Have your healthy lifestyle habits declined over the past several weeks of holiday celebrations? Many of us stray from our routine sleep schedules, dietary habits, and exercise routines between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So if you’re feeling more stressed than usual, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel this way, and the increased number of social obligations, lack of sleep, and widespread access to unhealthy foods makes it harder to stick to our health goals. But instead of feeling guilty, I want to encourage you to use this as an opportunity to take advantage of the transformative health benefits of a detox. In this article, I will explain the key science-backed benefits of a cleanse. You will also find easy-to-implement detox strategies to help you get started. It is the perfect way to start the new year!
NATURAL DETOX 101: WHAT IS A CLEANSE AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
A cleanse, or detox, is simply a method of removing toxins, infections, viruses, and other forms of contaminants that have accumulated in your body over time. It involves intentional diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes in order to restore hormonal imbalances and improve the health of your most vital organs. Doing a cleanse can also help prevent or delay imbalances in the future. Cleanses are important for everyone, even if you don’t realize it. This is because toxins naturally build up in the body, and they come from both internal and external sources.
Where are all these toxins coming from?
It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes your body is the very source of toxin production. This is because yeast, bacteria, free radicals, and hormones – while natural and necessary – become toxic when there are too many or not enough of them. This toxicity, when left unchecked, is one of the most frequent causes of allergies, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and many other uncomfortable health problems.
Toxins from the air seep into your system, and they come from a variety of places, sources, and substances. Most people are aware of outdoor air pollution. But air pollution inside is much more threatening than that of the great outdoors. In fact, the majority of toxic external chemicals sneak into the body via household things like traditional cleaning products, furniture, contaminants found in drinking water, and food stored in plastic or metal containers.
What are endocrine disruptors?
One particularly ubiquitous type of toxin is called an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors threaten your health for a variety of reasons, and most people come in contact with them everyday. To illustrate, an alarming number of “everyday essentials” are laden with damaging chemicals. In addition to the examples of indoor air pollution that I just mentioned above, endocrine disruptors are also found in popular toys and pesticides. This is why it’s important to eat organic, pesticide-free foods.
One way endocrine disruptors wreak havoc on your health is by imitating thyroid and reproductive hormones. This upsets the natural homeostasis of the thyroid glands, the male sex hormone (androgens) and the female sex hormone (estrogen). Like nearly every form of toxin, they may also weaken the immune system.
Since endometriosis and infertility are both heavily influenced by female sex hormones, it makes sense that, while the amount of endocrine disruptors in our environment increase, so do the reported cases of endometriosis and infertility. And when pregnancy does successfully occur, all too often the growing fetuses and young infants suffer as a result of the toxicity to which their mother was exposed to. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between endocrine disruptors and inhibited prenatal and postnatal development.
HOW A DETOX STRENGTHENS YOUR BODY’S ABILITY TO RESIST AND HEAL FROM TOXINS
Pesticides, chemicals, and countless man made inventions over the centuries have added so many endocrine disruptors to the environment that our body’s innate ability to detox becomes overwhelmed. Our kidneys, liver, and gut are simply not equipped to process such a high concentration of pathogens. As you can see, it is nearly impossible to avoid coming in contact with them.
These facts about the disturbing amount of toxins in today’s world are sobering, to say the least. But giving up is not an option, and our species is incredibly resilient. Our bodies have the innate capability to heal. While we can’t wave a magic wand and change reality all at once, we do have control over how we choose to respond to these facts. I hope that, as you read the list of detox benefits below, you will feel more inspired to protect yourself and fortify your body’s ability to heal.
1. Periodic Cleanses Fortifies the Immune System
Many toxins compromise an otherwise healthy immune system. In severe cases, they may even lead to infectious illnesses and autoimmune diseases.
While we are exposed to toxins year round, the added challenges of the holidays can throw even the most dedicated “health nut” a challenging curveball! Imbibing more alcohol and indulging in sugary desserts might seem like an easy way to manage the stress, but doing so often undermines your immune system’s ability to fight infectious diseases like the flu and the common cold. Elevated stress levels and inadequate sleep also weakens the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness. Furthermore, this is all happening during cold and flu season!
However, doing a cleanse helps build a more robust and resilient immune system. Returning to daily healthy habits supports the “boost” that a cleanse provides.
2. Detoxes Revive an Overwhelmed Liver
The liver is your body’s most important organ involved in the elimination of toxins. It contains numerous enzymes that are specifically designed to identify and dispose of pathogens and foreign chemicals. Once the liver breaks down the toxins, the kidney’s job is to move them out of your body.
