Over the last 50 years, chemistry has brought the “civilized” world an amazing array of useful products. The challenge is that most of us assumed that these chemicals were tested and proven to be safe, yet over and over, that has not been the case. Only a small fraction of the thousands of new chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety. And, there are now up to 200 chemicals in the blood of babies before they are even born.
For 100,000 years, we have lived in a pristine environment. Our body didn’t need to know how to detox, because our planet was clean. Sadly, we’ve changed that whole picture, and it is far too easy to become loaded with toxins. As our environment becomes more toxic, we haven’t developed enough mechanisms to remove them from our bodies.
Not only do pesticides and other chemicals cause cancer, but they also impact the #1 cause for heart disease and cognitive decline, as they worsen blood sugar control. Beyond the pesticides in the food we eat, now we even need to be concerned about how food is packaged. Certain toxins associated with food packing will double your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These include phthalates (which come from exposure to plastic, as in drinking from plastic water bottles), and bisphenol A, (BPA, which comes from the lining on cans and other food containers).
Phthalate tissue levels are associated with lower IQ scores in children. Avoiding these common toxins is straight forward, but means you need to avoid or limit consuming food and beverages stored in plastic bottles. You should never cook with plastic containers as heating plastic increases and accelerates the leaching of phthalates into food.
Far too many foods that come in cans contain BPA liners—look for PBS free labels when buying canned goods. The adjustment is that this likely will eliminate many common and convenient processed foods you currently use. It is easier to accumulate BPA than you might think. Just consuming two servings per week from cans and containers lined with BPA long term will increase blood and urine levels of BPA, block insulin receptors, and may double your lifetime risk for developing diabetes.
If this brief discussion has you concerned about your long term exposure, here are some tips to help you get rid of toxins you may have accumulated over time. Even if you don’t think you are high risk, likely everyone would benefit from a 5 day detox once or twice per year to help remove and process toxins we have stored over time.
To start, there are foods and supplements that increase your ability to remove heavy metals and other compounds. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy, and cabbage) are high on the list as they contain compounds such as sulfuranes that help your liver remove toxins from your system. To boost your detox power long term, aim to eat at least one cup of cruciferous veggies daily. You’ll notice that these vegetables are featured in my recipes often. For an even bigger dose of sulfuranes, consider broccoli sprouts, which are the greatest source of these detoxification compounds. During a brief detox, enjoy two cups of cruciferous vegetables every day.
Garlic, shallots, and onions are another source of potent detoxifying foods. They are loaded with sulfur that helps you rid the body of toxins. Garlic in particular has been used for thousands of years to detox and improve health. To benefit, you can’t use deodorized garlic as the garlic fragrance has the active agents. And it is important to avoid overcooking garlic as well. Garlic turns bitter when overcooked—best is to add it during the last 1-2 minutes of cooking on low heat. Onions and shallots retain much of their nutrient content with cooking. Your daily goal should be to consume at least a quarter of a medium onion or one garlic clove daily. During a brief detox, I recommend two garlic cloves daily; my favorite option is mincing raw garlic and serving with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
During a 5 day detox, not only are there foods that you should add, but there are some healthy foods that you should avoid. Night shade plants can slow down some key aspects of liver detoxification—these include: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, including cayenne pepper. On a daily basis, you don’t have to avoid night shade plants, unless you have a specific food intolerance to them, but during a 5 detox, avoid them.
Beyond foods, a partial fast will also help you detox. Fasting for 15 hours generates ketones and shifts you to fat burning. When you burn fat, you release toxins stored in your fat tissue. During a brief detox, fast for fifteen hours each day. And if you want to make that fast easier, blend your coffee or tea with 1 tablespoon of organic ghee and 1 teaspoon MCT oil to start your day. If you are wondering, “Is coffee ok during a detox?” The good news is yes, provided it is organic coffee.
During a detox, in addition to partial intermittent fasting, avoid all alcohol. All forms of alcohol block liver detoxification. The last thing you want during a detox when you are releasing toxins from your fat stores to your blood stream is to delay your ability to eliminate them. And if you consume alcohol regularly, likely you will benefit from a break in alcohol use once in a while.
A couple of supplements are excellent additions for a detox. Curcumin, has many health benefits, especially for the brain, and it also helps the liver remove toxins. To support your detox process, take a curcumin supplement with 1000 mg daily. Click here for a highly recommended source of Curcumin. Glucomannan (Konjac root) is another supplement that is very helpful during a detox. It pulls toxins out of your system, acting like a sponge. (A commercial version of glucomannan is sold as PGX.) Not only does glucomannan help to eliminate poisons, but as a very viscous form of fiber it also improves blood sugar control and enhances cholesterol profiles nicely. Consider taking three grams of glucomannan two times per day during a 5 day detox.
Beyond food and supplements, sweating is another way to help remove toxins. Aim to sweat during a workout every day. And for added benefit, try sweating in a sauna or steam bath one to two times per week. Humans have used sweat lodges for tens of thousands of years to improve many aspects of health. It remains a great tradition. With a 5-day detox, schedule time for a sauna, steam bath, or enjoy a steamy hot bath, at least every other day.
During a detox, keep in mind that you are pulling toxins from bone and fat and eliminating them. Many people have some short-term symptoms while they are eliminating toxins, as the toxins are circulating in your blood stream while as 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 outweighs these risks. If your symptoms are severe, you might be more sensitive, or you might suffer from a heavier toxin load. Therefore if this applies to you, stop the detox, and talk to your doctor for guidance.
I really believe that all of us would benefit from a 5-day detox each year—a chance to rid ourselves of toxins we accumulate over time.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
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