Detoxification: is it necessary? just a trend? Here's the real scoop:
We hear the terms "detox" and "chemical toxicity" thrown around a lot these days, and the harmful effects of environmental pollutants are becoming common knowledge - but what does that really mean to the average person. Are there really that many chemicals being used? How much is known about them? How might they effect us now and in the future?
It really is shocking. In Canada and the US, more than 80,000 commercial and industrial chemicals are produced/used daily, and hundreds more are added to this pool weekly! What’s worse, there is relatively little known about what the exact effects of the majority of these substances are, not to mention how those effects may accumulate/change when multiple chemicals are used together (as they frequently are).
Over the past years, testing has been done on thousands of North Americans, and we know that in any given individual, the chances of having selected chemical POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) in our tissues and cells is almost 100%. Some of the pollutants that have been found in those tested include dioxins, PCGs, phthalates, PDBEs, and hexachlorobenzene, as well as numerous heavy metals.
It has been determined with sufficient clarity that many of the chemicals raise the risk of certain diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, impaired neurological development, learning and ADDs, endometriosis, hypothalamic-pituitary disorders and other hormonal disorders. These chemicals and heavy metals cause damage in a variety of ways, including poisoning enzyme systems, damaging DNA and cell membranes, increasing oxidative damage and disrupting endocrine, neurotransmitter and hormonal pathways.
The good news is that you have the ability to influence what happens to your health. Lifestyle modification, conscious consumerism and detoxification combine to improve health and reduce your risk factors.
Avoiding the insult
The first and most important thing for healthy living is to minimize your exposure to chemicals and pollutants as much as possible.
Avoid the use of chemicals in the home, office, garden and vehicle. There are many companies that use natural ingredients in their products such as baking soda, lemon, essential oils, and other elements from nature.
Don’t smoke, and avoid car exhaust, gasoline and paint fumes, etc… as much as possible.
Choose glass and ceramic containers to store and heat food in rather than plastic and Tupperware containers if you can. If you do have to use plastic, don’t put it in the microwave or dishwasher (the heat causes damage to the plastic, making it less stable and more apt to leach into your food).
Choose natural soap, deodorant, makeup and other personal products. What you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body through your pores, and many commercial products are filled with parabens and other chemicals.
Don’t be fooled by labels saying “contains organic/natural products”. Just because it contains some good stuff, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the bad too! Read the ingredients on the box/bottle – if you don’t know what it is, it probably shouldn’t be going on your body.
If possible, avoid living close to/under power-lines and near industrial areas.
Lifestyle modification & Conscious Consumerism
There are a few simple changes you can make to your daily routine that can help minimize exposure as well as improve toxin elimination.
Choose organic as much as possible. Commercial foods are commonly sprayed with fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (the produce), or injected with hormones, growth enhancers and antibiotics (meat and dairy).
If it’s not financially possible to be 100% organic, focus on meat and dairy as well as the so called “dirty dozen” (pears, apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, celery, lettuce and potatoes), as these are known to be the most heavily contaminated.
Ensure you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables - at least 7-10 per day!.
Produce (especially organic) is filled with nutrients and antioxidants (which help minimize cellular damage) and are also great sources of fiber (which helps bind and remove toxins from the body).
Drinking enough well filtered/pure water helps flush substances from the body – aim for 2 litres per day!
Invest in a good water filter, one for drinking and one for the shower. Even our water is chlorinated and filled with chemicals, so it’s very important to reduce how much of this goes in & on our bodies.
As a note, bottled water isn’t a great alternative to filtered. The plastic can leach into the water after time and if it gets heated (ie by the sun), making the water less healthy.
Reduce intake of alcohol, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, saturated/trans fats, red meat and dairy.
Besides adding to the toxic burden, these products can put excess stress on your liver and body, making it harder for natural detoxification pathways to function.
Exercise, infrared sauna, epsom-salt baths and steams are also a great way to increase your metabolism, sweat and therefore flush out toxins!
When doing so, make sure you stay well hydrated (to optimize sweating and replenish fluids) and to shower/bathe after to wash away what’s accumulated on the surface.
Get outside for some fresh air every day if possible. Breathing fresh air helps clear the lungs and bring clean oxygen into blood and body.
Ensuring optimal liver and digestive function is essential.
The liver is the major “Detoxification Organ” of the body, and is responsible for 2 phases in the process of reducing the reactivity and presence of the chemical. Phase I is when toxins are biotransformed, a process which actually makes them more reactive. Phase II involves conjugating (joining) the reactive substances to components that reduce their toxicity and makes them easier to excrete from the body. Many people have poorly functioning pathways, which prevent adequate removal of toxins. Proper support of the Phase I and II pathways is therefore critical in helping to promote healthy detoxification.
Not to be ignored is the importance of the gastrointestinal system in toxin elimination. When one has a well functioning digestive system, particularly the large intestine, toxins are eliminated before they can accumulate in the body. Not only does a healthy gut help with detoxification, other benefits include improved food absorption, healthy elimination, less bloating and flatulence, healthier skin and hair, the list goes on and on.
Your Naturopathic Doctor can help determine whether these key organ systems are functioning optimally, or whether they need support.
Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about what options are best for you. There are therapies that can help remove toxins from your body including dietary, taking particular supplements, botanical, infrared sauna, etc. More intensive methods, for example IV and chelation therapy (injecting substances to improve the removal of heavy metals from the body) are also available through many Naturopathic Doctors.
Overall, try to live as clean, green and healthy as possible - you’ll feel the benefits almost immediately! It’s important to speak with your Naturopathic Doctor if you have questions/want to start on a detoxification plan, as she/he will be best able to help you choose the best method(s), and inform you of what to expect. Naturopathic Doctors are great at helping to optimize liver and gastrointestinal health, as well as overall detoxification. Good luck!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND