The Detox Dilemma

IT’S….TRENDING

I recently overheard a conversation between two women. It went something like this:

Woman 1: “I have been feeling (names a few symptoms) for months and so I tried this (names a few remedies) but nothing changed. I’ve been to the doctor and he wants to run a couple of tests. I’m just tired of it. I feel like I’ve tried everything.”

Woman 2: “I have a friend who had the same symptoms and she tried this (specific) cleanse for your (body organ name). You take this and this (naming ingredients) for like 7-10 days and it completely got rid of her (symptom).

Woman 1: “Shut up... Really? That would be so great.”

Woman 2: “You should think about it. It could really help. My friend said she found it on Pinterest…..”

I got a text from a client/friend a couple of months ago asking what my thoughts were on this detox stuff were and shared a link with me. He said that he wanted my opinion before he tried it and that he’s never been “a detox guy.” He sent me a link to check out. The link took me to a video of a guy showing the “how to” of detox-hacking with a concoction of various ingredients with the goal of creating a more alkaline body. After watching the video, I texted my client/friend that the word detox has become a marketing word that happens to be trending. He replied that he completely agreed, having received about a dozen or so emails himself from the guy promoting his new detox-hack e-book.

Over the last few years, it seems that “new” cleanses and detoxes are popping up everywhere to help people. Some celebrity named Feyonce’ does this one; this company sells that one; this blog or website promotes this fruit cleanse; ancient Asian cultures used this one, etc. Then there’s Ayurveda. It’s in the tabloids, social media…it’s inescapable. It’s….trending (gasp).

DETOX DEFINED

What is a “detox”? Detoxification is a process whereby through a specific diet or nutritional protocol (sometimes including dietary supplements and drastic caloric restriction) the body will purge itself of “toxins,” (which are never specifically named nor defined) and other chemicals that are preventing fat loss or other cellular garbage that are thought to cause a variety of maladies in the body. Some detoxes involve fasting, or just drinking liquids. Others allow some foods, like fruits and vegetables. They typically are short diets -- they're not a way of eating you can stick with in the long run. If the goal is weight loss, a detox diet might help you drop a few pounds, but you’ll likely just gain it back. I’ll explain that later on. First, let’s check out the body’s natural detoxifier: the liver.

LIVER FIX

The liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of the belly. Weighing about 3 pounds, the liver is reddish-brown in color and feels rubbery to the touch. Normally you can't feel the liver, because it's protected by the rib cage.

The liver has two large sections, called the right and the left lobes. The gallbladder sits under the liver, along with parts of the pancreas and intestines. The liver and these organs work together to digest, absorb, and process food. The liver makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs.

The liver's main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. There’s another, less “popular” reason why the liver should be a top priority: a healthy liver burns more body fat. The liver is a major fat burning organ because it carries fat into the small intestine through bile where it then gets taken out of the body by bowel action. There it is--detoxification. But, if it’s forced to constantly clear out excess metabolic and cellular garbage that has to be filtered it has a more difficult time doing the fat metabolizing part. So, from both a health and body composition perspective, keeping your liver running at maximum efficiency makes complete sense.

An important side note: during this process of detoxification and elimination of waste free-radicals are produced. Antioxidants like Alpha Lipoic Acid, vitamins A and E found in red palm oil and the selenium from Brazil nuts can help to counter the effects of free-radicals as a defensive nutritional strategy.

SMOOTHE OPERATER

Here’s how to keep that liver functioning optimally:

Avoid the Trifecta of Doom: trans-fats, commercial vegetable oils high in omega 6, and excessive sugar. Simply minimizing consumption of these three and you be light years ahead of the pack.

Consume Insoluble Fiber: This is found in the seeds and skins of fruit (so always eat your peels) as well as whole-wheat bread and brown rice. Insoluble fiber absorbs water in your digestive tract and builds up stool bulk, helping it move quicker through the digestive system. Without this insoluble fiber, food can move so slowly that it literally starts to rot in your intestine. A healthy fiber intake can help prevent recirculation of bile (known as “enterohepatic circulation”), fat and toxins back into the liver from the gut/small intestine from happening as it can transport the waste out of your body so it’s not recirculated.

Eat organic whole eggs: Whole eggs are loaded with the sulfur-based amino acids cysteine, methionine, and taurine. These help the liver to regulate bile production. They also act as a carrier to help “take out the trash” so to speak. Egg yolks are also loaded with phosphatidylcholine, which is a great nutrient for overall liver health. It helps to prevent fatty liver and helps maintain gall bladder function by the transportation of fats throughout the blood stream.

