Cleansing or detoxifying the body is a central healing concept in traditional medicine. At one time this might have meant extreme treatments aimed at elimination. Stimulating purging or puking on an almost heroic scale. Now, thank goodness, popular detox diets usually promote gentle elimination and detoxification strategies. But what is detoxification? Do we need to detoxify? And, if so what is the best way to detox your body?
Normal body functions create waste products in the cells and tissues of the body. The body removes these wastes so that they don’t build up. Sometimes the body must simplify the waste products to remove them. Thus, it detoxifies them by changing them to simpler substances, for elimination.
If we follow a detox diet we encourage elimination of wastes and toxins. So detoxifying is as a self-help way to cleanse the body of toxins. It should promote health, revitalise and energise the body.
Besides the body’s own waste products, modern life also exposes us to other toxins, for example:
- chemicals in the food we eat
- exposure to chemicals in our working environment
- cleaning products in our homes
- prescribed drugs
These add to the burden of toxicity on the body. We must rely on detox mechanisms to remove these toxic substances.
If toxins accumulate, at high concentrations they can be harmful. This may predispose to chronic diseases. Associated conditions include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
What’s more, this predisposition to chronic disease may pass on for several generations. This is due to epigenetic changes. These are changes in the expression of your genes due to environmental factors. That can pass on to your children, and their children.
The organs that process and remove toxins include the liver, bowel, kidneys, lungs and skin. The most important detoxifying organ is the liver.
A simple description is that detoxification occurs in two phases. The first phase is a chemical transformation, catalysed by enzymes. And the second phase renders the products harmless and ready for elimination.
Research studies on animals and cells show that food-derived nutrients influence both phases. These nutrients include various vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other food components. If these are not available detoxification can not proceed. Which leads to a build up of harmful chemicals in the body. And some signs and symptoms that you might need to detoxify.
Some signs that you may need to detox:
- skin conditions, such as acne
- hormonal imbalances, irregular menstruation
- chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- food intolerances
- sensitivity to chemicals, coffee, alcohol or medications
- allergies, chronic catarrh or chronic sinusitis
Factors that weaken your detox capacity are:
- increased age
- increased stress
- poor health or illness
So, which foods and beverages improve the ability to process and remove toxins? Which could form the basis of a detox diet? A recent study suggests these foods and drinks have potential for inclusion in a detox diet:
- allium vegetables – includes garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, spring onions, chives
- apiaceous vegetables – includes carrot, celery, fennel, parsley, parsnip
- cruciferous vegetables – especially watercress and broccoli, also Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, radish, rocket, swede, turnips
- fruit – black raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate, citrus fruits especially grapefruit
- beverages – black tea, green tea, coffee, chamomile tea, dandelion tea, peppermint tea, rooibos tea
- herbs and spices – chicory root, garlic, ginger, rosemary, turmeric
The researchers claim that food based nutrients can have potent detox actions. And, certain foods have different effects on detoxification at different concentrations. Higher doses were not always a good thing.
A detox diet should be a mixed and varied diet, they said. Based on a variety of different unprocessed, plant-based whole foods. With smaller amounts of a wider variety of foods. This was better than high dose supplementation of single nutrients. And, better that repeated daily ingestion of the same foods.
The study did not include all foods with detox potential. Some other foods might include beetroot and globe artichoke. Both known to have potent detox action. Not forgetting the many herbs and spices with powerful cleansing action.
The take home message should be that you can help your body detox naturally. By consuming a wide variety of plant based unprocessed foods.
A step further would be to reduce exposure to toxins.
One caveat I would mention is to take care if you are taking prescribed medication. Improving detoxification may reduce the effectiveness of your medicine. You should talk to your primary healthcare provider before following any detox diet.