supporting immunity. With this combination, circulating toxins are tightly bound and eliminated through the urine and digestive tract.
I recommend preparing with Pecta-Clear formula for at least two weeks, in combination with a cleansing diet, before adding in supplements that stimulate the release of toxins from deeper in the body.
For more thorough detoxification, I recommend adding a comprehensive detox formula called Detox Complete, with ingredients such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), alpha-lipoic acid, dandelion, milk thistle, garlic, cilantro, and others. These ingredients support the organs of elimination and increase vital energy during a cleanse. They work together with the MCP and alginates to give deeply stored toxins the old heave-ho.
In my clinical practice, I also use Integrative Metabolic Formula to help stabilize blood glucose and insulin, support metabolism and digestion, and reduce cravings. Metabolic ingredients such as holy basil, fenugreek, gymnema leaf, and certain mushrooms also help remove toxins and boost immunity.
There are a few other supplements that are also important. In addition to supporting detox, proteolytic enzymes reduce inflammation, support detoxification, and boost circulation; green drink powders provide extra nutrients; and digestive supplements keep the bowels regular.
Keep At It
Even if you are going slowly, a gentle detoxification program can seem daunting with so many changes to adopt. But it’s important to consider how all these elements synergize to produce profound improvements in health and wellbeing. As the body adjusts to the new regimen and the benefits become more apparent, you will actually come to crave the healthier approach. Just as bad practices can be addictive, so can good ones.
More energy, less pain, stronger immunity, better digestion, and greater emotional and mental health are all noticeable benefits of a safe and gentle detox program.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc is a licensed acupuncturist, physician, and homeopath, has an MS in traditional Chinese medicine, and has done graduate studies in herbology. Dr. Eliaz has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s, with a focus on cancer, immune health, detoxification and mind-body medicine. Visit him online at dreliaz.org.