By Michael T. Murray, ND
While most of us would likely never dream of ignoring a warning light on our car’s dashboard that tells us it’s time to change the oil or perform regular maintenance, many people ignore the telltale signs that their body is in dire need of a cleanup.
But how do you identify your body’s warning signs? If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it is definitely time to tune up your detoxification.
- Do you feel you are not as healthy and vibrant as other people your age?
- Do you have low energy levels?
- Do you often have difficulty thinking with clarity?
- Do you often feel depressed?
- Do you get more than one or two colds a year?
- Do you have sore, achy muscles for no particular reason?
- Do you have bad breath or stinky stools?
In most cases, improving detoxification is an effective solution for these symptoms, as they often reflect nothing more than a squeaky wheel in need of maintenance. Even more importantly, by addressing these warning signs now, you can help assure better long-term health and avoid the progression of minor problems to more serious conditions.
Love your Liver
As the number of toxins in our environment continues to grow, it is critical for us to support detoxification. This is particularly key because once our detox system becomes overloaded, toxic metabolites accumulate and we become progressively more sensitive to other chemicals—some of which are not even normally toxic.
The detoxification of harmful substances is a primary role of the liver. But this amazing organ requires a lot of nutritional support to function properly. Without that support, detoxification can go awry and increase the risk for serious disease.
For example, a study published in 2010 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at Italian chemical plant workers who had an unusually high rate of bladder cancer. The study revealed that only those with the poorest detoxification-system activity were diagnosed with cancer. In other words, all the workers were exposed to the same level of carcinogens, but only those with poor liver function developed cancer.
Another reason why liver support is so critical is because of the unique nature of detoxification enzymes. There are two primary types of detoxification enzymes. But the activity of these enzymes varies greatly—as much as a thousand-fold—from one individual to another based on genetics, the person’s level of exposure to chemical toxins, and his or her nutritional status.
This enzyme variability can affect a person’s risk for various diseases. For instance, it impacts an individual’s ability to detoxify the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke—which helps explain why some people can smoke without as much damage to their lungs, while others develop lung cancer after only a few decades of smoking.
Because the activity level of detoxification enzymes varies so greatly, that means everyone—even if they are extremely healthy—can benefit from regular internal cleansing.
What’s the best way to detox?
There are a lot of programs and products designed to promote detoxification, but do they really work? Honestly, I don’t think so. In many cases, I think they just stir things up instead of flushing them out of the body.
Take fasting, for example. It is the oldest form of detoxification, but I caution against it. True fasting is defined as abstinence from all food and drink except water. I don’t recommend this type of fasting because the toxic compounds that are of most concern in modern life are primarily fat soluble. With a strict water fast, these compounds can be released from fat cells and mobilized to the brain and kidneys, where they can reach toxic levels and are difficult to get rid of.
Instead of a water fast, I recommend a modified juice fast or detox diet along with additional nutritional support. This strategy allows for the proper detoxification and elimination of toxic compounds.
As for a length of time, I think 10 days produces the greatest benefit. Ideally, I recommend doing this cleanse at the change of the seasons (or roughly every three months).
If you feel particularly toxic, I don’t recommend a longer time. Instead, I suggest successive, 10-day cleanses separated by three weeks or so of my “beyond the cleanse” guidelines (see sidebar) until your symptoms of toxicity are alleviated.
Don’t forget Supplements
For additional nutritional support, here are some of the special dietary and herbal compounds I recommend during a detox:
- Digestive enzymes. These key compounds are often missing in meaningful levels in many detox products. In my experience, the best products contain multi-enzyme preparations from vegetarian and fungal sources, as they are more resistant to digestive secretions and have a broader range of activity.
- Probiotics. These beneficial bacteria are critical for supporting intestinal detoxification.
- Selenium and N-acetylcysteine (NAC). The best source of selenium is SelenoExcell because of its proven benefits in boosting antioxidant activity. Selenium is a key component of the very important detoxifying enzyme glutathione peroxidase. NAC boosts cellular levels of glutathione.
- Mixed ascorbates (buffered vitamin C) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). Vitamin C is an important detoxifying antioxidant, and helps promote proper pH balance in the body. Buffered vitamin is the best source. MSM contains sulfur, which is key in neutralizing many toxic compounds.
- Siliphos. This special form of milk thistle extract is better absorbed in the body and exerts greater efficacy in protecting the liver and aiding its structure and function.
Gentle laxative and herbal carminative. To support elimination, it is important to use a laxative made with prune powder or senna leaves, along with flatulence-relieving herbs like ginger, fennel, peppermint, and chamomile.
In many cases, taking a soluble dietary fiber supplement like guar gum, pectin, or psyllium at night can help keep things moving through your intestinal tract.
Detoxification of harmful substances should be a continual process in the body. But sometimes your system needs extra help. If you follow my cleansing plan, detoxing does not have to be an unpleasant experience. And you will likely feel more healthy, vibrant, and energetic— both mentally and physically.