Seasonal detox programs have become a new fad as part of our health and wellness culture. Weight loss is often a motivator to try a detox and often consumers find that detoxification plans not only help to shed some excess weight, but can also clear symptoms related to inflammation. While it may seem like a new fad, detoxification is a powerful approach many naturopathic doctors use to address health concerns related to tissue inflammation, organ congestion, and total toxic body burden.
Detoxification involves clearing toxins, (metabolic wastes) from our tissues by methods of neutralizing, transforming, and eliminating them through organs of elimination also known as the emunctories. These emunctory organs of elimination include the liver, gallbladder, lymphatics, colon, bladder, kidneys, skin, and lungs, which work continually to remove these metabolic wastes from our body.
Why Do We Detox?
Over time our bodies can accumulate metabolic wastes if they are not eliminated properly. Inflammatory diets, toxic exposures and stress are some of the culprits that increase the toxic burden on the body. Organ systems can begin to give us a signal they need support. Some of these signals can be seen in blood workups showing elevated markers of inflammation or hormonal imbalances. Symptoms that could indicate the need for a detox include skin ailments like acne and eczema to digestive ailments like constipation and bloating to neurological symptoms including migraines. Each individual person may have their own Achilles heel when it comes to what symptoms they present when a detox may be necessary. Narrowing down what your metabolic wastes are is a helpful way to prevent burdening your body to begin with.
What is a Toxin?
A toxin is any substance that creates an irritating and/or harmful effect in the body. Chemicals,
pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, mold, and pathogenic microorganisms are considered environmental toxins. However, our body also produces metabolic intermediates or end-products that are just as deleterious to our health as those environmentally acquired.
Signs of toxin overload include weight gain, asthma, allergies, food and environmental sensitivities, anxiety/depression, immune conditions, cancer, constipation, bad breath, fibrocystic breasts and fibroids, menstrual problems, thyroid issues, headaches, skin rashes, etc. Everyone is at risk for toxic accumulation; as a result, everyone could benefit from a detox program annually.
While our bodies detox pathways involve multiple organ systems, the central organ that processes all our hormones, toxins, food, herbs, supplements, drugs, and alcohol is the liver. Therefore, detoxification programs can sometimes be referred to as a liver detox. It is important to note that no method of detoxification should be performed without the supervision of a medical
professional. A naturopathic doctor is trained to prepare the body for detoxification and find the best program and diet plan to ensure safe and gentle cleansing any time of year. You must take into account medications, supplements, and the lifestyle of a person before recommending a detox, it is not a one size fits all approach.
How Do We Detoxify?
Our liver is a magical organ as it is regenerative, meaning it can heal itself after damage. It is known to process and metabolize all chemicals that circulate throughout the body, making this organ the primary focus of any detox plan. From every hormone, food, drug, herb, and in Chinese medical theory- our emotions, the liver is subject to being burdened in its ability to function and this can impose serious side effects and changes to our metabolism. As a result, gentle detoxification is one way we can support our livers and promote clearing of toxic waste.
Detox programs are designed to support the two phases of liver detoxification, called phase I and phase II, respectively. The first phase of liver detoxification corresponds to fatty liver mobilization. The right lobe of the liver is highly saturated with fatty material and that is to help detox chemicals and toxins that enter the liver which are fat-soluble. These include environmental contaminants/pollutants, plastics, insecticides/pesticides, plant or drug compounds, hormones, microorganisms, and food additives/preservatives. The goal of Phase 1 reactions is to hydrolyze and polarize the fatty molecules (meaning make them more water-soluble) in order to transition them into Phase 2 detox reactions.
The second phase of liver detoxification corresponds to tagging metabolic intermediates and toxins with anti-oxidants and water-based molecules to finally help eliminate them as waste through excretory routes, including feces and urine. The goal of Phase 2 reactions is to conjugate or transform toxins into less harmful forms so they can be appropriately excreted from the body.
4 Steps for a Successful Detox:
- Determine toxic body burden through exposure and health history.
- Perform additional testing, under supervision by your physician, to determine your baseline.
- Support detoxification organ systems including other organs of elimination like digestive system, skin, lungs, etc.
- Follow an individualized detoxification plan that will help to eliminate current toxins and
adjust lifestyle to reduce further exposure.
Methods for Testing Toxic Load:
- Exposure history
- Heavy metals in hair, blood, urine
- Liver function testing
- Blood chemistry workup for inflammation, diabetes, hyperlipidemia
- Urinary workup for amino acids, organic acids, and cytokines
- Food allergy IgG antibody testing for commonly eaten foods based on dairy, meat,
fruit, vegetable, grains/legumes, nuts/seed, seafood categories.
A few important considerations before you detox:
- A patient should receive an appropriate workup of liver function and micronutrient status
prior to undergoing a detox program. It is important to supply the necessary vitamins,
minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants to encourage healthy liver function. Remember, if
we push the liver system while it does not contain its essentials, we risk adding side
effects and harm to our bodies.
- Organs of elimination, in particular the digestive and urinary tracts, are to be open and
functional. Any blockage or insufficiency in waste removal will add an obstacle in
detoxification; thus, cause our bodies to reabsorb waste and bring on unwanted side
- Staying well hydrated- key to any diet-detox plan. All chemical reactions in liver and other
organ detoxification are highly dependent on water.
- Be positive! Adopt a positive mindset when undergoing a detox program. Find support
through family, friends, or health community. Try detoxing with a friend or partner,
journaling your progress, moving your body, and attending community lectures to inspire
change. And always refer to your naturopathic doctor for guided support. Remember, the
end result is a healthier you!
Dr. Diana Zitserman, ND, MSAc, is a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at Collaborative Natural Health Partners, LLC in Manchester, CT. She is an in-network provider with most major health insurance companies and is accepting new patients. Please call 860-533-0179 to schedule your appointment.