With the many of us around the world in self isolation and with the economy reduced to only essential services, we’re seeing improvements in air quality globally. Nature is getting the opportunity to detoxify and recover. This may be the perfect chance for us to do the same. The cleaner environment, the spring season and being called to slow down provide the ideal conditions for supporting better elimination functions and clear the path for better energy production, mood and healthier weight. Despite the uncertainty ahead, starting to support detox now can help us be more resilient for the rest of the year.
Why Detox Matters to You
We need to eliminate the waste that our bodies accumulate every day in order to allow for nutrient absorption, manage inflammation, and have efficient energy production.
Detoxification is a process that’s necessary for every person – regardless of whether or not you have symptoms or whether you’re young or of advanced age. Regardless of whether we work in an office, lab, outdoors or from home – we’re all exposed to measurable and significant environmental toxins. In this industrialized world, we’re exposed to toxins in air, water and food. We’re exposed even before we’re born: In a study by the EWG, an average of 200 chemicals (like pesticides, mercury, PCBs) were found in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. Many of these toxins are linked to cancer and brain toxicity.
The Toxicity of Modern Life
In addition to the environmental impact of modern life, our contemporary western lifestyle is hyper productive and hyperactive. There is always pressure to be more productive and get more done. If that wasn’t enough between every activity there are countless distractions to keep our attention moving from one thing to the next.
Traditional Chinese medicine calls this type of energy “yang” energy. Yang energy is described as hot, productive, masculine and active. It is the opposing force to “yin” energy which is cool, still, introspective and feminine. The gentleness of moonlight is a classic example of yin energy in nature. Detoxification is also a yin activity, as we can’t force it to happen. This requires a different mindset to the one we most often use in our goal-oriented day to day life. Similar to cultivating healthy sleep, detoxification involves letting go of “doing” something and instead requires us to intentionally cultivate the conditions that allow it to occur.
Spring is nature’s time of renewal and regrowth. Just like cleaning up our garden, supporting detox function in our body helps to make space for new growth to thrive and reach its full potential. Regardless of what season you may be reading this, the body is constantly renewing itself so improving elimination is a year round process.
What are we Detoxing? What are toxins?
Here we use the term “toxins” to refer to anything (synthetic or biological) that can accumulate in our body and block healthy, smooth body function. Some examples include environmental toxins like pesticides, fire retardants, PCBs, formaldehyde, heavy metals like mercury, or toxins produced by pathogens in our body like yeast and mold. We also produce byproducts of metabolism which need to be eliminated efficiently otherwise they too could block the body’s function to heal, generate energy and feel good.
The systems that support detoxification and waste processing in the body are sophisticated and interconnected. Today I want to drill down on some specific systems that I think are of particular relevance in this season of renewal.
Nervous system & Detox
Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for managing countless systems in our body without any conscious direction from us. It coordinates all organ function, heart rate, day/night cycles, breathing, perspiration… so it should come as no surprise that it also automatically manages our bodies detoxification and waste processing systems.
So our role in this automatic process is to make sure we aren’t shutting it down with constant activity or stress. The ideal environment for these detox systems to function is when we are feeling calm and safe and in a relaxed state of mind.
Create a daily ritual around relaxation Allocate time in your day to avoid goal-oriented activities or distractions. Instead engage in activities that allow your mind to wander: For example taking a bath, listening to music, reading fiction, daydreaming, drawing, journaling, playing with kids, playing with pets and enjoying beautiful scenery. Keep in mind, when we’re accustomed to activities that keep the mind busy or tend to pack our days with goal-oriented activities, we can feel restless or bored with these new “yin“ activities before achieving a state of relaxation.
This state of relaxation is what we need to transition to sleep where the detox processes really do their work. So creating a ritual of relaxation at the end of the day before bed can help both with falling asleep and with detoxing.
Liver’s Huge Role in Detox
Perhaps the most important organ related to detoxification is the liver. The liver is an incredible organ with an almost unparalleled ability to regenerate itself. That said the environment and diet we have today puts an incredible burden on our livers. As a result many people have some kind of impaired function in the liver. What makes this difficult is that liver function can be impaired long before anything shows up on a conventional lab test. Even more challenging is that we don’t experience “liver discomfort”, except in cases of acute or serious conditions.
