“Detox” can be a bit of a buzzword, especially in the health and fitness community. When we discuss detoxification in functional medicine, we’re not talking about a juice cleanse or the latest shake you can buy on Instagram. We’re talking about the science of how our bodies get rid of waste. Metabolic detoxification is the physiological process that our bodies utilize to render chemicals, compounds, hormones, and toxins less harmful so they can be removed from the body.
There are well defined pathways in the body that are responsible for converting toxins into less harmful chemical compounds that are easier for the body to eliminate in the urine or the stool. Organs of detoxification – the liver, kidneys, large intestine, lymphatic system, and sweat glands – work as an efficient system to eliminate environmental contaminants.
In a healthy body, the detoxification process runs smoothly. But when we are toxic, the system for detoxification gets sluggish and certain toxins can remain active longer than our systems can handle. When waste builds up within our bodies, our health declines and our metabolism becomes disrupted. Translation: we get sick and fat.
Where Are Toxins Coming From?
We live in a toxic world. The Environmental Working Group estimates that the average adult has at least 700 toxins in their body, and the average newborn is exposed to more than 280 toxins before they are even born!
But where are these toxins coming from? The list of possible toxin exposures is quite long:
- Chemicals from agricultural production, including pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers
- Materials used in new construction which off-gas into the air, including carpet chemicals, paint, and metals
- Personal hygiene products applied to the face, skin, teeth, and hair
- Air pollutants found in industrial exposures
- Primary or secondary-hand smoke exposure
- Auto exhaust
- Credit card receipts
- Household cleaners and chemicals
- BPA found in plastic water bottles and food containers
- Methyl mercury found in fish
- Inorganic mercury from off-gassing of silver dental fillings
How Do I Know If I’m Toxic?
It’s not a matter of if you are toxic. The question is just how toxic are you? In order to understand how toxic you may be, it’s important to understand the concept of “total load,” or the total amount of stressors your system can handle at one time. There are 3 main factors that determine how many toxins your body can take on at once:
- The level of toxicant exposure
- Your genetic predisposition to produce the enzymes required in the detoxification process
- The amount of nutrients and phytonutrients being absorbed to support the body’s capacity to reduce toxins and lower overall total load
When we reach our personal limit of accumulated toxins and are not able to clear them from our body efficiently enough, a whole range of problems may begin to occur. Toxicity can manifest in any number of symptoms, including:
- Behavior and mood disorders
- Canker sores
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive sinus problems
- Food cravings
- Foul-smelling stools
- Joint pain
- Metabolic syndrome
- Muscle aches
- Neurological disorders such as: cognitive difficulties, tremors, Alzheimers, or Parkinson’s
- Postnasal drip
- Sinus congestion
- Skin problems
- Sleep problems
- Trouble losing weight
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Water retention
Almost every disease has been linked to toxicity, including digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, dementia, and heart disease.
How to Successfully Detox
In order to successfully detox our system of toxins, we must work to enhance our body’s natural detoxing and waste removal capabilities while simultaneously minimizing our exposure to external toxins.