But, as I mentioned above, the human body isn’t built to resist the excessive onslaught of toxins in the world we live in.
Eventually, the overworked liver becomes too burdened to effectively fulfill its intended role. When nothing in your body is actively working to “get rid of” these invaders, they lurk in the cells and tissues of your body. And that is why using a detox to reverse a fatigued liver is so beneficial!
3. Cleanses Balance Antioxidants and Prevent Free Radical Damage
Toxins interfere with the antioxidants and free radicals in your body. Not enough antioxidants and too many free radicals is a recipe for potentially deadly health complications. Now, free radicals are natural and healthy in small amounts. For example, some types of free radicals actually help your immune system kill pathogens. However, when there aren’t enough antioxidants to balance out the free radicals, oxidative stress occurs.
Oxidative stress attacks your body on a cellular level. As discussed in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, chronic oxidative stress may damage your DNA. The result? An increased risk for cancer and other serious diseases, and the worsening of existing conditions.
Be aware of the food you eat and the supplements you take, because they become toxic if you accumulate too much of certain nutrients.
Use the tips below as a reference point:
- Always beware of inappropriately high levels of certain minerals and vitamins, since they can contribute to free radical damage.
- One very notable cause of free radical damage is excessive doses of zinc, magnesium, copper, or iron supplements.
- Living with chronic elevated blood sugar levels, as well as overdosing on Vitamins E and C is yet another primary trigger for oxidative stress.
- Failure to eat enough antioxidant-rich foods also makes oxidative stress more probable. Furthermore, deficiency in antioxidants is linked to increased inflammation and complications in the aging process.
In order to maintain that healthy equilibrium between antioxidants and free radicals in your body, make sure to incorporate large quantities of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. As you can see in the pictures, fruits are some of the best antioxidant foods available.
4. Embrace Sustainable Weight Loss, Using a Detox as Your Starting Point
Whether you only seem to gain weight during the holidays or you struggle with it year round, a detox will help get you back on track and inspire healthier habits. Obesogens, a specific type of endocrine disruptor, are present in popular beauty products, home cooking tools, baby bottles, and toys. But that’s just the beginning – they’re often found in prepackaged store-bought foods.
Researchers have discovered that when environmental obesogens come into the body, they disarm the metabolism, which often spurs on unwanted weight gain. They do this by altering the size and number of fat cells in the body. And, since they disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite, you may overeat because your brain isn’t receiving correct “I’m full” signals.
Estrogen receptors are particularly vulnerable. As the scientific community calls them, “promiscuous.” This means that they will almost indiscriminately bond with anything that even slightly resembles estrogen.
Scientists have examined cross-sectional data from the journal of Diabetes Care and found an undeniable correlation between insulin resistance and environmental toxins. Insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body lose their ability to communicate and regulate insulin levels. This increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, and it also makes obesity more likely.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK: 6 WAYS TO DETOX AS YOU BEGIN THE NEW YEAR
It is disconcerting that toxins are so prevalent in the environment and that they are so intertwined with the way modern society works. But the encouraging news – and the entire point of a detox – is that there are ways to target specific toxins and reverse their effects. Cleanses simultaneously heal and restore health to vital organs. Make a plan to implement the following detox strategies.
1. Drink Dandelion Tea to Restore Your Digestive System
Dandelion tea stimulates the liver, aiding in the healthy elimination of toxic substances. It also enhances your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, reduces inflammation, and restores healthy blood sugar levels. This healing tea is rich in polyphenols and beta carotene, two potent antioxidants known for their amazing capacity to reverse free radical damage and help prevent cancer. Since dandelions contain prebiotics, it’s a good way to restore gut health.
2. Exercise Regularly and Consider Hot Yoga
Exercising daily helps restore proper functioning of the organs in your body. It also restores energy levels, reduces inflammation, and helps fight insomnia. Making this a part of your post-holiday detox plan is especially beneficial, since weeks of overindulging in sweets has likely caused glycogen to build up in your muscles and liver. Excess glycogen increases the risk for diabetes, but one positive aspect of extra glycogen is that it can fuel your workouts and prevent muscle fatigue.
I highly recommend making hot yoga part of your workout routine. When it comes to cleansing your system after the holidays, hot yoga is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise. This is because the combination of heat and movement enables your body to sweat out toxins and impurities.
Furthermore, practicing yoga in a heated room enables you to stretch more fully, which accelerates the benefits associated with yoga. Yoga is perhaps most famous for its ability to reduce stress, and I think the vast majority could use some stress relief after the holidays!
