Spring is coming — I can feel it in the air and I am itching to clean! I am cleaning my house, my office, my car and I really feel the need to follow some sort of detoxification protocol for my health. There are so many ways to detoxify it can be confusing. One thing is certain, ancestral people had their ways of detoxifying that exemplified their strong connection to the earth.
If you remember your history, some of the American Indian tribes had sweat houses where they would go to fast and sweat. This was certainly a way of detoxifying their bodies. It was a spiritual experience for them as well. Today we have low temperature saunas that can help us accomplish the principle of sweating out toxins. Of course, many of us do not have access to such a sauna so there are many other ways to detoxify our bodies.
For centuries it was believed that an equilibrium between the four humors — blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile — must be achieved in order to maintain health. The early medical treatments sought to balance these humors through diet, purgatives, enemas, emetics, blood letting, cupping, baths and other techniques which were all purposed for cleansing and balancing.
These techniques were used as traditional wisdom all over the world by all the diverse cultures.
The need to detoxify
We are exposed to much higher levels of toxins than the generations before us. Low-level, long-term exposure to toxins such as heavy metals ( lead, mercury, aluminum and cadmium), pesticides, industrial compounds and pollution is associated with many chronic illnesses such as, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, autoimmunity, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s just to name a few.
Signs and symptoms of environmental toxicity
Removing toxic substances
We have a complex biochemical system to remove and neutralize toxins. This system operates slightly differently in each individual. The efficiency at which a person removes or neutralizes toxins is a primary factor in susceptibility to these environmental conditions.
This elaborate system occurs in two phases: Phase I and Phase II. These two phases transform toxic molecules into non-toxic molecules that can be easily excreted. The majority of detoxification occurs in the liver, however other organs participate in detoxification, including the intestines, skin and lungs.
In Phase I, a functional group is added to the toxic molecule, producing an intermediate that needs to be further transformed. Phase II detoxification involves a process called conjugation in which various enzymes in the liver attach protective compounds to the intermediate, making it less harmful and easier to excrete.
The intermediate products of Phase I can be highly reactive and more harmful than the original compound, therefore, achieving and maintaining a balance between Phase I and Phase II processes is critical.
Furthermore, a significant side effect of all this metabolic activity is the production of free radicals, resulting in oxidative stress. Nutrients that help protect us from oxidative stress include vitamins A, D, C and E, zinc, selenium and copper, and all the B vitamins, just to name a few.
Nutritional support for detoxification
Detoxification is a process that puts a metabolic burden on the body. Energy is required to achieve detoxification. Therefore, water or juice fasts are not beneficial because they deplete the body of the essential nutrients required for healthy detoxification.
These fasts have many adverse health effects, including decreased energy production, breakdown of lean tissue instead of fat, increased oxidative stress, and unbalanced detoxification.
Rather than decreasing nutrient support, a focused, high-impact, low allergy potential source of micro and macronutrients should be provided.
Programs for detoxification
There are many programs for detoxification out on the market. Most of them involve buying an herbal portion or some other “medical” powder to drink. While these programs may take only a few days or even a few weeks, they simply can not accomplish the goal of detoxification in such a short period of time. It is also questionable whether these products work.
Forcing the body to detoxify by fasting and/or using products can actually be harmful. If protective nutrition is not readily available, the free radicals that are produced can cause oxidation and tissue damage.
A slow natural detoxification is a more realistic, yet can still be very challenging.
The introductory phase of the GAPS diet is the perfect tool for detoxification and one that I use in my practice. In this protocol, you are eating food that is exceptionally easy to digest and full of available nutrients, from the beginning.
You work your way through the stages, slowly adding more varieties of food. In this way you can see how well you tolerate the new foods and can continue with them if they are tolerated well, or you can eliminate them if they are troublesome and come back to them further down the road.
There are also other methods to add to the GAPS Intro diet when you have the intention of detoxifying, such as juicing and quickly adding probiotic foods and beverages.
As I write this I am getting more excited to actually do it! Are you up for a detoxification challenge? Join me when I start my 18 day Spring Cleaning-Detox Challenge. The signup page for this will be posted Wednesday March 14! Leave a comment below and let me know if you intend to join!