“Detoxing” is a hot term in the wellness world right now. There are detox diets, detox supplements, detox workouts, detox teas, the list goes on and on. While many of these products and programs make wild claims about extreme weight loss or body composition changes that are hard to believe (and likely untrue), there are some real benefits to detoxing and there are ways to do it safely and healthily.
To begin, we need to establish what we’re talking about when we use terms like “detox” or “detoxing.” The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics defines it as “a short-term intervention designed to eliminate toxins from the body, promote health, and assist with weight loss.” They also point out that, within that definition, we must also define what we mean when we say “toxins.” In the medical world, toxins refer to substances that are addictive and cause undue harm like drugs or alcohol. In broader use, toxins can include things like environmental pollutants (plastics, phthalates, etc), heavy metals, chemical contaminants, and even certain types of foods.
While there have not been any rigorous/structured scientific studies around detox protocols, we do see and hear many accounts of people improving their health, losing weight, increasing their energy levels, and more when using detox diets or protocols. Our goal is to walk you through some basics regarding why you might want to “detox” and how to do it properly.
Why Should I Detox?
There are two primary reasons why a person would want to use a detox protocol. The first would be to aid in weight loss or body recomposition. The second reason is to battle something we refer to as “bioaccumulation.” If you’ve ever heard someone tell a pregnant woman not to eat tuna, bioaccumulation is the reason why. In our environment, we’re constantly surrounded by different “toxins” and when we’re exposed to them, we attempt to excrete them through sweat, urine, feces, etc. Whatever we’re not able to excrete is stored in places like the liver or fat cells which are the “junk drawer” of choice for your body.
Returning to the tuna example, scientists have shown us that tuna tends to bioaccumulate (or store) a heavy metal called mercury which can harm neurological development in a human fetus. Your body does the same thing that tuna does; any toxin it cannot eliminate gets stored in the junk drawer.
The true purpose of a detox program is to mobilize those stored toxins by burning up the fat cells (and other cells) where they are stored, thus releasing them back into circulation and allowing our body to excrete them. The secondary benefit of detoxing is that, when we burn up those fat cells, we often lose weight, something most people would consider a win-win.
How to Detox - Nutrition
In order to detox in a safe and healthy way, you must start by acknowledging that weight loss is not the primary goal of a detox and it shouldn’t be treated as a crash diet. If weight loss occurs as a side effect of your detoxing efforts, that’s a bonus.
The first step in any detox program is to clean up your diet. This usually is focused on eating a whole foods diet and making efforts to eliminate commonly known dietary “irritants.” Here’s an example of what your diet changes may include for a short time (or longer if you feel good eating this way):
Elimination of all processed sugars
Elimination of all dairy products
Elimination of all processed and/or packaged foods
Elimination of nuts and seeds
Reduce or eliminate consumption of caffeine and alcohol
Focus on whole vegetables, fruits, and healthy meats like organic fish, chicken, or beef
Due to the many pesticides and herbicides used in modern agriculture, we suggest you check out the “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” to help decide what veggies/fruits you’d like to buy organic vs traditional. Also try to buy organic, pasture-raised meat.
Utilize healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, etc instead of more traditional oils like canola or margarine.
Once you’ve whittled down your grocery list, the next thing you should focus on is your hydration. Most individuals are chronically dehydrated and that negatively affects your body’s ability to eliminate waste through sweat, urine, and feces. A rule to follow would be to drink ½ to ⅔ your bodyweight in ounces of water. So for a 200 lb person, that equates to 100-133 ounces of water per day. For reference, a gallon is 128 ounces or 7.5 standard size bottles of water.
Another common dietary tool used in detox diets is fasting or intermittent fasting. Fasting is beneficial because it allows your metabolism and gut time to rest from digesting food and focus more on healing and eliminating waste. An easy way to start intermittent fasting is to either push back or skip breakfast and wait until later in the day to eat your first meal. If you don’t have experience with fasting, we highly suggest you do so under the guidance of a health professional as it can be dangerous for certain people with metabolic disorders like high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, etc.
