Are you sure you want to detox?
Updated: Jul 30, 2018
One of the scary things about Halloween and Fall Festival celebrations can be the lingering effects of indulging. Can I get an amen? From the sugar highs and lows our children experience, with the rest of us along for the ride, to the ones we inflict upon ourselves one little sneak of the candy bowl at a time, the holiday season is ushered in by the opportunity to jump on the blood sugar rollercoaster and gum up the works with glycated, sticky cell membranes galore. We just feel the need to do something to cleanse and detox and promise never to do it again (or at least not until Thanksgiving).
Detoxing is all the rage these days. Overindulge the past few weeks? Do a cleanse. Drink a shake. Swallow some concoction guaranteed to push those toxins right out. Except that there really is more to it than that. There are people on either side of the topic; those who abide by the principle that our bodies are meant to detox all on their own, and those who rely on their favorite products to do the job for them.
The first camp, I'm here to say, is right, with a caveat, however. Our bodies are created with systems in place to take out whatever junk needs clearing. But they work properly only when we are feeding our bodies the nutrients necessary for carrying out this process, and not indulging in habits or being in an environment which steal those nutrients. If our foundational body processes aren't in good working order, then our detoxification system suffers. Our digestion, blood sugar regulation, fatty acid status, mineral balance, and hydration all affect the ability of our bodies to detoxify properly.
What is the deal with detoxification, anyway? How does it work? The organs most important to this process are the digestive organs and organs of elimination: the intestines, liver, and gallbladder. Healthy intestines provide a physical barrier that stop foreign molecules and chemicals from entering the body. They also contain bacteria that assist in the detoxing of many substances. The normal detoxification processes that take place during digestion depend on the integrity of the gastro-intestinal membrane and the maintenance of the precise bacterial and chemical environment. If these two criteria are compromised, the intestinal walls can be injured, allowing incompletely digested particles to leak into the blood stream. This is something we would need to address before a detox is begun in order to avoid further compromising the membrane and the ramping up of the immune system. The body cannot detoxify properly when the immune system is affected in this way. The liver is the body's main site for cleaning the blood that nourishes the whole body. Filtering toxins from the blood and neutralizing them in preparation for elimination is one of its most important functions. Once the toxins are neutralized and bound to the proteins that escort them out of the body, they are passed to the gallbladder in bile or to the kidneys and then eventually excreted out of the body in feces and urine. If the liver's phases of detoxification are not working properly due to dysfunction in the liver, or the gallbladder can't do its job due to a problem with bile flow, the detox processes will not be able to be carried out fully. The toxins become stagnated instead of being flushed out of the body. Even worse, they can become even more toxic at this point in the clearing process. This can result in a person becoming sicker than she was before the detox was attempted. All pathways of detoxification, especially the digestive system, must be open and working properly before any detox program is initiated.
This is why, to the second camp, I ask: "Are you sure you want to do that?" In the context of a program which pushes the body to do something it may or may not be prepared to do, the best answer would be no. The body's innate intelligence is working to protect us from our toxic load when detoxification is postponed until the process can be completed fully. This is one reason why some people have such a difficult time shedding body fat. Toxins are stored in fat, and the body doesn't release it when the detox processes aren't fully functional. There are also specific genetic mutations which can alter the body's ability to detoxify as well as it should without appropriate dietary strategies and supplementation to help the body compensate.
There are ways to encourage the body to detox the way it was meant to. One-on-one nutritional counseling to address diet, lifestyle, and the functional terrain of the body is one way to get at the roots of many issues. Supporting the body nutritionally to address the foundational systems' weaknesses can improve the function of all the other body systems. The RESTART® program is another avenue to explore. Yes, in addition to its educational and support component, it could also be referred to as a whole-food challenge or a sugar detox. In this context, however, we are simply removing the stressors and strengthening the defenses of the body, giving the body, in its wisdom, the opportunity to respond in whichever way it chooses. It's giving the body the freedom to do what it is ready and able to do when it is not busy saving us from blood sugar emergencies (yes, I said emergencies....most of which we are unaware of, save for the uncomfortable symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation) and when it is supplied the necessary nutrients for all its processes.
The very best way to detox is to feed the body what it needs through a whole food, nutrient-dense diet, and to keep what harms it out: sugar, artificial ingredients, and other chemicals our bodies do not recognize as food. When we don't give it tons of extra work to do, it is an amazing thing to see what it prioritizes and chooses to do without the usual interference. Just be wary of pushing your body to detox with a product designed for this purpose. Read the label to determine if it fits the description above. Then ask yourself if you know whether or not your detox pathways are clear and open. Seek guidance from a certified nutritional therapist if you'd like to be evaluated utilizing a specific skill set and nutritional assessment questionnaire to better answer this question, or if you are thinking of doing an advanced detox, because many times there are other issues to address before attempting a detox program safely. When these issues are addressed, the detox program may not even be necessary for the body to do what it is designed to do on its own. In the meantime, read and reread the first sentence of this paragraph until it sticks like sugar on a glycated protein molecule. (Groan. Nutritionist humor!)