Autumn is a wonderful season for a good detox before the holidays are upon us. We normally think of this process as eating “clean” and clearing up our liver. Food can be part of detoxification, but sometimes we aren’t healthy enough to do an online cleanse. 

In fact, if we aren’t well-nourished or if our gut is having problems, doing a detox food plan or cleanse may make us feel worse than we did before. 

Why do we benefit from a detoxification period?

Every day we are exposed to environmental toxins: BPA, PCBs, air pollution, personal care products, heavy metals, fragrances, cleaning products, nail salon products, pesticides, commercial cooking oils, and many other substances. 

We are also exposed to stressors such as lighting, media reports and news, social or family conflict and drama, our own habitual thoughts and emotional responses. These forces drain our energy and vitality. Clearing out these toxins a couple of times per year, and learning how to avoid accumulation can go far in building a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Let’s explore all the ways that we might approach whole body-mind-spirit detoxification safely and effectively. The beauty of the steps below is that you can start with lifestyle changes instead of food. Tap into your inner wisdom and begin at your own unique starting point!

Body detoxification

How the liver detoxifies:

There are three stages by which the body helps us rid ourselves of accumulated toxic exposures. Stage one involves the liver’s ability to use enzymes to convert fat-soluble substances into an intermediate form. If you have a genetic variant, or if you take medications that depend on multiple phase one enzymes, clearance may happen faster or slower than is ideal.  If you convert toxins too quickly and stage two is slow, you can wind up with intermediate compounds that are more damaging than the toxin parent. Stage two takes these intermediates and converts them to a water-soluble form so that they can be carried away and excreted. Stage three is how toxins leave our bodies once they are neatly packaged by stage two. They leave via urine, sweat, and bowel movements. All three exits are significant for good health. There are important foods to assist detoxification, as well as lifestyle interventions you can take.

Helpful steps:

  1. First, be sure that your intestines clear waste products every day. Constipation, when you are trying to actively make changes, can interfere with the results. We need a relatively happy gut before we begin. If that isn’t true for you, seek help with your gut first.
  2. The easiest way to use food to begin supporting your body is to avoid factory-produced products, eat organic proteins, and consume a “rainbow of plant colors” every day. Whole grains in their natural form can also be a part of a healthy eating plan. 
  3. Start by increasing your nourishment. Remember the part about phase two needing to clean up those intermediate compounds? There are some foods that can help with this: Leafy greens such as watercress, arugula, Swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli sprouts, mustard greens, or collards play a role in phase two detoxification. It’s best to eat a variety and aim for three cups raw (and then you could steam them), daily. The broccoli family plays a major role in detoxification. Aim for at least one cup of vegetables such as kale, broccoli, broccolini, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, daikon radish or cabbage, daily.  It’s helpful to incorporate another cup of colorful vegetables or fruits such as beets, carrots, tomatoes, berries, and pomegranate to support healthy liver activity. Add seasonings such as turmeric, curry powder, ginger, rosemary, cilantro, mustard, and garlic. And don’t forget to have plenty of quality proteins such as mung beans, wild salmon, or grass-fed, organic meats if you eat them. Include whole grains rather than bread and processed cereals. Water is important and also beverages such as green tea, rooibos, dandelion, pomegranate tea can be incorporated. So far, nothing has been removed. Allow at least one week of nourishing yourself before taking out foods/drinks that are not health-supportive.
  4. After the first week of “super nourishment”,  it’s time to begin cutting back on caffeine and stopping alcohol and added sugars. Sugars are often hidden in processed foods, so read all labels carefully as well as the grams of sugar per serving. It’s also best not to use sugar substitutes right now. A good rule of thumb is to avoid food that isn’t in the form that Mother Nature made it. In just 10-14 days, you should be feeling more energy and vitality without headaches, dizziness or other unwanted symptoms. If you feel unwell for more than a day or two, it’s helpful to check in with your health care practitioner.

Lifestyle detoxification

Food is one aspect of a whole lifestyle detox.  I began with food since it’s what most of us think of in considering a detox or cleanse. However, there is much more to detoxification than changing what we eat.  Adding life-detoxifying activities will enhance the steps you are taking in supporting the liver. If you don’t feel well in general, you could safely begin with one of these changes before altering your diet:

Helpful steps:

  1. Time -Take some time to think about what energizes you and what drains you.
  2. Evaluate – look at your need for sleep and rest: we generally do best with 8 hours per night, and some of us benefit from a 20-minute nap as well.  Avoid eating too close to bedtime – allow 2-3 hours for digestion before sleeping. Set a bedtime alarm for one hour before you want to sleep. At that time, stop electronic devices and use music, or other quiet activities to help you unwind. Check that the bedroom is free of clutter, cool and dark for better rest.
  3. Exercise – sweat is a wonderful way to rid yourself of toxins. Some of the heavy metals leave the body most efficiently via sweat. Working up a sweat at least three days per week is helpful. If you aren’t feeling well enough to exercise, you can also release toxins via sweat in a sauna, or via a full-body massage. Remember to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid daily to help your body perform at its best.
  4. Relaxation – targeted relaxation techniques are major ways to enhance immune function and offset the stress response. Aim for 10 minutes per day of using the Relaxation Response, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or Mindfulness Meditation. These techniques are searchable, and online guides are available to help you get started and stay on track. Using relaxation techniques is a way to “clean up” the body’s response to stressors.
  5. Nature – I can’t say enough about the healing properties of the natural world. In Japan, being out in the woods is called shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” and has a known powerful effect on the body’s function and well-being. Start by taking time out in nature 2-3 times per week.
  6. Relationships – Which relationships nourish and energize you? Which ones leave you drained and depleted?  Everyone thrives on relationships based on balance and trust with mutual support. Developing these relationships, or belonging to a group that is committed to this process is worthwhile and part of detoxifying your life. On the flip side, it’s important to limit contact with individuals or groups that drain your vitality or even leave you feeling negative and discouraged. During your detox time, work on relationships.
  7. Exposures – Environmental Working Group is a key resource for understanding what exposures are to avoid. Trading your plastic disposable water bottles for a steel or non-BPA container is helpful. Opting for healthy cleaning products, avoidance of handling receipts, using steel-clad cookware, or reducing the use of scented candles and fragrance sprays are all easy ways to reduce exposure. We actually have control over many of the exposures that are harmful to our bodies.
  8. Thoughts – if we start to become aware of the fact that we’re thinking, and then the thoughts themselves, we soon discover that we are involved in thinking and having emotional responses most of the time. What thoughts seem to come up for you? Are they positive or negative? Critical or encouraging? During the detoxification period, being aware of critical or negative thoughts is the first step to ridding them of their power.  The next time a negative thought emerges, challenge it. Label it “thought”, be curious about where it came from, and ask yourself if it’s really true. Most of the time, you’ll discover that it’s an old pattern that has no relevance to your present moment. Release it. Having difficulty with negative thinking can be an issue where an experienced practitioner or spiritual teacher can help. If negative thoughts are preventing you from feeling your best, consider getting connected with an expert.

As you can see, there are many ways to take time for detoxification. Your mind, body, and spirit are all areas where detoxification can benefit your health and well-being. Choose the areas that are calling to you, and seek help if you want deeper ways to navigate this process.

More than a pill and a pat on the back!

Gentle Integrative Care is all about finding the unique causes of your immune imbalances. Start your journey to wellness today with your personalized functional and lifestyle medicine program.