Finally, you may choose to add some supplements to your diet. While we have a long way to go in terms of research with regard to supplements, we do know some supplements can aid in eliminating certain toxins or supporting areas of your body like the liver and kidneys. Here’s just a few to consider:
Vitamins A, D, E, & B
Many “liver support” or “detox products” will include a combination of some or all of these different supplements. As with any supplement, there are always risks and you should consult with your medical provider before beginning any supplement regime. Finally, be sure to purchase supplements from a reputable company that can verify the claims and ingredients in their products.
How To Detox - Lifestyle
The second important aspect of a detox program is lifestyle changes. Certain lifestyle choices can help accelerate the detoxing process, while other changes may help reduce the number of toxins you’re being exposed to over the long-term.
For starters, you should be doing some type of regular physical activity. Exercise helps stimulate metabolic function, improves excretion of waste materials, improves sleep quality, and improves your circulatory health; all things that contribute to detoxing. You don’t need to do anything rigorous, just get moving and get your heart rate up some. Even something as simple as walking can be a great start! The one caveat to exercise is you may need to reduce your activity levels if you’re engaging in prolonged fasting. This is due to the decreased calorie intake associated with fasting and/or intermittent fasting.
Another great way to improve your detox is to utilize a sauna or steam room. Saunas or steam rooms, and especially infrared saunas, make you sweat profusely which helps eliminate waste and there’s also some evidence showing they speed up a process called “autophagy.” Autophagy happens when your body breaks down cells and materials that are either damaged or functioning improperly.
Focus on getting enough quality sleep. Sleep is unbelievably important when it comes to healing and recovering. The average American gets far less sleep than they ought to and, when they do sleep, their quality of sleep is often poor. The average person needs at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Some easy tips to sleep better are:
No caffeine in the afternoon/late in the day
Install black out curtains/blinds
Drop the temperature in your bedroom a couple degrees
Use “Blue Blockers” and/or get away from electronic screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime
Eliminate or reduce the use of plastics in your home. Most plastics can leach a group of chemicals called “Phthalates” into your food. These phthalates have been shown to negatively impact sexual health, hormone levels, sperm count, and other important functions. As a rule, you should never microwave food in a plastic container. If you do utilize plastic, try to stick with plastics that are marked with number 2, 4, or 5 on the recycling label (found on the bottom of the container). Also try to swap out your tupperware for glass or stainless steel. You should also take a look at your cookware because many non-stick pans contain chemicals such as Teflon and PFOAs that can leach into your food and cause health issues. Ceramic non-stick and stainless steel are often the best options.
Consider installing a water filtration system in your home. Drinking water is contaminated with things like chlorine, fluorine, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, heavy metals, and other waste material. If you want to see how clean your water is, check out this awesome website! The gold-standard of water filtration is Reverse Osmosis. This strips all pollutants out of your drinking water and a good system will have a secondary filter that adds back in the appropriate mineral content. These systems used to be expensive, but now you can purchase and install an undersink model for just a couple hundred bucks.
Finally, consider going to your chiropractor! While our research has a long way to go in proving a link between chiropractic adjustments and detoxification, we know that chiropractic has an extremely positive impact on your nervous system and immune system. These are our main defenses against external and internal toxins and, the more we can do to support them, the healthier we’ll be!
Whether you choose to try a dedicated detox program or just want to make some simple lifestyle changes to avoid toxins and pollutants, the end result will always be positive. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to find a Chiropractor or other physician in your area who can guide you and help design a more personalized program that accounts for your own individual health concerns and goals. Every little thing matters and even the smallest change can have an amazing effect on your health!
A Side Note For My Patients
Metagenics, one of our supplement providers, has a great online quiz you can take to determine your metabolic health and gauge whether a detox would be right for you. You can take the quiz HERE. If you score <15 on part 1, you’re doing a great job and may just need to make some small lifestyle changes. If you score 15 or higher, a detox may be right for you.
If you’re interested in doing a detox, Metagenics offers a great detoxification package that you can purchase through our office. The 10 day program (recommended for individuals that score between 15-49 on the metabolic quiz) includes dietary recommendations, meal shakes, and detox supplements. I’ve done this program myself and can tell you that it’s as-advertised. There is also a 28 day program for those that score >50 on the metabolic health quiz. If that’s something you’re interested in, shoot me a message at DrDanielKeadle@gmail.com and I’ll provide you with all the necessary information!