Before you sign-up for that three-week juice regime or take the first steps towards a colonic irrigation, there’s something you should know. Resident Clinical Nutritionist BROOKE BENSON CAMPBELL (BHSc Nut Med) explains…
Whether it’s a freshly pressed celery juice promising diuretic-induced muscle definition or a cayenne pepper and cider cocktail guaranteeing liver rejuvenation, it is tough not to be persuaded by the detox industry. The concept that you can wash away your lifestyle sins with a short-term “detox” is the perfect remedy to our indulgent processed food and alcohol-driven social lives. “Detoxing”, the idea that you can spend a focused few weeks flushing your system of impurities and toxins, leaving it squeaky clean and renewed, is largely a good old marketing scam. It’s a pseudo-medical notion designed to sell you things. And as a population we’re falling for it, hook, line, and shiny sinker.
Inexplicably, the shelves of health food stores and chemists are stacked with products displaying the word “detox”. You can buy detoxifying tablets, drinks, tea bags, face masks, bath salts, shampoos, hair brushes and ready-made foods. Yoga, luxury holidays and spa days all promise to detoxify. Seven-day diets and 24-hour juice cleanses support the detox process while specially designed massages aim to move toxins through the body and foot pads pledge to draw out impurities as we sleep. For those unsure of which particular detox regime to follow, Amazon sells over 10,000 books related to the subject, while Google search results in around 294 million websites dealing with the subject. Currently, health website iHerb.com boasts 487 detox pills and potions for purchase and the industry is growing by around 15% per year. Our collective guilt is making people rich.
When most of us first utter the word ‘detox’, it is usually when we’re bleary-eyed, hungover and facing the prospect of Monday after a hedonistic weekend. The repercussions of Saturday’s 12-course degustation with matching wines, or days filled with drive-thru Maccas and service-station pies can cause us to reevaluate everything about our close relationship with beer and trans fats: maybe I should do a detox? Surely nothing says dedication to the cause like spending $300 on a week’s worth of rainbow smoothies and a hot yoga membership? When did a regime of intravenous vitamin drips and daily algal shots come to signify smug self-care and excuse months of bad choices, excess and indulgence? Is this investment truly beneficial for your body or just a psychological band-aid to excuse decadent behaviour? Is the idea of ‘detoxing’ a physiological necessity or a modern marketing invention?
To answer this question, we need to understand how the liver (our primary ‘detox’ organ) works. The liver has many duties within the body – it is a filtration plant for your blood (it cleans 1.5L/ minute of blood), a chemical plant (making hormones, cholesterol and bile to break down fat), a storage depot (for glycogen, amino acids, Vitamin A, B12, D and Iron), a metabolism and sugar regulator, a waste unit (disposing of old red blood cells) and a distribution centre (sending hormones and nutrients throughout the body). Most amazingly, it is also the only organ that can regenerate (without the help of Milk Thistle or other herbal supplements). In fact, the liver can actually regenerate completely, as long as 25% of the tissue remains. The most impressive feature of the liver is that it can regrow to its previous size and ability without any loss of function in approximately eight to 15 days. And not only is the liver capable of all of these things, but it also detoxifies the body of all chemicals, bacteria, allergens, environmental toxins, food additives and drugs that we subject it to (both willingly and unwillingly). From pesticides to chemical retardants, sulfites to ibuprofen, the liver is responsible for maintaining balance and cleansing the body.
This natural detox process is broken down into three phases. Phase One is the first line of defense and uses a group of enzymes known as the cytochrome P450 family. These enzymes help to neutralize substances by converting toxins into less harmful ones. However, it is important to know that the byproducts of Phase One detox still pose a threat to the body. If the toxins are allowed to build up and remain in the liver they can damage DNA and proteins.
The responsibility of Phase Two is to clear these byproducts. Phase Two neutralizes the byproducts of Phase One by conjugating toxins to allow excretion from the body, and (big clincher) Phase Two is largely nutrient dependent. This phase relies on amino acids like cysteine, glutamine and glycine (found largely in animal products, nuts, seeds, tempeh and legumes) to fuel the breakdown of toxins. Lastly, Phase Three finishes the process and transports the water-soluble toxins to the kidneys to be excreted as urine and binds the fat-soluble toxins with bile to be expelled.
So, round of applause folks: a perfect detox program according to Mother Nature. However, there are a few pitfalls along the way that are important to consider. Firstly, a high fibre diet is essential for this pathway to work effectively. When there is enough fibre in the diet, the toxin-filled bile will mix with insoluble fibre and will be excreted as a good old number two. But, if the diet is deficient in fibre, up to 94% of this toxic cocktail is reabsorbed back into the liver to be stored in fat cells for safe keeping. Note: 72% of Australians do not have adequate fibre intake, so in 72% of cases the liver is in danger of being overwhelmed by these toxins – generally speaking there isn’t an expensive juice regime in the world that can provide the fibre needed here. As it turns out, the best way to support these detox pathways if by feeding our bodies with adequate amino acids, sufficient hydration and foods that are high in fibre and protein. Simply put, the best way to ‘detox’ your body is to reinforce the natural detox system and to take good care of it in the long term – not to bypass it all together, as you do when you’re on a detox regime. While apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and green smoothies are all attractive additions to a daily regime they exert limited influence over the liver detox pathways (and can be detrimental to tooth enamel, reflux and sugar intake respectively).
As it turns out, the ultimate lifestyle detox is not smoking, enjoying daily exercise, and following a balanced healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet high in omega 3 fatty acids, olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Shiny new packages and costly metallic bottles be damned. Sure, psychologically we don’t get the same pat on the back and congratulatory self-affirmation when we bite into an apple or eat a mound of broccoli as we would if we signed up for a $50 subscription to Man-tox Monthly, but we’re affording our body the same respect. Soups, juice cleanses and other low-protein diets are counterproductive because these foods are lacking in the amino acids that support Phase Two detox pathways and allow the liver to rid the body of toxins. Furthermore, when we juice foods we remove all fibre from the fruits and vegetables and leave the sugar behind, which can create blood sugar and cortisol (stress hormone) spikes and leave people ‘hangry’ with a headache (you know who you are, bitchy office assistant). A lack of fibre and protein can also cause muscle breakdown and catabolism, forcing your body to ‘eat’ its own muscles for fuel (hello, Stephen King!), slowing metabolism and destroying any semblance of hard-earned muscle tone. The bottom line: leave the detoxing to your liver, and give your brain (and your wallet) a break.
So, we’ve established juice subscriptions, detox regimes and one-a-year spring cleans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and we’re all aware that limiting alcohol and processed foods can only work to boost our general health, but are there other simple changes to support our body on a daily basis and provide our liver with a little long-lasting T.L.C?
* SWAP COFFEE FOR DANDELION TEA
Dandelion tea (also known as Dandelion coffee) is considered a liver tonic as it helps improve the flow of bile (essential for the removal of fat soluble toxins). A recent study also shows that water-soluble polysaccharides from dandelion root protect the liver from fat-induced hepatic injury. Dandelion also helps relieve constipation and stimulates bowel movements to clear toxins from the gastrointestinal tract.
* INCLUDE A DAILY CUP OF BONE BROTH
Containing 17 amino acids, protein and collagen, bone broth is the perfect addition to your daily detox regime. Amino acids fuel the Phase Two detox pathways to rid the body of toxins, while glycine (present in collagen) can aid repair of liver injury caused by alcohol-induced damage. High in protein, bone broth will help the liver while encouraging muscle growth and definition.
* USE A CURCUMIN SUPPLEMENT
Curcumin, the key active ingredient of the spice turmeric, has been shown to reduce toxicity caused by heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and mercury (found in rice, car emissions, water pipes, cooking utensils and fish oils respectively). Curcumin also works to lower triglyceride levels, fatty acid accumulation and resultant liver injury. It also prevents glutathione depletion; this is important as glutathione is the body’s number one antioxidant to fight free radical exposure.
* LIMIT EXPOSURE TO ENDOGENOUS CHEMICALS
The average home contains 500-1000 chemicals, and indoor air is approximately two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Many of the cleaning products we use to clean our furniture, bathrooms and windows are full of toxic chemicals, so look for chemical-free options. Many environmental endocrine disruptors that contribute to cancers, infertility and hormonal changes are also present in our shampoos, conditioners, deodorants and moisturisers and so replacing your skin care and personal health care with chemical-free and natural options will go a long way to limiting toxin exposure. Specifically, avoid parabens, phthalates, sodium laurel sulphate and BPA plastics – all of which can contribute to organ damage, hormonal disruption and have carcinogenic effects.
* THINK OUTSIDE THE DETOX SQUARE
Two of the major contributions to the modern health crisis are stress and digital exposure (and unlike chemical toxins, our body doesn’t have an inbuilt pathway for processing these). Rather than buying up a carton of detox tea, try switching off all digital devices for 2 hours before bed to ensure adequate melatonin secretion and a deeper sleep. If you are desperate to employ a week-long detox, go off-grid: no phones, computers or screens – to allow your brain and body an essential reset, calm heightened stress hormones and allow the parasympathetic nervous system time out from the busy world of Facebook cat videos, Instagrammable social outings and Twittered opinions.
It is clear: next time you’re standing at the counter of a store or scrolling through an Instagram advert extoling the virtues of a shiny jar labeled “Detox”, ask yourself: does this product provide me with the nutrients necessary to support the natural liver detoxification process (amino acids, protein and fibre) or am I falling victim to a glossy marketing ploy designed to persuade with pseudo-religious notions of purification and repentance? Will this detox diet result in the creation of healthy new long-term habits (in which case, go for it!) or am I just signing up to a Jesus-like concept that takes advantage of the modern psychological scale of sin and atonement? Because there is better way: a healthy natural diet high in fruits, vegetables, moderate indulgence, limitation of chemicals and stimulants and daily exercise. It may be boring, it may not be social-media worthy or require a big-budget marketing campaign, but as it turns out, it’s all we need. It’s detox at its best.
Brooke Benson Campbell (BHSc) is a Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, speaker, writer and presenter with a passion for all things health, beauty and wellbeing. A self-proclaimed human test subject, she is constantly trialling the newest products, seeking the latest discoveries and reading the current clinical studies, in order to share her findings with the public through private practice, social media and industry education. Follow Brooke at her Instagram @the.b.b.c
For the full article grab the October 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.