Start the year with the best detox for your long-term health. By Chantal di Donato
Every January, websites, magazines, television and social media promote one detox after the other: the cabbage detox, green juices, superfood smoothies, and so on. There’s an ever-growing list of new products, diets, fitness plans and health regimens promising to cleanse your body after all the food shenanigans of the holiday season.
Although many tips and ideas being promoted can be helpful and inspiring, the way people detox can sometimes be incorrect; the result means the detox might be short-lived and possibly even detrimental to our body.
A good detox is approached holistically, targeting the major organs, which function to detoxify the body in the first place. It allows them to let go of toxins through our digestive system and even our skin. It’s important to make sure that when toxins leave our adipose tissue (fat) and organs, they go out of our system completely and not circulate into the bloodstream. So it’s important to help our major organs push them out.
Look after you
In truth, there aren’t foods or exercise routines that will ever replace the natural purpose of our internal organs, but we can support them with the right tools – in this case with diet and some specific herbs, as part of a healthy lifestyle.
During a detox, we can focus on adopting new habits, but long-term success means those habits should remain with us to help the body do its work all the time. But fear not: this does not mean you will be on an enteral diet!
The holidays are normally a time when we are impairing the natural cleansing abilities of our organs as we socialise more, indulging in unhealthy, processed, sugar-laden foods and drink more alcohol than we would normally do, causing more inflammation and overwork in our system.
Inflammation impairs the body’s natural response to toxins and its ability to removing them, reiterating that in a normal state, the body is a perfect cleansing machine.
So January is definitively a great month to look yourself in the mirror and say: “I am going to look after you from now!”
Common toxicity symptoms
Toxicity and inflammation: can manifest in different ways. Ironically, we think that some of the symptoms may be related to ageing and accept them as part of our daily lives, but through a proper detox, regaining the feeling you should be having when healthy, you will realise that age has nothing to do with it. So below follows a list of signs that can relate to toxicity (and where detoxifying will definitively help):
Fatigue: this can relate to the kidneys and colon being over toxic impairing elimination and also affecting the adrenals, situated in the kidneys.
Vision: tired or impaired vision, often leading to wearing glasses, could be linked to toxicity in the body, possibly the liver, as suggested in Chinese medical charts.
Coughing: sometimes a sign that our lungs are toxic, especially if you don’t have a cold or chest infection. It is always advisable to see your GP if you find yourself coughing a lot, but there is a chance that detoxifying can help. When it comes to the lungs things like smoking or inhaling harsh chemicals should be eliminated. We are unfortunately subject to toxic air everywhere, but where we can help it – like the types of perfumes or cleaning products we use – we should make the effort to make cleaner choices.
Headaches: headaches are often associated as a short-term side effect of detoxification. But suffering from chronic headaches and migraines could be a sign of toxicity in the body; these may be eliminated with a proper detox.
Thyroid issues: a sluggish metabolism and hypothyroidism can be linked to toxicity and at times just cleansing the organs in our body can rectify this.
Acid reflux: the stomach can be quite toxic too causing acid reflux, or heartburn.
Bloating & gas: these symptoms can mean the colon is suffering from over toxicity. There is even a chance of leaky gut syndrome causing more inflammation and toxicity in the body as toxins leave the colon through cracks in its wall straight to the bloodstream. In more severe cases, ailments like IBS and Crohn’s disease can be a result of toxins accumulating in the large intestine.
Insulin issues: if our sugar levels are out of control and we suffer from things like pre-diabetes or hypoglycemia, we might need to consider detoxifying, as our pancreas might need it. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and the pancreas produces it, so obviously if we are toxic, its functionality will be impaired too.
Other hormonal issues: PMS, menopause for women, hair loss or man boobs or ‘moobs’ for men, are the most common hormonal imbalances linked to toxicity. Our endocrine system is heavily affected if our major organs are malfunctioning and unable to keep our body clean.
How and what to detox
The key organs needing a little help during a detox are the liver, kidneys, and colon. The lungs are not cleansed through diet per se, but paying attention to lifestyle and the products we use and inhale will help them.
The key factor to understand is that, although there are some specific herbs and foods targeted to a certain organ, a detox diet will help all the organs to be clean.
In my opinion, it is essential to cleanse the colon first, as that is the main way of passage for the toxins to leave the body. If we detox the liver first, for example, and we are unable to purge via our colon, toxins will remain inside our body.
The colon is a pretty intelligent environment, with tens of trillions of microorganisms called gut microbiota living in it and providing balanced digestion. It is in the colon that we absorb nutrients and let go of waste, which is why it is key to keep the system clear and free. There are some good natural tips to promote gut health and therefore detoxification:
- Eliminate, or at least reduce, processed and fast foods. This is one of the long-term tips to follow. If your diet is rich in processed foods then this will always overload the body with toxins and a short detox once a year will not be very helpful. This is, therefore, a major lifestyle tip!
- Add fermented and probiotic-rich foods to your diet. Another awesome lifestyle tip is adding food like sauerkraut or kefir to your diet, which can help the colon restore its flora (microbiota) so that the good bacteria can do their job
in retaining nutrients and letting go of
toxins. Taking a probiotic supplement is also a good suggestion.
- Eat apples: when detoxifying the colon, apples are very helpful as they contain high levels of pectin (soluble fibre) and quercetin, which is amazing to alleviate food sensitivities and boost immunity.
- Eat avocados: an incredibly fibre-rich fruit but also contains high amounts of magnesium and potassium and helps the colon flush waste.
- Enjoy flax seeds: these are incredible sources of omega 3 fatty acids with awesome added fibre, which again helps keep the colon active.
- Supplement with Triphala: this ayurvedic herb is an actual colon detoxifier that is a natural laxative, thereby allowing expulsion of toxins.
The liver is our filtering system and keeping it clean is a must, especially after higher amounts of alcohol and fatty or processed foods. If you have taken the time to cleanse the colon, and have a regular bowel movement and no side effects from over-toxicity, like gas or constipation, then you are ready for the liver to start detoxing too so that everything can be freely flushed through the digestive system:
- Eliminate, or at least decrease processed foods and alcohol. Just like for the colon, the liver does not need more obstacles in doing its work, and so we should make sure we take the time to change our habits and remove anything that cannot really be considered food. By just realising that not everything that is ingestible is food, we can become more selective about what we choose to put into our body. Sugar falls under this category, especially artificial and fructose-rich sweeteners. Ideally, none of the above should be consumed during the detox period.
- Add herbs to your daily routine. There are three amazing herbs to include in a liver detox that will make a difference. Milk Thistle: the most popular liver tonic known to the west. Thanks to its content of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, it helps calm inflammation and restores the liver’s ability to remove toxins. Turmeric: This powerful root gained so much popularity in the last year and is a healing powerhouse. In ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is one of the most used herbs, as a powerful detoxifier and anti-inflammatory. Dandelion: take as a tea twice a day; it is extremely soothing.
- Probiotic-rich and fermented foods. Just like for the colon, again, the liver benefits from fermented foods to help it fight inflammation.
- Drink apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. Both are wonderful for liver and colon health. Have them on salads or mix them in water and drink. Both are said to cleanse the liver, especially when taken first thing in the morning. You can easily alternate between lemon and apple cider vinegar day-by-day or have them at different times on the same day.
- Eating wholesome foods. Another of the long-term lifestyle tips for allowing the body to detox. Food is key as we eat every day, so choosing phytochemical and micronutrient-rich foods will help your liver’s performance at all times. That means lots of vegetables and fruits, plus wholesome, mostly gluten-free, grains like rice and quinoa, pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Superfood Chlorella is a cleansing powerhouse. If you had to choose one green to add to your diet, I would suggest this weed.
- Emotional detox. The liver is said to be linked to anger, resentment, un-forgiveness and frustration and affected by those feelings, so it is important to practice gratitude and calm each day to help this organ stay healthy.
The kidneys are responsible for fluid balance in our body and blood cleansing. By detoxifying the main three organs mentioned here we are also looking after ‘blood health’, and the kidneys play an important role.
- Herbal aid Again the power of nature brings in some wonderful herbs to help support kidney functions. Nettle is a great one to have as a tea and is relatively cheap to buy. Rehmannia is an adrenal tonic herb and will help stabilise the adrenal glands in the kidneys, which will help with fatigue and other hormonal imbalances.
- Dark food Fruits like cranberry, black cherries and blueberries, as well as vegetables like beets, are wonderful for kidney health. They also cleanse the blood, particularly beets, and the urinary tract, which we expel uric acid from when the kidneys break down purine. It is key for the kidneys to cleanse the blood from abnormal levels of uric acid not to face ailments such as gout.
- Seaweeds and spinach Greens that are very helpful in helping the kidneys detoxify. There are edible seaweeds like nori, kelp, arame, and supplements like chlorella (called seaweed but grown in fresh water) or spirulina – all wonderful for any detox.
The body works as a unit to keep healthy and let go of toxins, but we can certainly help it too. It’s easy to recognise that the common denominator for most detoxes is to adopt healthy eating and lifestyle habits – mostly the habit of consuming real food from nature, with certain herbs and medicinal plants that support particular functions in the body. Feel free to add in green juices, smoothies and superfoods into your detox plan, but mostly focus on eliminating what challenges your body and focus on what reinvigorates it. Help your body, don’t hinder it!
Chantal di Donato is a yoga teacher, health coach, nutritional advisor, author and speaker. She is the founder of Live Lean Health, which offers complete and personalised detox plans. Visit: liveleanhealth.com
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.