As a naturopathic physician, I like to explain detoxification as a way of life. For our purposes here, detoxification is the process of removing toxins from our bodies.
While it is definitely good to do week- or month-long cleanses, everyday detoxification is the best way to keep your body healthy and free of toxins. Preventing toxins from entering our bodies is much easier than removing them. In this article, I discuss simple, affordable, and practical ways to help detox your body and mind. By implementing some or all of these suggestions, you can greatly improve your health on many levels.
Toxins are natural and foreign substances found in the environment, and are normal byproducts of cell metabolism. Our bodies are designed to process and eliminate toxins through healthy organ function and detoxification mechanisms. However, since the industrial revolution and the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the level of toxins present in our air, water, and soil has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Heavy metals such as mercury, pesticides such as DDT, and xenoestrogens such as phthalates found in plastics have infiltrated our environments and ultimately our bodies. This massive increase in environmental toxins has put tremendous strain on our cells’ detoxification mechanisms, and consequently, we store the toxins rather than excrete them.
Wireless radiation and electromagnetic fields generated from electrical devices are other sources of toxins. These invisible toxins are quite harmful and impossible to completely eliminate, so reducing exposure is important. This article focuses primarily on physical toxins (i.e. heavy metals, pesticides), and does not address how to protect yourself from wireless or electric devices. Visit the HMDI EMF Sensitivity section for additional information and ways to reduce exposure.
We may live in a very toxic world, but our bodies are intelligently designed to cope with this increased stress load. Working in concert together, the organs and body systems are able to effectively remove toxins that we accumulate through the air, water, and soil. The primary organs of elimination are the lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, and skin, and secondary organs include the lymphatic, circulatory, and musculoskeletal systems. When we are exposed to increased stress or toxin load, our detoxification mechanisms may not operate as well and this is when we start to see signs and symptoms like fatigue, headaches, joint pain, and insomnia. Supporting your organs of elimination will prevent toxin storage, and may reduce or eliminate odd symptoms you may be experiencing.
7 Easy Ways Detox Thyself
To prevent toxins from building up and disrupting physiology, here are seven simple ways to support our detoxification mechanisms through lifestyle modification, exercise, healthy organic foods, and herbal supplements:
The simplest example of detoxification is something that we do every day: breathe. Believe it or not, the lungs are considered one of the largest detox organs. With every inhalation oxygen enters our lungs, and with every exhalation carbon dioxide is expelled. Our bodies, on a cellular level, are doing the exact same thing: bringing in nutrients like oxygen and expelling wastes like carbon dioxide. This ebb and flow of nutrient and waste transfer happens every moment- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! It’s no surprise that the number-one symptom patients report to their doctors is fatigue; we are expending more and more energy detoxing!
How many times throughout the day, however, do you feel like you are not breathing enough? With all the stress we experience, it’s no wonder we forget to breathe! Taking a few moments out of your day to consciously breathe will not only reduce stress, but aid in the detoxification process. Try to find a quite space, sit with a straight spine, and breathe in and breathe out slowly through your nostrils. Feel the air entering and exiting your nose, and when thoughts begin to enter remember to focus on the breath again. Regularly practicing conscious breathing will likely improve all aspects of your health.
2. Get Moving, Sweat & Drink Plenty of Water
Exercising or engaging in movement every day will help increase circulation and nutrient flow, and decrease the toxic load. If you are not keen on going to the gym to exercise, schedule in at least a 30 minute walk, each and every day. Another way to increase circulation is through use of a sauna. As mentioned previously, the skin is one of our primary organs of elimination, so regular use of a sauna is a wonderful way to sweat out toxins we accumulate on a daily basis. Start off with a low temperature and duration of exposure, and work your way up to increase sweating. Remember to drink plenty of water with electrolytes before and after the sauna to mobilize toxins and prevent dehydration.
3. Eat Healthy, Organic Foods
Eating a predominately plant-based diet of organic vegetables and fruits will provide protective antioxidants and fiber necessary to neutralize and bind toxins. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can neutralize free radical stress, and contain high levels of fiber to move toxins out of the digestive tract. Eating a combination of raw and cooked vegetables is best.
If buying organic foods is not an option, at the very least try to avoid the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables known to have higher levels of pesticides: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes, and (imported) grapes. Avoiding these foods will decrease your pesticide exposure tremendously. Choose instead, fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticide residues including onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato, and honeydew melon. You can find and print out a handy wallet sized chart of least and most toxic fruits and vegetables at http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php. The dirty dozen can fluctuate over time, so it’s a good idea to update your list regularly. More useful information from the Environmental Working Group may be found at www.ewg.org and www.foodnews.org.
There are various foods that you can eat on a daily basis to support the liver and gastrointestinal tract. Root vegetables (artichokes, carrots, dandelion, beets), sulphur containing foods (eggs, garlic, and onions), water soluble fibers (pears, oat bran, apples, and beans), and cabbage family vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage) all optimize healthy liver and gut function. You can also juice many of these fruits and veggies, which also helps you detoxify by providing live enzymes. Avoiding sugar-containing foods will also help your body detox, which may help you think twice about reaching for that mid afternoon cookie. Instead, eat a handful of raisins and almonds, or dip an apple slice into a freshly made hummus.
