Detox cleanses are all the rage. Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé do it. Dr. Oz promotes them. When done properly, the benefits are life changing. Improperly administered, they can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. Before you get caught up in the craze, here is some important information to keep in mind about how detoxes work, what to watch out for, and how to do them safely.
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Toxins are defined as substances that are poisonous to humans. This can be pretty much anything in your environment.
The practice of detoxification has been around for ages. Ancient civilizations used bloodletting and leeches to remove the “humours” in the body. The Indian tradition of Ayurveda uses sweating, herbs, and oils for detoxification. In current times, we detox by purging ourselves from drugs, heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, and many other toxins.
Your liver and kidneys are the superstars of your body’s detox. Your liver filters the toxins out of your blood and reintroduces them to your upper GI tract/small intestine as a part of bile mixture used to digest your food. Your kidneys remove toxins and flush them through your urine.
Your body is inundated with toxins on a daily basis, such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, ammonia, and chemicals. That amalgam filling still in your mouth? Mercury is now in your body. The Roundup you just sprayed on your weeds? Glyphosate is now in your environment. The lunch you just heated up in a plastic container in the microwave? Bisphenol-A has leeched into your food. The list is endless.
Your Body and Detox
Your body is designed to heal itself. Your body is designed to detoxify itself. Your body detoxifies itself through BULLS – bowels, urine, lymph, lungs, and skin. Your body protects what goes in, and expels the bad as much as it can. Your skin provides a barrier to the environment. Your airways provide a consistent detoxification from the air you breathe. Your liver and kidneys screen and flush the toxins while allowing nutrients to be absorbed.
Your body is an efficient machine. But we are living in a society where we are overloaded with toxins. While many people can naturally detox through living a healthy life, some people cannot withstand the toxic burden of our society and become sick.
If you are considering a detox, think of it this way. If you eat a diet full of McDonalds, Diet Coke, and Cheetos, you are not feeding your body the nutrients it needs to properly function. If you detox for a week or a month, regardless of the method you use, you will feel better because you aren’t putting junk and toxins into your body. But then most people go right back into their old eating habits and they start feeling like crap again and claim the detox didn’t work. We’ll touch more on this throughout the article, but I definitely want you to keep this concept in mind as you are reading.
Cleansing and Juicing
Cleanses and juicing seem to be the most popular detox diets of late. The Master Cleanse is on trend with all of the Hollywood celebrities. Dr. Oz’s 3 Day Detox Cleanse is extremely popular as well. But how do these cleanses work and do they really work?
The Master Cleanse is a delightful concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper, along with a laxative tea. The ingredients are designed to collectively come together to “flush out” your intestines of toxins. Trust me, just based on the ingredients and without ever trying the Master Cleanse, I can tell you that if you drink this concoction it will definitely clean you out.
But you need to be careful with these kind of cleanses, and especially juice cleanses. If you are drinking fiber-less juices with wheat grass, celery, carrots, etc. at the same time as you are taking detox supplements, there will not be enough fiber in your body to pull the toxins out of the blood. Instead, they will be reabsorbed by the liver and reintroduce dangerous concentrations of toxins to your body. Additionally, your carbohydrate count will be dangerously low. Additions of laxatives can cause dehydration, deplete electrolytes, and impair normal bowel function.
Let’s Talk About Poop Baby!
You can’t go into a detox without being emotionally prepared to spend some time in the bathroom. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the smelliest), normal, healthy poop should smell like a 2-3. You notice it’s there, but it’s not an obnoxious foul odor. Detox movements will send you to the stank factor of a 10 or beyond (not that I know from personal experience, let’s just say hypothetically speaking…).
You will probably have abdominal cramping, diarrhea and loose stools. Diarrhea is never a sign of good health – in fact, quite the opposite because it involves nutrient and electrolyte loss. Ingesting certain teas, dandelion, licorice, and other “cleansing” substances may have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea as well. The good news is that you will feel better after the diarrhea stops. But guess what – detox or not, everyone is going to feel better after diarrhea, no matter what the condition.
