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Every year about this time, the telltale signs of spring start to emerge and remind us that the long winter is over and we can look forward to getting back to many of our outdoor activities. If you’re like me, you’re probably noticing that your yard and garden need a bit of attention. After being buried in snow like we’ve had this year in Utah, Tammie and I are excited to clean up the outside of our home, clean the garage floor from all of the dirt and grime from melting snow and salt from our cars, and put away the snow shovels and snow blower. It’s a nice rite of passage of the seasons.
I want to draw a parallel to our health. Each of us takes showers or bathes to wash the outside of our bodies. Have you ever stopped to wonder why we don’t pay more attention to cleansing the inside of our bodies?
Sure, we don’t really get the same kind of “dirt” on the inside and most of us didn’t grow up thinking about detoxification or cleansing. For most of us, it just wasn’t part of our education. Even so, you would have to admit that since most systems and machines work better if they get regular maintenance and cleaning, it might make sense for our bodies right?
Whenever I take my car in for an oil change they replace the oil filter and check the air filter. Why? Well, most of us know that if the filters are too dirty or mucked up, it will decrease the performance of the car. With that simple analogy in mind, I want to help you understand why doing a periodic detoxification program or “cleanse” can make a critical difference in how your body “performs” every day.
I realize that if I’m going to ever persuade someone to focus on this aspect of health maintenance, I’m going to have to bust a few pervasive myths first.
We each may have some interesting pre-conceived ideas about detoxification. It is my intention to speak clearly about what detox is and what it isn’t. I’m going to set the record straight and remove the “mystery” about it. I want to help you see that detoxification isn’t weird at all. In fact, it is a pretty simple process that is completely mainstream and desperately needed by nearly all of us.
I also want to show you that it isn’t that scary or difficult to do. Just a few key behaviors that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine can make a big difference in how you feel every day.
Myth #1 –
“I don’t have any major health problems so I’m sure I don’t need to worry about cleansing or detoxing. This is only for weird ‘new age’ health people who are trying to scare me. There really isn’t much science to support it.”
Truth – This myth really speaks to the question – “why do I need to detox?” Is detox really only for those super sick people, or is it for all of us?
When I was growing up I can remember learning in school that our genes determined our health. At the time the scientific establishment had yet to successfully map out the human genome so they were working on the assumption that once they had mapped out the genetics of humans, they would be able to find a genetic cause for all diseases.
Unfortunately, by the time the human genome was mapped, they discovered that there aren’t even enough genes to program all of the proteins that our bodies make, let alone enough to control for all of the variables in human health. They were left scratching their heads wondering what was in control of our health.
What the researchers have discovered is that a multitude of environmental and behavioral factors are responsible for literally “turning on” or “turning off” the expression of our genetic information. Enter the science of “epigenetics”. In Latin, the prefix “epi” means “above” so the word epigenetics is the study of the things that are “above” genes in terms of controlling our biology. It is the health of the environment and the lifestyle that determines our health by changing our genetic output. In this light, we see that behaviors like eating fresh, organic, nutrient-dense food and using green, non-toxic cleaning and personal care products can have a profound effect on maintaining our health and extending our lifespan.
This new line of thinking changes the game completely. Instead of blaming things that we have no control over (our inherited genes), we can focus our attention on things that we have some influence over. Even though we cannot change the global environment by ourselves, we can make changes to our own personal environment by making better choices each day.
One of the leaders in the new science of the role of nutrition in epigenetics is Dr. Jeffery Bland Ph.D. In his book, Genetic Nutritioneering he states,
“The way we age, whether prematurely or not, and whether or not we get sick, is to a considerable extent, under our control. Diet, specific nutrients, exercise, stress, lifestyle practices, and the environment alter the way our genes are expressed. The decisions we make about how to live and what to eat wash over our genes to give rise to, delay, or prevent the diseases of aging. We carry susceptibility in our genes, not predetermined disease. This new story frames the new concept of healthy aging.”
This new awareness is paving a new path toward healthy aging; one that is empowering to the patient and positions the doctor as a guide and a coach instead of a drug pusher.
Dr. Bland states that
“The latest scientific discoveries are showing us the path toward healthy aging. The milestones thus far discovered include proper balance of insulin, reduction of inflammation, control of oxidative stress, balancing sex hormones and stress hormones, improving detoxification, and properly controlling the genetic messages and the way they are read.”
Another leader in environmental health, Dr. Walter Crinnion states that
“Today’s physicians are faced with a dilemma unlike any previously encountered: the challenge of patients non-responsive to regular therapies because of internal burdens of multiple toxic environmental compounds. This environmental poison is no longer confined to poorly protected workers in toxic industries; but affects all who breathe, eat, and drink, as these are now potentially toxic activities.”
So what is a Toxin?
Well, the simple definition is that a toxin is any compound that has a detrimental effect on cellular function or structure. Some examples you might have heard of include:
- Heavy Metals: Lead, Mercury, Aluminum, Cadmium, Copper etc.
- Chemicals: solvents, cleaning materials, pesticides, food additives
- Microbial compounds: endotoxins, exotoxins, toxic amines etc.
Our Toxic World
When Dr. Crinnion states that we are all now at risk for exposure to dangerous chemical toxins it might sound a bit far-fetched to some people. But did you know that you and I are being exposed to over 80,000 man-made chemicals in our environment and that more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are pumped into the environment each year?
One of the biggest sources comes from the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides that are sprayed on crops every year in the U.S. That number is continuing to increase. In fact, the industry is creating an additional 2,500 new chemicals every year. While you might suspect that each of these chemicals is carefully screened for any danger to humanity the truth is that only 5% of these chemicals have been evaluated for human toxicity.
We are exposed to these toxins on a daily basis from our environment and as Dr. Crinnion stated, they are everywhere. We are breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water, and eating foods sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Our homes are full of materials that are outgassing toxins as well. We have V.O.C.s (Volatile Organic compounds) in our paints, carpets, and the household cleaners that are under our kitchen sinks. The fabrics on our couches, drapes, and other furniture are saturated with flame-retardants that we absorb into our bodies.
We are all exposed to hormone-disrupting BPA (Bis-Phenol A) chemicals in the plastics we use and the magazine papers we touch. Many of us use Teflon non-stick cooking pans that are treated with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. We get mercury from the fillings in our teeth and the seafood we consume and we eat and drink Acrylamide in our cooked carbs and coffee.
If that weren’t enough, our own bodies are constantly creating internal toxicity as they go about their normal functions. Cells create waste products and are exposed to oxidative stress. We are exposed to harmful bacteria, molds, yeast, and parasites that compromise our digestive system and create internal toxins.
All of this toxicity adds up to a level of burden that overwhelms our body’s natural detoxification capacity leading to a myriad of symptoms.
- Memory problems
- Brain Fog
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
- Autoimmune disease
- Chronic Fatigue
- Learning disorders
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Parkinson’s Disease
A careful review of that partial list reveals something very important. None of those conditions come on quickly. They are all symptoms that start slowly and build over time. You see, when it comes to toxins, the vast majority of us won’t have a single heavy dose of anything. Our exposures are small and insignificant if viewed as single events but the damage is done as they accumulate and linger for years and years.
In short, we are all affected by toxins. Our bodies are all suffering to some level with this burden and it is affecting how you function, even if you aren’t aware of it yet.
Myth #2 –
“I heard that doing a detox program or a cleanse is really extreme. Someone said that I have to drink nothing but lemon water and maple syrup for days on end. There is no way I could do that and still function.”
Truth – A couple of decades ago there was a brief fad where people were into all sorts of extreme health habits that were advertised as “cleanses”. Well, we’ve come a long way and now we understand a great deal more about the process of detoxification than those early adopters of the detox movement.
So What is Detoxification?
The fancy, scientific definition states that “Detoxification is the reduction and chemical alteration of the toxic properties of a poisonous substance, which, when taken into the body by ingestion, inhalation, injection or absorption, causes damage to the structure and interferes or disturbs normal physiologic functions.”
What?? Let’s break that down a bit. In short, our bodies have to transform dangerous chemicals into safe chemicals so that we can get rid of them. We have amazing built-in mechanisms to do this work but for most of us, those systems are running on overload and can’t keep up with the demand. True detoxification is a natural process that is taking place every minute of every day. The question is, “How efficiently and effectively is your body working?”
The follow-up question to that would be, “How can I increase my ability to clean house?”
Detoxification is a nutrient-dependent process. In other words, we all need key nutrients available for our detoxification organs, like our liver, to clean out our bloodstream and eliminate these things. If we aren’t detoxifying well it makes sense that we need to add more of these nutrients to our body.
Science has identified over 20 key nutrients that are required for our bodies to detox including high levels of B vitamins, branch chained amino acids, flavonoids, anti-oxidants, fats, vitamins A, C, and E, Coenzyme Q10, important phytonutrients from garlic, onion and cruciferous veggies, herbs, as well as adequate amounts of key minerals like manganese, zinc, and selenium.
We’ll come back to this list as we discuss the 3 Keys to an effective detox but suffice it to say here that ANY smart detox program will focus on increasing nutritional density in the diet and there is no way to do that by drinking lemon water and maple syrup.
Myth #3 –
“I’ve heard that doing a detox program is a surefire way to feel absolutely awful. If I’m going to feel bad while I do this there is no way I’ll stick with it.”
Truth – As I alluded to in the previous myth bust, lots of people have done all sorts of extreme things in the name of detoxification. When we understand more about the internal process we can create a more complete approach and avoid lots of horror stories.
Think of detoxification as a multi-step process – kind of like taking out the garbage at your house. The first step is to go around to all of the rooms that have garbage cans and empty the small garbage cans into one larger can or bag. In essence, we are “concentrating” all of the garbage into one place. When we’ve got all of the garbage in one bag, we can take it outside to the large garbage can. We add to this large garbage can every day or two but then once per week, we take the can out to the street and the sanitation department comes and takes it away to the city dump.
What would happen if we just kept collecting the garbage in our homes but never actually took it out to the street? It would add up and become a really stinky mess, wouldn’t it?
In like manner, if we are trying to detoxify our bodies, our liver has to go through multiple steps and chemical conversions to actually take the toxins and turn them into things that can be removed.
Phase I, II, and III Detoxification
Our livers are the main chemical factories in our bodies. They are busy performing over 500 different chemical reactions to keep us alive and well. They are responsible for the bulk of detoxification in our bodies and they do this through a variety of complex reactions. In an attempt to simplify things, practitioners and researchers have divided those complex processes into 2 primary phases.
In Phase I of detoxification, our liver takes a toxin and utilizes key nutrients to convert them into what are called “intermediary” chemicals. These are actually more concentrated and toxic chemicals than what they started out as.
In Phase II the body utilizes other nutrients to convert these “intermediary” chemicals into water-soluble forms that can be eliminated through the bowel and kidney.
Phase III detoxification primarily takes place in our small intestines. Not to get too technical on you here but it turns out that there is a class of protein compounds that line the small intestine called “antiporters” that have the ability to recognize toxins that have been absorbed into the bloodstream from our food and quickly pump them back into the gut so that they can be removed. I like to think of them as security guards that search for the hoodlums that have snuck past the routine security checkpoints and throw them back out on the streets.
If that wasn’t cool enough for you, it turns out that even the healthy microbes that we have in our digestive tracts can help break down toxins for us. Maintaining healthy levels of “probiotics” in our gut can therefore be an effective force in cleansing our bodies.
So what is the point of all of this information? Simple. If you don’t look at detoxification as a holistic process, it is very likely that you will only stir up toxins and not really remove them and that leads to people feeling “yucky” during the process.
So if detox is so important and we can’t trust the incomplete approaches of the past, what are we to do?
Key 1 – Diet is King. Supplements are Queen.
We’ve already pointed out that detox is a nutrient-driven process. If we are struggling to keep up with the toxic burden on our bodies, it is only logical that we need additional support of these key nutrients and that means we need a diet upgrade.
In addition, many of us are regularly putting things into our bodies that are toxins in their own right. How would we expect to detoxify if we are in a never-ending process of “toxifying”?
So when it comes to a “detox” diet we need to focus on 3 things.
1 – Nutrient-dense diet. A detox diet doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. In fact, it should be loaded with a wide variety of delicious foods. Organic meats, colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and legumes can all be part of the plan. The key is to make sure that as much as possible you are choosing organic sources.
- Inflammation from foods. Due to a host of factors, many of us are dealing with foods in our diet that actually promote inflammation throughout our bodies and specifically our GI system.
Most notorious of all are foods like gluten, dairy, sugar, and even vegetables in the nightshade family. It is wise to avoid these foods while on a cleansing program. In fact, many times people discover that these foods have been the source of a host of their symptoms and they only figure it out after they have eliminated them and then gradually reintroduced them.
- Eating “real food”. Let’s face it, most of what the average person in the Western world puts in their mouths has been processed to the max. I can imagine my great-grandparents looking at some of these man-made foods with shock and wonder in their eyes. A detox diet is simple. We want to avoid man-made “Frankenfoods” and get back to basics. You should be able to quickly identify every ingredient in your meals and each meal should be something that you make yourself or theoretically could make for yourself.
What about supplements? Well, it turns out they are a very important delivery system for the added nutrients that we are depleted in. The nutritional industry is not the safest marketplace since it doesn’t have any federal regulations that oversee quality and safety so despite the fact that the nutritional science is very strong, I recommend only working with professional-grade products from physicians and pharmacies.
Many of the top manufacturers produce supplement packs that are custom created to target the 20 nutrients that are needed for detoxification. In addition, adding a quality digestive enzyme and probiotic to the mix will go a long way to make sure that you’re actually getting rid of the stored toxins in your body.
Key 2 – Detox your Immediate Environment
Becoming educated about the source of environmental toxins around our homes is important. While we rarely can impact the global environment, we can gradually shift our home and office environment. Simple things like switching out your chemical-laden cleaning products, soaps and laundry detergents for “green” options can be a start.
You might be surprised to know that the average adult American woman puts 12 different personal care products with over 168 unique ingredients on their body every day. Men on average use 6 products with 85 chemicals every day.
The personal care product industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US. As consumers, we are seduced on a daily basis by the intoxicating aromas, flashy packaging, and enticing promises of everlasting youth and beauty that these products offer. But there is an ugly side to the personal care product industry as well. When it comes to toxins, what we put on our bodies may be worse than what we put in them.
When we ingest toxins, our stomach acids and digestive enzymes have a chance to affect them in what is called “first pass” detoxification. Not so with our skin. When these chemicals are absorbed through the skin they pass right into our bloodstream without any filtering.
Just like household cleaning products, there are healthier options for personal care products like toothpaste, deodorants, shampoos, and makeup. In fact, many of these products can be made at home. We’ve replaced virtually all of our products with homemade options or products from health-conscious companies and we actually like how they work even better than the “regular” stuff.
Key #3 – Think about the seasons
We all want our bodies to be prime detoxifying machines at all times of the year and that is a real possibility if we make small, sustainable shifts towards a healthier lifestyle. It makes sense to step up our efforts from time to time to really focus on it.
It’s kind of like trying to maintain a clean home. At my house, we try to tidy up every day but even with the daily efforts, we find that we need to do some “chores” like vacuuming and dusting every week. But even that isn’t enough to get to all of the nooks and crannies of the house so every fall and spring we devote some time to doing a really “deep” clean. We move the furniture and vacuum, wash the walls, dust the blinds, wash the windows inside and out, you get the idea. Can you see the parallels that could apply to our health?
Many experts suggest that there may even be cycles in nature we can take advantage of when it comes to detoxification. They recommend taking a few weeks during the spring and fall to focus on cleansing the gut and liver. We have found that this is a wonderful recipe for health and vitality.
Improved Health is Right Around the Corner
Many people have tried and failed at incomplete and dangerous attempts to detoxify themselves. Just follow the basics listed below and you’ve got a wonderful head start.
- Make sure that your diet is full of healthy, organic fruits and veggies, lean grass-fed and organic meats, and healthy natural fats and oils.
- Work hard to eliminate processed, man-made foods as well as those that tend to create more inflammation like gluten, dairy, and sugar.
- Add in the critical supplements and herbs that support the liver and gut to heal.
- Switch your home cleaners and personal care products for safer, more natural options.
- Take advantage of the rhythms of nature and create a habit of focusing on detox every 6 months or so.
- Drink lots of pure water and take the opportunity to try to reduce your overall stress levels.
If you are ready to engage in the powerful process of detoxification, and you don’t want to try to figure it all out on your own, we’ve developed an amazing program to help you get a healthier, less toxic body.
The IdealBody Cleanse is a 21-day program, complete with meal plans, recipes, shopping lists, and additional modalities to assist in detoxification. We also include mental and spiritual tools to help get your entire body in.
You can learn more about the IdealBody Cleanse process at duggarwellness.com/ideal-body-cleanse/
If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to connect with us on our social media, and don’t forget, we are still offering free Health Strategy Sessions to those who are interested in working with us directly.
Okay, that was a lot of information for today. I hope that it wasn’t overwhelming and depressing to know just what a pickle we’re in with our toxic environment. There are some powerful actions we can take to make a difference in our own lives and in our communities so, until next time, let’s go out there and do good in the world today.
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Disclaimer: This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical care by a licensed practitioner. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help on your journey, we recommend that you seek out a qualified functional medicine practitioner.