Nowadays, you will often hear people referring to the fact that they are "on a detox". This might be because they have enjoyed a period of over-indulgence, such as Christmas and New Year, or may simply be a means of "spring cleaning" their body.
Either way, many people feel that they get a much-needed boost from a period of detoxification, including support for their immune system, healthy weight management, clearer skin, improved digestion, better concentration, more stable moods, higher energy levels and more.
While body detox may seem to many to be just another trendy fad, in fact, its potential health benefits have been recognised down through the ages.
All of the long-established dietary and natural therapies, for example, have long agreed that for good health and vitality the system must be cleansed on a regular basis to help eliminate accumulated toxins and keep an alkaline pH in the blood. The body can then once again deal effectively with the important processes of repair and healing. In other words, your batteries are re-charged!
We live in a modern age of industry and technology, which has a direct impact on the environment and food chain. As a result, much of our air, food and water contains highly toxic chemicals, pollutants and other contaminants. We are exposed to ever-increasing levels on a daily basis and our bodies have to find a way to cope with these, to keep us healthy and functioning well.
The liver is the body’s primary detoxification organ - each and every toxin we take in ends up here. But it actually works very closely with a group of detoxification systems, and its primary role is to convert toxins into forms more easily excreted by the other organs that make up these systems. For example:-
The digestive system : The liver's main function in the digestive system is to process the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine. Bile from the liver secreted into the small intestine also plays an important role in digesting fat. Without efficient digestion, there can be fermentation in the stomach and small intestine, and then putrefaction in the colon. Over the years, accumulated waste can have a significant impact on toxic load and bacterial activity - both in the gut and around the body. As a major entry-point for waste, toxins, pollutants and pathogens (such as harmful bacteria, yeasts and parasites), the digestive tract - and the colon more particularly - is usually considered a good place to start for body detoxification. Nutritional medicine places great emphasis on gastrointestinal health in terms of the efficiency of our liver, lymphatic system and immune system.
The urinary system : The kidneys receive toxins that have been broken down and made water soluble by the liver, such as the end products of medications, organic chemicals, yeast and hormones.
The lymphatic system : This invaluable, but often forgotten, system filters the bloodstream of toxins and waste and acts like a garbage collection service. It consists of lymph (a type of fluid), lymphocytes (white blood cells that attack bacteria), lymph vessels (which carry the liquid), lymph nodes (which house the white blood cells), tonsils, the thymus gland, Peyer's patches of the intestines, and the spleen. Unlike blood, which is pumped around by the heart, lymph relies on three activities to keep it moving: (i) contractions of smooth muscle in the lymph vessel walls; (ii) contractions of the skeletal muscles during exercise or daily activities; and (iii) movements of the chest during breathing. This is why exercise and deep breathing are so important for body cleansing and detoxification.
The respiratory system : Gas exchange is the main function of the lungs; inhaled oxygen is supplied to the blood and carbon dioxide is exhaled. The respiratory system has a number of mechanisms to reduce the amount of toxins entering the body. For example, the hairs in our noses trap dust and pollutants, which are expelled when we blow them.
The skin : This is actually our largest organ of elimination and, if working efficiently, can excrete a significant amount of water soluble toxins. Sweat has a similar composition to urine and is an important detoxification fluid - yet another reason why exercise is so important for detoxification.
The human body is best able to recognise and make use of natural substances, such as nutrients from fruit, vegetables and other whole foods. Such nutrients are naturally alkalising, cleansing and protective, and can be used by the body to fuel its detoxification, repairing and healing processes.
By contrast, synthetic "man-made" substances will almost always induce some form of response from the immune system, require processing by the detox systems and thereby place strain on the body.
For the most part, our bodies are more than capable of dealing with the range of toxins they are exposed to on a daily basis. However, problems can arise if nutritional requirements are not being fully met or if the level of toxins becomes too high.
For example, the liver has two distinct detoxification processes or "pathways" that it needs to go through in order to convert toxins into waste products that can then be safely eliminated from the body. Each of these stages involves a number of very specific nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, glutathione, antioxidants, carotenoids, amino acids (such as glutamine), and sulphurated phyto-chemicals (such as those found in garlic and cruciferous vegetables).
If the detoxification organs and systems are not functioning efficiently, because of nutritional deficiencies, a high toxic load, or both, our bodies are likely to let us know! Common signs of a system overloaded with toxins include abdominal bloating, nausea, coated tongue, bad breath, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, body odour, overheating, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), weight issues, frequent headaches, sore joints, tense muscles and skin conditions (such as acne, eczema and psoriasis).
In these circumstances, you may decide to detox to help lessen the strain on your body and cleanse your system.
There are many different types of detoxification programmes out there - diet based, supplement based, colonic hydrotherapy and more. Of course, the broad aim is always to eliminate toxins that have accumulated over time, but the specific programme you choose will, to a large extent, depend on the particular system or systems that you are targeting. You may end up using more than one programme at a time. For example, colonic hydrotherapy plus complementary supplementation.
Based on how you are feeling, you may decide that a particular part of your body is most burdened. For example, the digestive system - in which case you may opt for a colon cleanse. However, it is worth noting that if one organ or system is under strain, others will be impacted too because of the way that they all work together. For this reason, many people opt for a full body detox once or twice a year, with more targeted detoxification on a more regular basis.
Whichever you choose, always remember to consult your doctor or a qualified health practitioner before changing your diet or taking supplements, particularly if you are on medication, pregnant or unwell.
Most good detoxification programmes will advocate a common-sense approach to both diet and lifestyle changes, such as a sensible eating plan, taking regular exercise, drinking pure water etc. Think twice about anything that sounds too drastic. It is always worth talking to a professional if you are unsure, particularly as they may be able to assist you with a tailored meal plan and supplements programme