To Detox or Not To Detox

With the holidays coming to an end, there are numerous cleanses and detox programs offered to help you kick start the year on the right foot and "undo" the lifestyle choices you made during the holidays such as over eating, indulging in excess amount of sweets and alcohol and dodging the gym. These programs often range from 7 to 60 days and "guarantee" that you will feel your best while eliminating an array of symptoms (e.g. headaches, fatigue, constipation, insomnia and weight gain). Instead of participating in these 7 to 60 day detox or cleanse programs, one should promote optimal detoxification everyday via deep breathing, clean eating, drinking plenty of water and exercising. Did you know you actually detox regularly through bowel movements, sweating, urinating and breathing, and that nutrient deficiencies can hinder optimal detoxification?

To get a better understanding of detoxification and how to support the body's detoxification processes, I sat down with Dr. Dominika Zarzeczny Naturopathic Doctor from Personalized Wellness to get her insights.

What is detoxification? 

The meaning of the word "Detox" has gotten lost in translation in the last decade. Once understood to be the natural process of removing toxic substances from the body, "detox" has now become the latest health fad. Our body has the wisdom to filter out toxins effectively via the liver, intestines, skin, kidneys and lungs. One cannot simply "detox his/her body" in an arbitrarily set amount of days: these processes are already in place. "“Detox” focuses attention on irrelevant issues, and gives consumers the impression that they can undo lifestyle decisions with quick fixes" (Scott Gavura, The Detox Scam: How to spot it, and how to avoid it).

"Detoxing" would be like taking a course in university. In order to successfully complete it, you have to regularly attend class, do the homework, complete assignments and study for the exam. The likelihood that you will do well in the course having played hooky all semester, only to cram the night before is low. Detoxing is like cramming: you hope that the little investment and effort you put into succeeding in the course will pay off.

Is there any benefit to detox programs?

Yes. Detox programs help steer individuals towards making better health choices for the long haul.

If you happen to feel better while doing a "detox" program (by, for instance, increasing your fibre, drinking more water, cutting back on processed foods and alcohol), then you realize that it's something you need to practice daily.

Prior to seeing me, a patient of mine had decided to do a 2-week "detox" program; she found that the increased fruit and vegetable intake recommended in the kit improved her bowel health. In fact, the dietary change promoted bowel movements once to twice daily, unheard of for her prior to using the kit! Irregular bowel movements are unhealthy because they don't promote daily elimination of waste products. Should we be going to the bathroom daily? Yes! Should we then eat fruits and vegetables every day to promote bowel movements? Yes!

What are some things we can do to support our body's detoxification process?

  • Daily skin brushing - improves circulation and lymphatic system
  • Lemon water - activates the digestive organs first thing in the morning! Squeeze 1/4 lemon into a glass of water and drink after waking
  • Regular water intake - Keeps the skin hydrated and helps the kidneys flush out waste products. The following rule-of-thumb, 1 ounce of water per kilogram of weight, is roughly the amount of water you should be consuming daily.
  • Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts -  cruciferous vegetables contain a powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic compound known as indole-3-carbinol.
  • Green tea - add a cup of green tea to your daily health regimen; green tea contains EGCG, which support cognitive function and L-theanine, which helps reduce anxiety
  • Make time in the day for nature calls- Rushed mornings don't leave much time for "number two". Carve out 15-20 uninterrupted minutes every morning to have a bowel movement.
  • Eat sufficient amount of protein (0.8-1.0g/kg/d) - In addition to helping maintain muscle mass and the immune system, protein is required for the liver's proper detoxification function

What is your thought on juicing?

Juicing is a wonderful way of getting fruits and vegetables into your diet quickly, regularly and in greater amounts. One thing to keep in mind when juicing is to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% vegetables 20% fruit. This helps maintain a lower glycemic index than if you were to juice a lot more fruit (remember: fruit contains sugar, and too much of it doesn't do the body good).

I want to thank Dr. Dominika Zarzeczny N.D. for taking the time to answer my questions on detoxifying. She currently practices in Toronto at Personalized Wellness Clinic and can be reached at info@personalizedwellness.ca.