Unless you know you have hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis or fatty liver; it can be hard to determine how your liver is functioning. Here are some signs that liver function may be impaired: skin rashes, high cholesterol, weak immune system, gallstones, hormone imbalances, fatigue, depression, headaches, puffy eyelids in the morning, dark urine in the morning, difficulty digesting fats, constipation, chemical hypersensitivity, weak/aching joint/muscles and insomnia.
Factors that can burden the liver
It’s well known that alcohol can burden the liver, but the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now the most common liver disease in the Western world. So clearly there’s more than alcohol stressing our liver.
Diet Fructose (which is in table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup), sugar, processed foods and refined carbohydrates are linked to liver inflammation.
Glyphosate We’re exposed to many environmental pollutants in our lives (and even before we’re born!) One toxin that may be having a massive impact on our individual and collective health is glyphosate. This is the active compound in the herbicide Round Up. Dr. Stephanie Seneff has published numerous studies on glyphosates link to increasing incidence of autoimmune and neurological disorders. Glyphosate appears to promote the growth of “bad” bacteria while killing beneficial gut flora. In addition it may it appears to block liver enzymes important for detoxification. The World Health Organization classifies glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Despite the above concerns, glyphosate is found in many non-organic crops (like corn, soy, canola, wheat, cotton, barley, potatoes) and it is also sprayed in parks to dissuade weed growth. Although a few cities have bylaws restricting its use (like here in Richmond, BC) we are all likely exposed to glyphosate through food and environment.
Many medications are processed through the liver as well so it’s important to assess how these may be affecting your liver over time. For example, excess acetaminophen can deplete the liver of the antioxidant glutathione. This deficiency can lead to liver inflammation and injury.
Gut pathogens create toxins that need to be processed by our liver. When I’m working with a patient on reducing gut pathogens like yeast overgrowth, I often recommend supporting the liver at the same time to protect the liver from these biotoxins.
The liver utilizes vitamins and minerals to process all of the toxins I just mentioned in order to neutralize them. The resulting product of this transformation is bile (which is then stored in the gallbladder). Incredibly, the liver produces one liter of bile per day! This is a substantial amount of metabolic activity and an indication of how critical detoxification is to the body.
Bile is well-known for helping to digest fats in our food. Bile also contains cholesterol and fat soluble toxins that need to be eliminated from the body (via the intestines). The robust secretion of bile from the gallbladder into the intestines also helps to trigger bowel movements, maintain healthy gut flora and prevent the development of stones. Keep in mind that bile secretion is dependent on strong, healthy stomach acid levels (which can reduce with age, stress and eating in a rush). Bitter tasting foods and herbs can help to stimulate robust bile flow.
Timing matters with the liver. The liver has two major cycles, a digestive cycle and a detox cycle. During the day the liver is primarily occupied by digestive functions and switches over to detox functions at night. This is another benefit of starting your overnight fast earlier in the evening – it lets the liver complete is digestive function and provides more time to complete its detox functions.
Lemon infused water The extract from the lemon peel helps support the liver in its detoxification functions – and provides a very pleasant way to hydrate first thing in the morning.
In a glass container, soak a whole organic lemon (cut in quarters or in half) in 500-750 ml of filtered water (without squeezing the juice out). Cover the container and leave overnight at room temperature. Drink 1-2 cups of the water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. (Remove the lemons, cover and refrigerate any remaining water for later in the day.) (You can still use the lemon/lemon juice in your cooking later that day.)
Eliminating Toxins through Perspiration
Studies have found that some chemicals like persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, BPA and phthalates are excreted in sweat. In fact, sweating may be more effective at eliminating these chemicals from the body than through other routes like urine.
Sweating by exercise, sauna or hot bath can help to remove chemicals from the body – aim for at least 1-3x per week of sweating. Don’t forget to wash your skin with mild soap within 30 minutes to avoid reabsorption.
Detoxification is a built-in automatic process. But our hectic lifestyle and significant environmental exposures require us to be intentional about creating the conditions needed for detoxification to occur more efficiently. We can start this by cultivating a daily ritual around relaxation. In addition we can support the liver by reducing exposure to herbicides, avoiding eating late at night and by consuming liver supportive foods like lemon infused water. Lastly, we can promote even more elimination via sweating.
If you would like to assess your specific detox status: antioxidant levels, toxic burden and liver function, we are available for appointments.
Wishing you a light, bright spring season,