Step 1: Remove the Toxin Source
The first step in detoxing is to identify toxins that may be ingested in food or water. The Institute for Functional Medicine recommends the following tips for removing toxins from your everyday environment:
- Remove surface pesticide residue, wax, fertilizer, or fungicide by soaking the produce in a mild solution of additive-free soap, such as pure castile soap or biodegradable cleanser
- Peel the skin or outer layer of leaves off of produce
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating food
- Wash produce before peeling so that dirt or contaminants aren’t transferred from the knife onto to the fruit or vegetable
- Consult the current versions of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” (foods that are high in pesticide residues) and the “Clean 15” (foods that are low in pesticides residues) lists
- Buy organically-grown animal products, such as meat and dairy
- Chose lean meats over fatty meats because pesticides accumulate in fat
- Avoid foods that contain preservatives such as BHT, BHA, benzoate, and sulfites
- Avoid foods that contain food colorings such as FD&C yellow #5 & #6
- Avoid artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame
- Limit consumption of fish high in mercury (bluefish, grouper, halibut, mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, sea bass, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and tuna)
- Limit exposure to canned foods and plastic bottles or containers of water or high-acid foods, due to the presence of toxins like bisphenol-A and other plasticizers
- Cook with non-stick pans, skillets, and pots that are not worn or scuffed in order to minimize the release of any harmful compounds into food while cooking
- Use filtered drinking and cooking water
- Minimize drugs intake, including stimulants, sedatives, caffeine, and nicotine
- Reduce alcohol intake
Step 2: Eat to Enhance Your Body’s Natural Detoxing and Waste Removal Capabilities
Food plays a role in all phases of detoxification. Many foods and nutrients can up-regulate the body’s natural process of eliminating toxins, alleviate toxic burden, and allow the body to operate more efficiently.
Protein is a key nutrient in the detoxification process. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, bind to transformed toxins in the liver so they can be eliminated from the body. When possible, include protein in every meal for ongoing detox support.
Meat eaters should consider quality factors when selecting their animal protein by selecting lean, grass-fed, organic, non-GMO sources.
Vegetarians can choose from miso, naoto, tofu, tempe rice / hemp / pea protein powder, and plant-based burger alternatives as great protein sources.
Fish eaters should choose wild-caught fish, in order to avoid hormones and toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) often found in farmed varieties. It’s important to choose fish with low amounts of mercury. According to the National Research Defense Council, the list of fish with the lowest mercury levels includes: anchovies, butterfish, croaker, flounder, haddock, hake, herrick, mackerel, mullet, perch, pollock, salmon, sardines, sole, squid, tilapia, trout, whitefish, and whitting.
Non-starchy vegetables contain the greatest source of the phytonutrients needed for detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables, specifically, provide the body with healthy compounds to metabolize hormones in a balanced manner. Arugula, broccoflower, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kohlrabi, and radishes are all part of the cruciferous vegetable family.
It’s important to eat other colorful vegetables in conjunction with cruciferous vegetables. “Eat the rainbow” every single day by including other healthy greens, beets, peppers, carrots, yams, squash, onions, and garlic. Including vegetables in every meal is a great way to reach the goal of eating 8 – 10 servings daily.
Fruits are a great source of detoxing antioxidants. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes (purple), mandarins, oranges, pineapple, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and tangerines are great phytonutrient-dense options. It’s best to eat a little bit of protein along with fruit to offset potential blood sugar spikes.
Step 3: Eliminate Properly
Many of the toxins processed in the liver are released through bile and eliminated in the stool. Without healthy bowel movements, toxins can’t be released from the body. Consistently having one or 2 bowel movements a day is ideal for the removal of toxins. Consuming the right amount of fiber – about 35 grams daily – is imperative to healthy elimination of stool and endotoxins.
Some toxins are eliminated in urine. Staying hydrated not only helps the body get rid of toxins, it also increases metabolism and promotes satiety (helps you feel full). It’s important to drink enough clean, filtered water throughout the day. Take your body weight in pounds and divide in half to determine the number in ounces of water you should be drinking each day. For example, if a woman weighs 140 pounds, she should drink 70 ounces of water a day.
Toxins can also be removed from the body through sweat. Sweating profusely at least 3 times a week will help ensure that toxins are being removed effectively and not being stored in the body. Using a sauna is a great way to produce a deep, detoxifying sweat that helps the body purge toxins. Click here to learn how to book an appointment in the sauna at the FMI Meridian location.
Step 4: Utilize Functional Medicine Resources
Depending on your symptoms, genetic predisposition, and environmental exposures, you may need different levels of nutrients and types of treatment to fully detox. FMI has providers who specialize in detoxification and are ready to help you rid your body of toxins, learn how to optimize your detoxification system, and create long-term, optimal health.
Click here to start the new patient process.