The Side Effects of Detox
In addition to epic bowel movements, there are plenty of side effects to expect during a detox. These may include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and aches and pains. I chuckle at these side effects, because as someone with an autoimmune condition, those symptoms are a part of my daily life, and what I’m trying to detox from! Those on detox diets will often feel hungry due to a low-calorie diet. Many people detox to lose weight, but the weight loss is quick, unhealthy, and often comes back on quickly when a normal diet is resumed. Again, I chuckle at this one because I think I’m the only person on the planet who gained 3 pounds in 2 weeks on a recent medically supervised detox, and then lost the weight right away when going back to my normal diet. #SMH
When I “detoxed” the first time, I did it on my own. I cut out all gluten, sugar, and processed food from my diet. Cold Turkey. I didn’t participate in a cleanse or juicing or anything like that, but it was more of a nutrition cleansing which was needed to improve my health. I was amazed that in only a week’s time, the migraines had disappeared, and I could see a noticeable difference in the daily fatigue. But in doing so, I also detoxed a lot of Candida out of me. I was covered in a yeast rash for a couple of days until it cleared up on its own. I know this sounds disgusting, but I’m keeping it real folks. If there are any kinds of toxins in your body, detoxing in any way will force them out via bowels, urine, lymph, lungs, or skin.
Dangers of Detox
I can’t pinpoint the source, but one of the sources I read while researching this article had the most awesome quote I wanted to share with you, “Sometimes feeling like you’re poisoned means you are actually being poisoned.” Don’t think that feeling bad is good. Sometimes feeling bad is legit, but sometimes it is the cause of something serious, dangerous, or even deadly. No joke, people die from negligent and/or extreme detoxing, which is why it is NEVER recommended unless under medical supervision.
As stated previously, if you are drinking fiber-less juices at the same time as you are taking detox supplements, there will not be enough fiber in your body to pull the toxins out of the blood. Instead, they will be reabsorbed by the liver and will reintroduce dangerous concentrations of toxins to your body all at once, which can now cause acute toxicity and poisoning.
Detoxing is NEVER recommended for people with diabetes, heart or kidney disease, digestive conditions, women who are pregnant or nursing, children or teens, or older adults.
So Why Detox?
With all of the negative side effects and warnings, why do we even need to detox? Is detoxing necessary since your body already detoxes naturally?
Yes, our bodies are naturally designed to be detoxing machines. But in today’s world, we are bombarded with chemicals and metals and toxins… EVERYWHERE! And this doesn’t even include our own man-made toxins from stress or inflammation. It has been estimated that there are 80,000 chemicals in our environment. Think about it. Make a list of all of the chemicals or toxins you encounter in the first hour after waking up. Grab whatever products you normally use to shower and eat and write down the chemicals on the labels.
Do you think you could write these down all day long? Think about how your body feels being exposed to all of these toxins. Again, many of us have strong constitutions and don’t have to worry as much as others. But if you have an autoimmune condition, or are experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, aches, and brain fog, then reducing and eliminating these toxins may not be a bad idea. Remember, it’s the cumulative effect of these toxins not being expelled from your body that is potentially making you sick.
Done correctly, and under proper medical supervision, a detox may have significant positive affects on your health. I personally can honestly say that the several detoxes I have been through, I have felt much better on the other side! Interestingly enough, while my doctor was helping me through healing my medical issues via detox, I decided to add my own “emotional” detox at the same time. I used prayer and meditation and healing thoughts to help me through some emotional barriers I was facing. I was actually really surprised at how “complete” I felt on the other side – not just healthier, but also more grounded. Which brings me to the next point…
How to Detox Correctly
Robin Openshaw aka The Green Smoothie Girl is the author of 15 books, including bestsellers The Green Smoothies Diet and 12 Steps to Whole Foods. Her latest book, Vibe: Discover Your Energetic Frequency for Health, Love & Success, will be released in October 2017.
If you are looking for a good place to start with a detox, I highly recommend her program and resources. Most detox programs are not sustainable, but she offers solutions that anyone can follow.
If you feel that your body is in need of a cleanse, but these kinds of detoxes are still a bit scary for you, there are many ways to naturally detox.
Real Food – Choose whole foods that are abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eliminate sugar and processed food as much as possible. Purchase organic and non-GMO produce and products as much as possible.
Natural Detox Foods – There are certain foods that will act as a natural detox to help stimulate your digestion, and bind to toxins to help remove them from your system. These foods include cayenne (a little goes a long way!), pineapple, dandelion greens, grapefruit, papaya, celery, parsley, cilantro, and spinach.
Drink Water – Water is your body’s BFF. Eliminate sugar sodas and beverages from your diet. Diet sodas are even worse! The goal is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water, but if you exercise more, you will want to increase that amount. Water helps your kidneys to efficiently eliminate toxins.
Drink Tea – Green tea and dandelion tea are great ways to gently encourage your body to detox.
Dry Brush – Stimulate your lymphatic system by dry brushing every morning before you shower.
Deep Breathing – Practice deep breathing every day. Inhale through your nose from the bottom of your stomach. Count to 6 or 8 as you inhale, pause, then exhale through your mouth. Aim for 10 deep breaths a day at a minimum.
And If All Else Fails…
Laugh. It heals the soul.
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