Eat Kale: Kale is an awesome, antioxidant power-packed veggie, and one of my faves to throw into a salad. It contains sulforaphane which is used to help convert toxins into non-toxic waste for elimination.

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS….

Lemon juice contains as specific phytochemical called d-limonene, which acts as a liver stimulant and aids in digestion by clearing the detoxification pathways making the liver more efficient at producing and excreting more bile.

D-limonene is found in the essential oils of citrus fruits and many other plant species and has been shown in animal studies to be cancer protective. The theory is that limonene’s protective effects are due to its being a strong inducer of liver detoxification enzymes that neutralize carcinogens.


Limonene also promotes the health of the GST (Glutathione S-transferase) system in the liver and small intestine, decreasing the negative effects of carcinogens. Another interesting fact is that d-limonene is a solvent of cholesterol, so it’s been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones.

The best way to use lemon juice appears to be in the mornings, when our bodies are in a natural cleansing phase. Use the juice of a fresh lemon in a cup of hot water and the lemon juice should be 100% real, namely freshly squeezed, not “from concentrate”(—I’ve tried it, lol). Actually, consuming anything sour makes the liver and gallbladder get rid of toxins, so real lime juice can also work. I do it personally and have recommended my clients do the same.

Mix the juice of half a lemon with warm water. Cold water causes vasoconstriction in the stomach, resulting in less blood flow to the area, whereas warm water cause vasodilation and will help increase metabolic rate.

TO DETOX…OR NOT TO DETOX?

If weight loss is your goal, it may work temporarily. Anytime you limit your food intake, AKA a caloric deficit, especially that drastically, you will lose some weight. Sounds great, right? BUT at what cost? The cost is: you will lose muscle mass. Muscle is the Fountain of Youth. The biological age clock. As we age, we naturally lose the ability to retain and build muscle. The more you retain, the younger you are, in essence. Losing muscle is like putting the brakes on your metabolism. These diets put you at risk for nutritional deficiencies, too. Also, you will likely gain the weight back really quickly once you start eating normally. Fat gain ensues and you’ve become skinny fat—a smaller you, with more fat than muscle than you had to begin with. We won’t even go into the hormonal havoc caused. Detoxes have almost become a socially acceptable form of anorexia. In the end, you really haven’t accomplished anything, and it’s certainly not a healthy approach.

If your goal is to detox your system, don’t waste your time or money. The truth is that your body (including your skin, liver, lymphatic system and kidneys) is an expert at getting rid of toxins no matter what you eat. True, toxins do exist, but they’re associated with alcohol, drugs/ medications, and/or exposure to heavy metals or poisons. Toxins don’t build up in your liverkidneys, or any other part of your body, and you’re not going to get rid of them with the latest detox wonder tea. Avoid diets that promise to detox your liver with supplements or “cleanse” whatever the diet determines needs washing out.

The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrites said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” The only type of “detox diet” that is worthwhile is one that is focused on nutrient-dense, whole-foods. This is the best approach and your best bet to getting your body in tip-top shape while maintaining health. Combining this approach with tracking caloric intake for your needs and goals will set you up for long-term success. 

References:

enterohepatic recirculation. (n.d.) McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. (2002). Retrieved November 19 2016 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/enterohepatic+recirculation

Gardner, A., & Zelman, K. M., MPH, RD, LD. (2015, July 23). Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: What’s the Difference? Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/insoluble-soluble-fiber  

Hoffman, M., MD. (n.d.). Human Anatomy. Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/picture-of-the-liver#1

Luoma, T. (2015, October 01). 7 Lies About Women's Fitness & Diet. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from https://www.t-nation.com/training/7-lies-about-womens-fitness-diet

Meadows, J. (11, February 16). Liver Let Die. Retrieved November, 2016, from https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/liver-let-die

Mercola, J., Dr. (2011, September 02). Another Reason to Ignore the Warnings About Eggs. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/02/why-does-this-commonly-vilified-food-actually-prevent-heart-disease-and-cancer.aspx#!

Ware, M., RDN, LD, & Butler, N., RD, LD. (2016, October 06). Lemons: Health Benefits, Nutrition, Research. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

Zelman, K. M., MPH, RD, LD. (2016, March 8). The Truth About Detox Diets. Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/detox-diets

Daniel Saunders