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Spring is in the air. Is it time for spring cleaning in your home?  At least once per year, my wife and I go through the spice drawer, check out cooking oils in the pantry, look at condiments and jars in the refrigerator, and throw out items that are old and/or expired.

We’ll clean out closets and unused spaces, bang the dust out of our carpets outside, get the blower and clean out the garage. We change the filters in the air system, too.

And then,,,,,,,,,,I start thinking about an internal spring cleaning.

Do we need to do a detox?

Even if we are careful, we likely accumulate toxins, and typically they are hiding in our fat, liver, and bone marrow, slowly leaking into our bloodstream.

We accumulate heavy minerals and PCB toxins from big mouth fish (especially mercury). We get BPA from the linings of cans and cartons, and pesticides build up in our system rapidly if we consume meat, poultry, or dairy from animals fed in feedlots. We will still get trace amounts of pesticides even if we focus on wild and free-range animal products, and/or organic fruits and vegetables, beans, and other foods.

I think all of us would benefit from an annual internal spring cleaning to help get rid of toxins that we have accumulated over time. This practice is commonly called a detox, and I highly recommend that you do this for at least 5-7 days each year.

To push toxins out of our fat and liver so that we can metabolize and excrete them, I recommend partial intermittent fasting each day. Don’t eat anything after 9 pm at night, and continue to avoid eating until noon the next day. Ideally, load up on vegetables with dinner before starting your fast. It isn’t that hard to do, as you can have coffee or tea in the morning, just don’t add sugar, a sweetener, or milk, and make sure you use organic coffee or tea.

If you can’t make it to noon because you are too hungry during the first few days, it’s ok to add a tablespoon of organic ghee (clarified butter) to your coffee or tea as well, and that will keep you breaking down fat for energy, but take away that sense of hunger.

This form of fasting will break down fat, release ketones, and flush toxins out of your system. Be sure to hydrate with ample fluid.  I recommend drinking at least four liters of fluid daily (such as pure water or green tea).

To boost my fat burn, I aim for a workout each morning during a detox. Not only will I burn more calories during my fast and break down additional fat as energy, but my workout induced sweat helps to eliminate some of the toxins as well. Exercise also speeds up metabolism and helps enhance toxin metabolism (More on the benefits, risks, and limitations of sweating during a detox in a moment).

Certain foods and supplements increase your ability to remove, detoxify and excrete heavy metals and toxins.

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, and cabbage) are high on the list, as they contain sulfuranes, which help your liver remove toxins from your system.

Garlic, shallots, and onions are another source of potent detoxifying foods. They are loaded with sulfur, which helps you rid the body of toxins. Garlic, in particular, has been used for thousands of years to detox and improve health. To benefit, don’t use deodorized garlic, as the garlic fragrance has the active agents. And avoid overcooking garlic, since it turns bitter when overcooked and loses its detoxification activity—best is to add it during the last one or two minutes of cooking on low heat. Onions and shallots retain much of their nutrient content with cooking, so you can use them any way you choose.

Green tea is also a potent detoxifier, so drink it during the day.

For lunch and dinner, curry spices enhance detoxification, so if you like curry, this is the time to enjoy curry dishes.

During a 5-7 day detox, I recommend that you consume:

  • Two garlic cloves per person daily; try mincing raw garlic and adding it to a salad or side of vegetables, with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
  • ¼ to ½ onion per person daily, used in stir-fry dishes and served any way you like them.
  • 1-2 cups of cruciferous veggies per person per day.
  • Plus, ¼ to ½ cup of broccoli spouts sprinkled on salads or blended in a smoothie every day.
  • 6-8 cups of green tea per day. I typically have 3-4 cups of organic regular green tea in the morning, and then decaf green tea in the afternoon and evening. If you are caffeine sensitive, then just drink decaf green tea all day, and either hot tea or iced tea is fine.
  • Obviously, if you have a food intolerance to something listed above, then continue to avoid those foods.

There are also some foods that you should avoid during a fast. Nightshade plants can slow down some key aspects of liver detoxification: these include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, including cayenne pepper and paprika. On a daily basis, you don’t have to avoid nightshade plants, unless you have a specific intolerance to them, but during a detox, avoid them.

Even more important is that you absolutely avoid all alcohol during a detox. Alcohol blocks liver detoxification. The last thing you want during a detox, when you are releasing toxins from your fat stores into your bloodstream, is to delay your ability to metabolize and eliminate them. This means zero alcohol from start to finish.

Some supplements are excellent additions to a detox; take them during the detox and for at least one week afterward to help clear away any lingering toxins in your system.

  • To support your detox process, take a curcumin supplement with 1000 mg daily.
  • A good quality fiber supplement will also help pull toxins from your system into your gut and can be eliminated in your stool. Consider adding 1-2 tablespoons of PaleoFiber with water or in a smoothie as well.
  • Milk thistle provides liver support and is useful during a detox as well. A good milk thistle option that also provides additional detox support with added N-Acetyl-L-Carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, methionine, L-cysteine, and taurine would be Hepato-Thera. (Use Patient code:900)

Beyond food and supplements, sweating is another way to help remove toxins. Aim to sweat during a workout every day. Humans have also used sweat lodges for tens of thousands of years to improve many aspects of health. It remains a great tradition. During a 5-7 day detox, schedule time for a sauna or steam bath, or enjoy a steamy hot bath instead.

Although it is scientifically correct to say that you do remove some toxins with your sweat glands, most of the toxin removal daily and during a detox occurs through your liver and kidneys. Yes, studies have shown that sweat contains bi-phenol-acetate (BPA) and heavy metals, and in fact, sweat has been shown to have more than 10 times the concentration of lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium than blood. However, the reality is that sweat is 98-99% water, and most toxins are removed by your liver and kidneys. So thinking that the only thing you need to do to get rid of toxins is sweat would be silly.

I have read articles where doctors are concerned that patients overuse sweating with a detox and make themselves dehydrated to the point that they become dizzy, and I share this concern, as that is clearly overdoing a good thing. Sweating is only one of the many tools to help you detox, and your liver and kidneys will do most of that work. A good sweat is nice, excess is overdoing it.

During a detox, keep in mind that you are pulling toxins from bone and fat and eliminating them. Many people experience some short-term symptoms while they are eliminating toxins, as toxins are circulating in the bloodstream when they are removed. Common symptoms during a detox can include skin rashes, smelly stools and urine, congestion, headaches, and muscle aches. Despite these short-term issues, the benefits of removing toxins outweigh these discomforts. If your symptoms are severe, you might be more sensitive, or you might suffer from a heavier toxin load. If this applies to you, stop the detox, and talk to your doctor for guidance.

Now that you know what to do, are you ready?

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS

PS: If you have a friend or family member who needs help doing a fast, or should consider a fast, please forward this blog to them.