3. Instead of Restrictive Dieting Focus on Healthy Foods
It is extremely important to avoid excessively restrictive fad diets. These do nothing to cleanse your system, and severe restriction only leads to binge eating and weight gain. Instead, focus on the good things you get to eat. I encourage you to focus on buying only organic foods from the store, upping your fiber intake, seeking out antioxidant-rich foods, and making leafy greens a foundation of your meal planning. The four points below are a critical way to optimize your detox food plan.
- Eating foods that are both gentle on the liver and rich in antioxidants is a fantastic strategy. Pomegranates, cranberries, and collard greens are some fantastic examples.
- High fiber foods cleanse your digestive system, enabling the digestive tract to properly dispose of toxins. Some examples of high fiber foods are hemp hearts, lentils, ground flax seeds, and broccoli. Another benefit of fiber is that it contains prebiotics, which nurture healthy flora in the gut.
- Leafy greens are natural detoxifiers. They cleanse the most critical detox organisms in your body: the kidneys, gut, and liver. Most people do not consume nearly enough servings of leafy greens. If this is something you struggle with, don’t give up! There are strategies to make this easier. For example, drinking green smoothies every day can literally transform your health.
- When you are shopping, opt for organic, free range meat and eggs. Make sure to read the ingredients list on packaged foods and avoid synthetic additives. Instead, buy food created by companies with ethical, clean farming practices.
4. Detox Your Home’s Cleaning Products
Many household cleaning products contain dangerous toxins that are linked to a higher risk of respiratory diseases, liver disease, cancer, fertility problems, and impaired kidney functions. When you begin your detox, consider making a home cleaning product makeover part of the plan.
After disposing of offending products, stop using store-bought cleaners and make your own instead. For example, use a mixture of vinegar and water to clean kitchen appliances, floors, countertops, bathrooms, and even dishes. You might be surprised to know that vinegar is just as good as bleach at destroying E. coli
You can learn more ways to detox your home’s cleaning product collection in “Is Cleaning Your House as Bad as Smoking a Pack a Day?”
5. Focus on Water
Did you know that sixty percent of the cells in your body are water? The holiday season makes it more difficult to be mindful of water consumption, especially when there are so many enticing holiday drinks available. But water helps rid your body of impurities, flushing those toxins right out of the body. So keep a water bottle (in a non-toxic container) handy, and use the number of times you need to urinate as an indicator of whether or not you are drinking enough. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t need to go to the bathroom every two hours, your body needs more water.
6. Detox Your Living Space
Did you know that the air inside your home can easily become contaminated with various pollutants? As a matter of fact, it is much more polluted than outside air. Therefore, I suggest incorporating one of the following six natural air quality solutions into your post-holiday detox plan:
- Place “air-cleaning” household plants around your home to counteract indoor air pollution.
- Get rid of chemical sunscreens, and toss out anything with parabens, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), phthalates, sulfates, BPA, and other endocrine disruptors.
- Be mindful of the furniture you bring into your home, since many home furnishings contain formaldehyde and other toxic substances.
- Use natural air purifiers, like beeswax candles or essential oils.
- Reduce EMF exposure in your home by storing laptops and mobile phones away from the bedroom when you sleep, using a “laptop table” or other buffer to reduce the risk of fertility problems. Another option to consider is turning off your WiFi router at night.
LEARN MORE WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH AT THE DEMPSTER CLINIC- CENTER FOR FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
I hope that the remarkable benefits of cleanses has inspired you to start a cleanse. I’m a firm believer that detoxification is an essential part of optimal health. Before jumping into your new detox, it’s important to remember a few important safety things. Although the detox described above are indeed effective strategies, they are just a few of the many strategic ways to detox.
It’s also important to proceed with caution when reading about “healthy” detoxification practices without ensuring that they are endorsed by a licensed health professional. There are far too many detox myths floating around the internet, and some of them can actually make you feel worse. For example, excessive fasting and even drinking too much water has the potential to cause further damage. It’s also important to realize that, because everyone has different biochemical makeups, there is no “one size fits all” detox plan.
As a Functional Medicine practitioner, I honour the fact that each one of my patients has a unique biochemical makeup. Whereas popular medicine treats the disease rather than the underlying causes, I will work with you to develop a customized detox plan based on a complete, clear picture of the multiple facets of your lifestyle.
I encourage all prospective patients to take advantage of my Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session. This session can take place over the phone or at the clinic in person. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions you may have about detoxing. It also provides an opportunity for you to learn more about the services I offer and how I can help you achieve a state of optimal health and well-being.
Please schedule an appointment today!
Dr. John Dempster, ND
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine