This blog is about the natural detoxification system, what toxins plague our systems, and the best detox for your body. ( 6 minute read - part 1 of 2)
Detoxes and cleanses line the shelves of your local health food store promising gold for your body - better energy, healthier digestion, weight loss, reduced bloat... but what are they? Do they work? What do they do? Are they safe?
When I worked in health food stores, I would have at least a handful of customers come in every day looking for a quick fix to feel better. Most already believed a detox must be the answer and the supplement industry has a whole subcategory of products to back up that assumption - but how do we know which to choose? What's the best detox for your body? Before we get to that, let's dissect the concept of detoxification.
What is a detox?
Simply put, it is the process of removing toxic substances - which are substances described as a "poison of plant or animal origin". Throughout this blog, I may refer to toxins as waste, with the idea being that toxins are a substance that can wreak havoc on the body if it is not processed and removed.
Let's look at two different types of toxins that create burden in our system: environmental (exogenous) and natural (endogenous) toxins.
1. Environmental toxins enter our body from the world around us, these can be found in:
Air, water, and environmental pollution (pesticides, carbon emissions, heavy metals)
Supplements and medication
Food and drink (HFCS, hormones and antibiotics in meat, pesticides/herbicides)
2. Endogenous toxins are substances produced within our body as by-products of our natural metabolic processes such as breathing, breaking down food, repairing muscles, entering fight-or-flight mode. Examples of endogenous toxins may include carbon dioxide, urea, salts, lactic acid, bilirubin, and adrenaline.
A healthy body is perfectly capable of processing and removing this waste efficiently, but some factors can affect our bodies ability to do so, including:
Excess yeast, fungi, or bad bacteria in the gut
Stress and extreme prolonged emotions or mental illness
Poor diet, nutritional imbalances
Lack of exercise
Amount of environmental toxins being taken in
Do I need a detox?
"There's so much junk in my system I just need to get it all out"
"I ate so much sugar over the holidays and need to reset"
"I just need to lose 10 pounds"
These are common statements I hear when people ask me about detoxes and, in some ways, I'd agree, we're all pretty clogged with junk - just look at this report on newborns that demonstrates how our environment is not doing us any favours when it comes to our health. But at the end of the day, no health food store product is going to (sustainably) drop those pounds or reverse the effects of the holidays or magically "clean out" your system.
That’s where the best detox in town comes in, the secret health food store shoppers wish they knew…
It’s your body!
That’s right, your body, with its plethora of built-in detoxification systems, is the best detox money can buy...in fact, you are currently doing a detox. Tell your friends, post about it on the internet, call your mom.
All jokes aside, your body is entirely capable of removing these toxins with the help of the kidneys, liver, skin, lungs, and digestive system. However, when we pollute those organs with more than they can handle, they begin to function less efficiently and symptoms arise.
Signs of an inefficient detoxification system may include:
Anxiety and depression
Frequent acute illness
Digestive issues; constipation, diarrhea, foul gas, pain and discomfort
Arthritis, muscle joint pain
Skin rashes, acne
Bad breath/body odour
Store Bought Detox vs. Your Body
Most store bought detoxes and cleanses claim liver and kidney support from herbs (and sometimes vitamins/minerals), are accompanied by a "recommended diet", and then you poop.
This typical “cleansing” response of increased bowel movements may feel like the cleanse is working, but I would take that with caution. The bowel movements in a detox are often stimulated by laxatives and are usually followed by a rebound stagnation (constipation), continued diarrhea, or a disruption of intestinal flora.
Herbs, vitamins, and minerals can be of great use in the body when organs need support, when deficiencies are present, and when under professional supervision - that last point is key. Generally speaking, when it comes to detox, the issue isn’t that your organs aren’t functioning properly, it’s that the toxic burden is too great for your system to handle. Throwing a generic mixture of “detox” herbs at it will not resolve any issues if you do not address the root cause - but it will likely make you poop, until it doesn't.
I’d go out on a limb and say most, if not all, North Americans tend to over-burden the system with both endogenous and exogenous toxins. We work too hard, sit too long, drink too much, eat too poorly, we carry heavy mental burdens, we take our clean air for granted until it is no longer clean, our water is full of medication and heavy metals, and generally, we have put more toxic burden on our systems than any generation before.
Every magazine and blog and instagram celebrity promotes the next best cleanse, preaching it will heal your every ailment. At the end of the day, long before you start abruptly flushing your bowels, the most important first step to help your organs function at peak detox potential is to turn off the tap and reduce that toxic burden. Part two of this blog will explore ways to reduce your toxic burden but reducing both exogenous and endogenous toxins.