3 Pitfalls with 'quick fix' detoxes
You need only to read the front covers of January magazines to understand how we view health at the start of a new year. Feature titles include ‘New Year New You’ ‘Detox yourself slim’ and ‘Exercise to bust the fat’.
Contrary to this rather punitive mindset, it is my view that this is a time to restore, replenish and build energy for the year ahead; a way of eating that is free of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rich in nourishment and tenderness for our body and mind. There is no system in the body that does not rely on efficient detoxification. In fact, every single cell within your body has its own detoxification process or ‘sorting office’ that determines how well that cell can operate and therefore how well our whole system works – affecting anything from energy production and metabolism to immune tolerance and brain function.
When this cellular detoxification function is impaired by a lack of nutrients, emotional stresses or pollutants for example - our whole system can suffer. Fatigue, bloating, skin breakouts, constipation, headaches, weight gain, and irritability, are just of a few of the unpleasant side effects of toxin build up, an unfortunate and common symptom of our fast living, modern lifestyles. Thus 'supportive detoxification' - is not a fad, it’s a necessity for us to work as our best selves. However, how we do this can be the difference between it being supportive for your wellbeing or potentially detrimental.
Timing is everything - why short-term fixes aren’t an option
Working in women’s nutrition for over 10 years, I have become increasingly frustrated with the ‘quick fix' detoxes many women try. You simply need to look to human biochemistry. The resident cells of the liver are called Kupffer cells and hepatocytes. These are the dominant cells that undertake the detoxification of toxicants and toxins when they get to the liver. These cells have to be in top-notch condition to do their job efficiently and to do this they regenerate every 25 - 30 days (with the help of particular nutrients and amino-acids). Therefore any effective, or rather deep-acting, natural detoxification or cleansing plan needs to be 28 days to have any lasting effect.
A cleansing programme should be to cleanse and repair the major detoxification organs through nutrition and setting up positive eating habits; to re-dress the essential balance of toxins in = toxins out; and teach, or re-teach, the body how to heal itself in a way that will set you up for a lifetime of health. It involves a slow but deliberate change in what you choose to eat and how you choose to eat it. Therefore I would encourage you to stay away from short-fix programmes for health reasons too. Shorter plans would encourage the release of toxins or toxicant by-products into the lymphatic system and bloodstream, leaving them to circulate at will and have the potential to cause more damage to the body tissues.
From a naturopathic perspective, the female system, in particular, is attuned to working on a 28-day cycle and therefore a month-long programme works synergistically with this natural rhythm.
Juice CleansesThe complex beast that is the detoxification system requires certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids and macronutrients such as protein and fibre to work efficiently and therefore what you eat during this time is also of paramount importance. This not only supports the efficiency of each cell to ‘detoxify’ but also how well the by-products are removed from the body (either through the kidneys, gut, skin or breath). If you are not supplying enough protein and fibre to perform this job, the toxins are simply re-circulated in the system but in a more toxic format than before. For this reason, juice cleanses that remove fibre, fat or protein from the diet could actually be harmful.
Cleansing and weight loss
Toxins are stored in the cells of our adipose tissue (fat) as a way of protecting the body from toxic damage. Therefore, weight gain can occur more readily with toxic build-up and can also make it harder to shift.
This is why natural weight loss can be experienced when on a detoxification plan. However, as tempting as it might be, don’t be hoodwinked into the promises of plans offering weight loss in 3 days! Any weight loss in this short amount of time will be a loss of fluid and will only be regained once the body begins to regulate itself. These are short fix plans. This is even more important if the goal is to lose a lot of weight. As mentioned earlier, toxins are stored in our body fat and therefore any fast release or reduction in weight will produce a flood of toxic waste into the system to deal with.
With any cleanse programme, see it as an opportunity to gently, effectively and deeply support the body’s natural processes. It is not a time to thrash it, deprive it, force it. Let it encourage you to rest, listen to your body’s own healing capacity and adopt nurturing habits that cherish your total wellbeing.
For more on healthy detoxification and how to reduce your toxic load see 'How to reduce your toxic load'.