It’s February, the gym is forgotten, the ‘new year new me’ diet is over. It’s tempting to crash on a detox – but you shouldn’t.
The festive season often leaves us feeling sluggish – all those late nights, chocolate and wine! It’s no wonder we’re looking for a little reset come 2018. However, this also means that our social media channels are jumping with articles and ads that sing the praises of the latest diet or supplement. This is where that ‘dirty’ word rears its head – detox. It’s an incredibly powerful word, but one that is also misunderstood or misrepresented in the media.
In this blog post, nutritional therapist, Lyda Borgsteijn smash some myths. Catch the video here or watch it below.
This blog post is aimed to dispel a few ideas surrounding detoxing by answering three fundamental questions – what is a detox, how does the body detox and do you need to detox?
What is a detox?
Detoxification is a process that happens in the body every single day. The idea is that any pathogens, toxins, pollutants, foreign bodies etc. that enter the body are funnelled through this system and excreted from the body in an efficient and timely fashion.
A healthy body will deal with about 500 different toxins each day and do so with 99% effectiveness. However, there are of course a few ways we can make this job more difficult.
Side note: by a toxin, I don’t mean some toxic chemical from a lab! It’s a bit of a daunting word, but it mostly captures anything your body can’t use. So for example preservatives on a label or even fumes that are in the air.
How does your body detox?
There are five critical organs involved – the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, the skin and the intestines. Each of these has a specific way to excrete and get rid of toxins. E.g. the skin via sweating, the lungs via exhaling, the kidneys via urine. Of these organs, it’s your liver that does 75% of the work. Your liver is a total powerhouse responsible for over 500 different metabolic processes. Detoxification is only part of its role, but it’s a crucial one. Your liver does this in three ways:
- Blood: Blood passes through your liver, and anything ‘foreign’ is removed
- Bile: Your liver makes a substance called bile that is sent to the small intestine to help break down fats and also bind with certain components like cholesterol to help remove excess from the body
- Phase I Phase II: The basic idea is to slightly change the form of the toxins, so they become water soluble and easy to excrete.This is a slightly complicated process to get into which is why I use the analogy of bins. Imagine the first part being like putting all your rubbish into one big bin. This is phase I. Phase II involved sorting this rubbish into 6 ‘recycling’ bins and then sending this rubbish on to be removed.
So a few things to note:
(A) Obviously, it’s not good to pile up the bin with a lot of rubbish.
(B) We want an efficient process of sorting things as soon as possible – not letting it sit and fester and rot in the first bin. So no delays! Specific nutrients help to keep this process running smoothly.
Do you need to detox?
There are a lot of products on the market claiming to have detox benefits. However, a lot of these claims are unsubstantiated and incomplete. As you saw above the body has a detailed system in place which you can support in a few ways that we touched on (reducing what you put, supporting with nutrients to keep the system running). While concepts like the juice cleanse, supplement protocols and various spa treatments can provide some support, they don’t offer an all in one solution.
Some key mistakes to note:
- One size approach: we are all biochemically unique, and our ‘toxic load’ will vary based on factors like body fat, stress, where we live, age, gender, family history, diet, smoking, alcohol and so on. So with that our needs are entirely different and may not be met by one size fits all
- Protein: Every single one of the six bins I described above requires amino acids (i.e. what protein breaks down to in the body). While plants can provide some amino acids, cutting out protein from the diet actually makes the job harder not easier
- No preparation or adjustment – most of us who have ever tried to detox did nothing more than purchase the product and use it. While this is great in terms of making it incredibly easy to follow it misses out on some other key things that need to be done – focus on good sleep, reduce high-intensity exercise, manage stress, me time and so on.
- Fibre – When you detoxify and screen out all the toxins, it has to go somewhere! We touched on kidneys, skin and lungs but the intestines come in here too! What your body doesn’t need gets sent out to the toilet, and that requires a healthy digestive system and plenty of fibre.
There is another side to the story worth mentioning, and that is that our idea of a detox is often closely linked to weight loss. So this idea to go on a juice cleanse to shed a few pounds before the weekend or in preparation for a wedding. While detoxing your body can help with weight maintenance, that isn’t an ultimate end goal. And I think this is also where this missing link with certain ‘detox products’ arises from.
Not only that but remember that calories are the unit of measure for energy. We need energy pretty much all the time for the body to be able to run and function. So it’s a little mismatched to restrict calories while also asking your body to ramp up the detoxification process. Instead, you want actually need to take in adequate energy to support this process (from nutrient dense calories in this case)
What can I do?
The simple answer is no you don’t need to detox as your body is perfectly capable of doing the job on its own. But you can, of course, support this in many different ways.
- Think about what you’re putting in – consider all the products you use daily and take a bit of time to read all the ingredients. You’d be shocked to learn how fast it adds up. The average woman uses 12 products on her skin daily, and each has a list of ingredients anyone would struggle to decipher. Not only that but then there’s the washing up products, the detergents, the sprays, the perfumes, the hair products, the makeup and more! Think can you reduce or swap any of this?
- Nutrient dense food – your body requires amino acids and various vitamins and minerals to support detoxification. If you know nothing about vitamins and minerals, start with just adding as much colour to your plate as possible. Aim for 5-10 portions of vegetables and fruit per day.
- Sleep – prioritise sleep as much as you can. This is the time your body has to rest and reset and it’s a vital time for the liver to do its work. Create a night routine, relax with some dimmed lights to wind down, drink calming herbal tea and avoid technology. Spend money on good bed sheets!
- Digital detox – switch off from social media and give your brain a rest! I realise the irony writing this on a laptop for you to then read online but it’s probably our best starting point. In today’s day and age, we are more connected and yet also more disconnected than ever before! Start by making use of night mode on your phone, don’t check emails or take calls after a certain time. Build up to removing your phone from the bedroom completely. Don’t let it be the last/first thing you look at. If your work permits, start to bulk schedule times for email and/or social media. When you spend time with loved ones, focus on enjoying the moment instead of capturing the best selfie or meal picture.
So there you have it – all about that word, detox! Hopefully, it’s helped you learn how your body works and how certain products on the market fall slightly short of the curve. Here’s to a happy 2018!
Lyda is a nutritional therapist specialising in digestion and energy balance. She also co-owns CrossFit Solas in Bray and is passionate about helping people realise the power of nutrition for energy, balance and health.
Lyda is not a physician or registered dietitian. The contents of this blog should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.