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Previously I have outlined my main concerns with using the term ‘detox’ in the article “To detox or not to detox – that is the question”. The points I made were broad due to the fact that they encompass so much detail and I wanted to keep the article succinct to get the message across easily. I realise however, this left them potentially open to question or opposition, so I promised to elaborate further.
Here I would like to go into a little more detail by addressing the second point in that article – the fact that your body detox’s itself via numerous channels of elimination. It will, I hope, clarify further my reluctance for using the term ‘detox’.
Many will be familiar with the fact the the liver is the major organ for detoxification, but there are also the gut, the kidneys, the lungs and the skin that all play important roles in the detoxification processes. Each of these organs are functioning constantly in an effort to remove wastes from the body, and each does so without any conscious input from you. Let me go on to elaborate about each individually.
The liver serves many important roles for the body, one of them being to convert potentially toxic matter that passes through its circulation into a form that is easily excreted. It does this through a complex set of pathways that involve 2 Phases, numerous chemical reactions, endless enzymes, and an abundance of nutrients. And it does this around the clock.
This ‘detoxifying’ of compounds requires a constant supply of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to act as co-factors to ensure everything runs smoothly. It is for this reason that the concept of ‘fasting’ to detox simply does not make sense. How can one expect the liver to function optimally when it is being starved of the very fuel it needs to perform one of it’s critical functions? Infact, surely it makes more sense to provide the liver with a constant steady supply of all possible cofactors through a diet that is rich in various vitamins, minerals and amino acids at all times. (Getting ahead of myself here – fasting in detox will be addressed in more detail in a future article, but this point is just too important to not mention here.)
Now we all know “at all times” is really only “in an ideal world” kind of situation, so it’s not unreasonable to provide the liver with additional support from time to time. This can be achieved through nutritional or herbal supplementation with compounds that will assist in regulating the phases and pathways of detoxification. It must be clear, however, that these compounds do not take the place of what should be provided through diet majority of the time, nor do they ‘induce a detox’. They are simply assisting to make the processes that are already taking place more effective.
So whilst many products on the market target the liver and claim to be a ‘detox’ in themselves, remember that they are not doing the detoxing, and they do not alone cause the detox to take place. The detox is happening constantly and they are simply put in place to help support the processes that are naturally taking place and make the more effective and efficient. Their role, simply put, is to support the detox processes already taking place in the liver.
The gut plays a very important role in the detoxification process. It is the channel by which the solid matter of wastes are excreted. When the gut is not functioning correctly, through blockage, sluggishness or poor intestinal health, toxic matter which should be being excreted may in fact start building up. This can result in fermentation and putrification and presents as symptoms of bloating, gas and discomfort. Additionally, poor gut health may mean poor nutrient absorption, thus inadequate supply of nutrients to the liver, and thus poor liver detoxification processes. Already it’s apparent that it’s about more than just the liver!
Once again then, dietary measures in themselves can be all that is necessary to ensure the gut is functioning optimally and excreting waste correctly. Again, these dietary measures are not always achieved and so can be supported through nutritional or herbal supplementation. Such supplementation though should not take the place of what diet can provide alone, and the ultimate aim should always be to manage health, overall, through using food as medicine.
These guys eliminate the majority of the liquid wastes from the body. Very simply, the best way to take care of your kidneys is to ensure they have adequate hydration through optimal fluid intake. Unless there are any specific conditions that you suffer from (infections, kidney stones, congenital deformity or the likes) there is no specific measures to support elimination of toxins through the kidneys. And in case you are wondering, there is no scientific evidence to support consuming excessive amounts of water to ‘flush out toxins’ – your body will simply excrete the excess water and take care of the toxins in its own good time.
Breathing in and out is the simple way that the body detoxifies excess carbon dioxide. If you look at the complexity of what actually happens when you breathe in and out, and the way it affects things such as acidity and alkalinity, it is really amazing. (Not that anything about the human body isn’t amazing!) Now the evidence behind breathing exercises to assist detoxification are lacking, but we do know that slow, deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system into calming us down – so if you ask me that’s enough of a reason to practice deep breathing exercises, regardless of their impact on the detox paths.
Last but not least – the skin – the largest organ in the body. Through perspiration the skin releases toxins and plays its own important role in the detoxification process. Theories that skin brushing and infra-red sauna exposure improve detoxification are supported by little evidence. They are however, lovely feel good activities, so if you choose to pursue them their effect on the overall detoxification processes may be mininal, but at least the activity will help you relax and feel refreshed afterwards. Coming full circle, skin disorders such a eczema and acne have been linked to poor gut and liver health, so once again you see that it’s an interplay between multiple elimination channels that brings about successful detoxification.
So that just about rounds it up. There remains plenty more anatomical and biochemical detail that can be explained about each of these organs as to how they act as elimination channels, but hopefully what has been addressed is enough to explain that they all play important roles in the detoxification processes. If there is one take home message from all of this it is something that I already mentioned at the beginning: Each of these organs are functioning constantly in an effort to remove wastes from the body, and each does so without any conscious input from you. It is exactly why I thinking ‘doing a detox’ is a misleading statement. What you can do, through diet and supplementation however, is support the processes that are already happening.
Your body has very complex and evolved ways at removing toxins, so let’s not take credit for what it does naturally by saying we are ‘doing a detox’. Instead nourish it with the right foods and practices to fuel it and support each elimination channel.
Until next time,
Nourish, Integrate, Transform.