Detox: The truth behind the trend - Part 1
The word “detox” has been bandied about on social media, exploited by the weight loss industry and dissected by the press so much that we’ve become desensitised to it as a concept.
But what does “detox” actually mean, and why is it important?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss the facts underpinning the hype, talk about specific herbs and nutrients that promote detoxification, and explore why and how to go organic.
Detox vs detoxification
‘Detox’ has become a popular term for a temporary change in eating habits that attempts to reduce our total body burden of environmental toxins.
While this is an honourable feat, many detox ‘programmes’ focus on extreme food restriction without supporting the body’s natural processes of detoxification which are so important for continuing health.
This common oversight can lead to a worsening of symptoms following a detox regime, as the body can become overloaded with toxins that are not being efficiently eliminated.
In order to get the most out of our detoxes, we need to understand what is actually involved in ‘detoxification’ itself.
Detoxification: what is it?
Almost every organ in the body has its own detoxification processes - even the brain needs sleep to reboot and repair.
However, generally speaking, ‘detoxification’ refers to a specific 2-phase metabolic process that happens in the liver, which, when working optimally, breaks down internal and external toxins and prepares them for elimination.
Phase I first breaks down these ‘toxins’ - including hormones, drugs, inflammatory mediators, food-based and environmental chemicals - and temporarily creates even more reactive metabolites, known as ‘free radicals’, that have the potential to damage tissue if left unchecked.
Then, during phase II, other molecules are attached or ‘conjugated’ to these reactive substances to make them water soluble and ready for elimination, either via the kidneys or bowels.
What we need is a balanced amount of phase I and phase II activity - and both of these processes depend on essential nutrients that are deficient in many standard modern diets.
So, if it’s a natural process - what’s all the fuss about? Why do we need to think about ‘detoxing’ at all? That’s where the concept of body burden comes in.
Body burden: what it means for your health
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, antibiotics and fungicides are more prevalent in our natural environments than they have ever been before.
Many of the chemicals found in our air, water, food supply, personal and household care products have never been tested in humans, and many of them have documented adverse effects.
Bisphenol-A in plastics, perchlorate in tap water and phthalates in perfumes are some of those that are known to contribute to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer, as well as thyroid and hormonal/fertility problems (1).
In fact, the environmental load is so great that it threatens to overload the natural detoxification processes in our bodies. Combined with undernourishment from our Western diets, our detoxification pathways are severely weakened, paving the way for complex chronic disease.
However, all is not lost. There are simple steps you can take to reduce your body burden and support detoxification with herbs, foods, supplements and a little common sense. Stay tuned for parts II and III of our detox series.
1. Trasande et al (2015). Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European union. J clin endocrinol and metab. 100(4), 1245–1255.
Poppy holds a first-class Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Herbal Medicine from Middlesex University in London, and is a member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (MCPP). She has four years of clinical experience as a medical herbalist, and holds a Level 3 certificate in First Response Emergency Care.
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