The Top Ten Detox Tips
by Sarah Cimperman, ND
Detox products, protocols, and programs are everywhere these days, from raw food and vegan diets to foot baths and body wraps. But do they really work? And what is detox anyway?
Detoxification is often synonymous with a "cleanse" or "cleansing" and it refers to the removal of harmful substances from the body. It’s a good goal because more than 400 chemicals from the environment have been found in human blood and fat tissue, according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition. Environ-mental toxins have been linked to some of the deadliest and most debilitating diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, infertility, endometriosis, depression, and autoimmune disease.
Unfortunately, removing environ-mental toxins that have been stored inside our bodies is not as easy as it sounds. Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble and stored inside our fat cells. There’s only one way to get them out: to burn fat for energy. When fat cells release fatty acids into the blood stream to meet our metabolic needs, stored toxins are released as well. They travel to the liver where they undergo chemical reactions that allow them to be eliminated from body.
Our bodies burn fat for energy instead of sugar only when insulin levels are low and sugar isn’t widely available. When blood sugar and insulin levels are high, the body will always store fat and toxins, never release them. Yet many popular "detox" products and protocols include foods and ingredients that raise blood sugar and insulin levels, like natural and artificial sweeteners (they may not raise blood sugar but they do raise insulin); whole grains including brown rice and oatmeal; fruit and vegetable juices; winter squashes and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots; and dried fruit and fruit preserves. In many ways, the whole foods on this list can be healthy choices – they’re full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – but because of their effects on blood sugar and insulin, the end result is really the opposite of detoxification.
Detox is much more than a low-carb diet, and mobilizing toxins is only part of the battle. They still need to be processed by the liver and excreted by the organs of elimination (kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and skin). Simply eating raw food, adopting a vegan diet, soaking your feet, or nourishing your skin is not detoxification. These things may have some benefits, but they don’t necessarily detoxify our bodies.
Detoxification isn’t right for everyone and one program doesn’t fit all people. If you’re interested in detox, ask your naturopathic doctor to design a program tailored to your unique needs and goals. Or follow these ten tips to minimize your exposure to environmental toxins and improve your body’s ability to eliminate them.
1. Avoid sweets and starches.
Keep blood sugar and insulin levels low by eliminating sweet and starchy foods and sweet drinks from your diet. Also make sure that every meal includes protein, fiber, and healthy forms of fat to slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.
2. Eat more green and cruciferous vegetables.
Green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and collard greens) contain compounds that help our livers change dangerous toxins into excretable compounds. Make them at least 50% of every meal. When you can’t eat organic, avoid the ones on the "Dirty Dozen" most contaminated list: collard greens, kale, spinach, lettuce, celery, and bell peppers. Choose from the "Clean Fifteen" instead: cabbage, asparagus, avocado, and fresh peas. Find the full lists in the "Shoppers Guide to Pesticides" from the Environmental Working Group.
3. Avoid toxic fish and seafood.
As our oceans and waterways become more polluted, so do our fish and seafood. Environmental toxins like pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, and heavy metals naturally accumulate in large and predatory fish. Species low in contaminants and high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats include wild Alaskan salmon, herring, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines, and anchovies. The websites of the Environmental Defense Fund and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch offer free printable pocket guides, mobile applications, and online databases that rate fish and seafood on their environmental impact, give details on health advisories regarding unsafe levels of toxins, and note which species are especially good sources of omega-3s.
4. Consume only pasture-raised, grass-fed, or wild meats and animal products.
When it comes to the animals in our diet, it’s their diet that really matters. Avoid all meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that were fed grain or exposed to pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.
5. Avoid foods and beverages packaged in cans, plastic con-tainers, and foam materials.
This includes Styrofoam cups, take-out containers, and egg cartons. Replace plastic food storage containers with ceramic, stainless steel, or glass (Pyrex) containers. Do not drink water stored inside plastic bottles; instead use stainless steel or glass water bottles and travel mugs. Replace plastic wrap with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
6. Filter your water.
Activated carbon water filters are inexpensive and widely available. They remove chlorine, lead, mercury, copper, pesticides, solvents, radon, parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, some volatile organic compounds, and bad tastes and odors. Reverse osmosis filters remove 99.97% of contaminants 0.3 microns or larger. In addition to the above list, they filter out fluoride, cadmium, asbestos, bacteria, arsenic, barium, nitrates, nitrites, and perchlorate. NSF International is a respected nonprofit organization that independently certifies water filtration systems and validates manufacturer claims.
7. Drink green tea daily.
Green tea contains powerful antioxidants and one in particular, a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate-3 or EGCG, has been shown to stimulate detoxification pathways in the liver and increase the elimination of environmental chemicals. EGCG has also been shown to protect the brain from heavy metals and reduce the risk of cancer.
8. Exercise regularly.
Exercise helps to improve blood sugar control, reverse insulin resistance, and increase circulation to the liver (and to the rest of the body). It also boosts energy and improves mood, flexibility, balance, sleep, and mental performance. Get your doctor’s permission and aim for a combination of aerobic, strengthening, and stretching activities, enough to equal about two and a half hours each week.
9. Take a weekly sauna.
A study of rescue workers from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack demonstrated that sauna therapy can effectively reduce levels of environmental toxins in the blood (including dioxins and PCBs) and reverse health problems associated with exposure to these chemicals.
10. Manage stress effectively.
Stress and lack of sleep (which is perceived by the body as a form of stress) increases the body’s production of stress hormones like cortisol, which increases levels of insulin. It’s a survival instinct that served our ancestors well when most stress was short-term (they either escaped physical threats or died trying). But in our modern world we suffer more long-term stress, which causes levels of insulin to remain elevated for prolonged periods of time. To help keep insulin levels low, learn to manage stress effectively in any way that works well for you: breathing exercises or dancing, meditation or laughter, saunas or massage, yoga or tai chi.
References available upon request.
Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a naturo-pathic doctor in private practice in New York City. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarah cimperman.com. Read her blogs online at adifferentkindofdoctor.blogspot.com and naturopathicgourmet.blogspot.com.
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