What do our bodies do when we ‘detox’?
Detoxification is the physical elimination and removal of ‘toxic’ substances from a living organism, like us humans, and it is carried out by the liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph, colon, and skin (the liver is the primary organ for detoxification processes).
What do we need to 'detox'?
Throughout the day, we encounter lots of chemicals which need to be removed from the body, many of which are external: refined sugars, processed fats, pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, medicines, drugs, alcohol and tobacco; and some of which are internally produced: chronic stress, poor gut health and free radicals from inflammation and infection.
Unfortunately the world we live in is producing tons of man-made, non-degradable chemicals by the second, and these persist in our environment, getting into our food chain, out clothes and our homes.
However, there are lots of small changes we can do as individuals to reduce our toxic burden. By reducing the burden, we avoid overwhelming the body, allowing it to concentrate on keeping us healthy!
Why is ‘detoxing’ so important for our long term health?
Unwanted chemicals in the body, as per the list above, can impact both physical and mental health if they are not eliminated swiftly and efficiently.
The liver carries out over 500 bodily functions; if we overburden it with elimination of toxic chemicals, then its important role supporting digestion, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol, nutrient absorption, metabolism and cardiovascular health will be negatively impacted.
Some signs of poor detoxification include headaches, muscle weakness and aches, recurrent infections, sensitivity to chemicals, fatigue, poor memory, anaemia and mood swings.
Here is an online ‘liver checker’, created by the British Liver Trust, to see how your lifestyle may be impacting your liver health: Liver Checker site.
The number one thing we can do to improve our detoxification capabilities, and subsequently protect the liver for its other important jobs, is to reduce the burden of chemicals in the body.
Everyday tips to get you started
Reduce or give up alcohol
Alcohol in the body is an immediate burden to the liver; a toxin which needs to be removed. Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die. The liver is good at regenerating itself, but overtime large amounts can be detrimental. Ideally, have at least 3 or 4 ‘no alcohol’ nights in a week to allow your liver to carry out its other critical tasks, and if you do drink, try and alternate with a glass of water, and limit your intake.
Drink at least 1.5 - 2 litres daily. Plenty of water helps flush the body (liver and kidneys) of toxic substances. Herbal teas count, but coffee and do not given they are diuretics.
Increase your intake of antioxidant foods
Antioxidant foods directly eliminate free radicals, chemicals produced as a result of inflammation, infection and environmental chemicals such as pollution. Antioxidant foods include: dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa), blueberries, pecans, strawberries, artichokes, raspberries, goji berries, kale, red cabbage, spinach and beans.
Reduce chemical burden in the home and on our skin
Chemicals are all around us, and whilst we can’t completely control our environment, we can make purchases to minimise our exposure. My tips here would be:
- Try and buy organic, plant based cleaning products such as Ecover or Method.
- Store foods in glass jars instead of plastic.
- Avoid heating foods in plastic.
- Filter tap water.
- Buy natural skincare products such as Green People
- Avoid anything overly perfumed.
Increase foods to support glutathione production, a key element in liver detox
Glutathione is the master antioxidant, and is needed to support many phases of detoxification carried out by the liver. Unfortunately glutathione decreases with age. We can supply the body with the building blocks for glutathione by eating asparagus, walnuts, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, dill and caraway seeds. Sulphur containing compounds are also great for detoxification, eat: red pepper, garlic, onions, and egg yolk.
Any kind of movement or exercise is great for detoxification. It helps to increase the body’s circulation of lymph fluid, helping flush out toxins and bacteria more effectively. It can also help to clear the lungs, and flush out any toxins accumulating near the skin via sweat.
Sleep deeply for between 6-8 hours each night
When we sleep, our body repairs, rests and recuperates for the next day. Research also shows that our brain flushes out toxins whilst we sleep, protecting us from cognitive decline and possibly disease states such as Alzheimers. Additionally, the liver does a lot of its detoxification at night too.
Small changes can make a big difference long term, so any tweaks you can make to your daily lives will be beneficial.