Other foods that you should try to implement into your diet to support the liver and gastrointestinal tract include fermented foods and drinks. Fermented foods and drinks include kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled ginger, sourdough bread, beet kvass, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natto, yogurt, raw cheese, and kefir. There are many other food and drinks including high quality beers and wines that are considered fermented. Fermented food and drinks supply a natural source of probiotics to the gastrointestinal tract, which help digest foods, improve immune function, and prevent “bad” microorganisms (e-coli) from causing infection. Many cultures around the world consume fermented foods and drinks with every meal. When looking for a high quality fermented food or drink, check to see if excess heating has been used, which destroys the natural fermentation process. Making these food and drinks at home is highly recommended, as quality is increased with smaller production. Check out the book, Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz for more information and home recipes.
4. Brush Your Skin
To improve the functioning of your skin and lymphatic system try incorporating skin brushing into your daily routine. Skin brushing has been practiced in many cultures over the years to improve skin hygiene. By keeping the skin free from dry, dead skin cells, waste removal from the body is greatly enhanced, blood flow is increased, and buildup of bacteria is decreased. The best time to skin brush is before a shower or before bed. Using a natural vegetable bristle or loofa brush, start at the feet using gentle, quick strokes, and move upward towards your heart covering most of your body. This is the direction of lymph and venous blood flow. It is completely normal for your skin to feel slightly tingly, but be sure to avoid harsh brushing, and brushing over open wounds, your face, or over any lymphatic malignancies.
5. Apply Castor Oil Packs
One of the most important detoxification treatments that I offer to my patients is the castor oil pack. Castor oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory that when absorbed through the skin promotes increased circulation, elimination of toxins, and healing of organs. The castor oil pack should be done 5-7 times a week for about a month to promote optimal detoxification of the liver, intestines, and lymphatic system. You can also choose to do it whenever you are feeling run down, or want to improve the functioning of your GI tract and immune system. It is now known that approximately 60-70 percent of our immune system is found around our intestines, so keeping our gut healthy is essential.
The easiest method to use a castor oil pack is to apply about 1-2 Tbsp of castor oil to a flannel cloth and place it on your abdomen so that the oil is in contact with the skin. The castor oil should form a thin layer on your skin and not be dripping. Then place an old towel on top (castor oil can stain sheets) and a hot water bottle over the towel to help drive the castor oil into the skin. A hot water bottle or other heating device is not required, but most people report feeling more relaxed when it is used. The heat should be strong enough that you feel a warm gentle heat on your abdomen, but avoid burning.
During the next 30-45 minutes, try meditating, or reading, or listening to calming music. This is a great opportunity to devote a small part of your day to healing and relaxing. You can even go to sleep! The castor oil pack affects many systems of the body, and you may feel like you sleep better, have more energy, or experience more regular bowel movements. After the castor oil pack is completed, you can either wash off the excess oil with water and soap or baking soda, or leave it on your skin. Store the flannel cloth in a plastic bag and use repeatedly, applying less castor oil as the cloth is saturated.
6. Take a Cold Plunge after a Hot Bath
Contrast hydrotherapy has been used for centuries to improve circulation, immune system function, and remove toxins. Ever visit a spa and notice that a cold plunge is usually next to a sauna or whirlpool? When your body is exposed to heat, blood vessels vasodilate or increase in diameter to improve nutrient/waste transfer and blood flow. This is what causes us to sweat. Quickly jumping into a cold plunge causes vasoconstriction or narrowing of your vessels, which drives the oxygen rich blood to your vital organs. This is a form of cardiovascular exercise that strengthens your vasculature. Research shows that hydrotherapy tonifies the immune system by increasing migration of white blood cells. Most of us do not have cold plunges in our homes, but contrast hydrotherapy can be done in your shower. After taking a warm shower, try ending with a 30 second cool water spray starting with your extremities and ending with your abdominal area and low back. You will likely feel invigorated and better ready to start your day!
Fasting is one of the most ancient, powerful, and cost effective methods of cleansing. Historically, religious and spiritual peoples have fasted to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit of impurities. From a purely physical perspective, fasting enables the body to rest and work more efficiently. Fasting induces metabolic and hormonal changes by improving insulin sensitivity, enzyme status, recalibration of taste sensation (to salt), promotion of weight loss, and reducing leaky gut. Though fasting is indicated for loss of appetite, acute illness, chronic illness, to accelerate healing, change behaviors (quit smoking), and its psycho-spiritual effect, not everyone is a candidate for fasting. Please consult with a health care professional before choosing to do a fast.
Daily Detoxification as a Preventative Lifestyle Measure
It is important to remember that although we live in a toxic world where exposure to chemicals and industry byproducts is common, our bodies are intelligently designed to protect us from toxin exposure. We can all help optimize organ function and detoxification mechanisms by following these simple-to-implement suggestions: drink plenty of water, consciously breathe, exercise, eat foods that are low in pesticide residue, are fermented and support the liver, skin brush, apply castor oil packs, and practice hydrotherapy. Try incorporating some or all of these suggestions into your daily regimen and see how you feel. A word of caution, though: when starting to detox is you may feel worse before you feel better. This may happen because you are eliminating toxins that have been stored in your body for years. You may also notice increased vitality, fewer signs and symptoms, improved sleep and energy, and elevated mood. It may take some time and effort to feel better, but your body will thank you in the long term.
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