People often crave a detox as a way to change their lives. It may be a resolution, or just coming to terms with the fact that things are just NOT working. As a healthcare provider, I am always excited when someone gets to the point of “I need help.” Now we can begin the process of truly healing. The famous Hippocrates tells us, “Before you heal someone, ask him if he is willing to give up the things that made him sick.” Sometimes people are in agreement with their suffering, and someday they will make the change, but that may not be today. A person must be ready to make meaningful changes for true healing to occur.
That realization is half of the solution; the other half is the actual change. Many people feel a simple detox will solve all their problems. The reality is that habits got you to this place over time, so a three-day detox is not going to undo years and often decades of inflammatory and toxic accumulation. This is why I usually explain to people that the detox is a new beginning, not a reset so that you can go back to the old patterns that produced your issues in the first place. Let’s detail what detoxing actually means and how to do it in a way that restarts your health.
My first rule for a detox is to understand the proverb, “Don’t lock the criminal in the house.” Weight loss, fat burning, liver, gallbladder, and kidney detoxes all share a basic requirement–the ability to eliminate the toxicity that is going to be uncovered. In Naturopathic Medicine, we study the five basic routes of elimination for the body or the “emunctories”: digestion, urination, exhaling, sweating, and being able to verbalize your feelings (the emotional emunctory).
You can’t detox if you don’t have at least one daily bowel movement that isn’t loose or watery. If you have any signs of irritable bowel – constipation, loose stool, gas, bloating, pain, or reflux, then you MUST resolve and heal this process before you can even think about detoxing.
Urinary issues present with pain, urinary hesitancy, and feeling like your bladder won’t empty fully. You need to rule out urinary tract infection or prostate issues before detoxing. In addition, water is an essential carrier for toxins out of the body. We always recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces. For a 150 pound person, this is 75 ounces, or about 2.5 liters/quarts. Any detox requires A LOT of water.
We also get rid of toxins when we breathe out; so any residual lung infection, asthma, or chronic cough must be cleared. This usually involves addressing smoking/vaping. I have worked with smokers during a detox, but it was usually in conjunction with reducing and eliminating the tobacco.
Anhidrosis is the inability to sweat and, although rare, is surprisingly easy to fix. You need epinephrine to stimulate the process of sweating. L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that stabilizes the adrenaline pathway. Sometimes, you need to couple it with methylated (activated) B vitamins.
- Verbalizing your feelings
Lastly, the emotional emunctory is arguably the most important. You need to be able to verbalize when something is bothering you. Many people report irritability, brain fog, even low mood as they are going through a particularly intense time of a detox. Being able to verbalize emotions is essential to this process. If we can’t talk about our feelings, then anxious and depressive cycles are stuck within. Sleep is also important for brain function and emotional health. We would not advise skimping on sleep–seven and a half hours minimum is a basic human need. Your liver works a lot at night, so less than seven hours of sleep inhibits detox. In addition, sleep is pivotal to emotional regulation.
The main liver pathways of detoxification are the famous Phase I and Phase II. When going through any cleanse or detox, the liver is going to be working these main two pathways in a major way.
Phase I pathway utilizes a set of enzymes called cytochrome P450. These change the chemistry of things so that they can be easily eliminated via water. It is a bit like rinsing the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Remember that water is critical!? Dehydration really inhibits this pathway. There are also very important cofactors that support the P450 enzymes – B2, B3, B6, B9, and B12. Glutathione, branched chain amino acids, and flavonoids are also supportive of this pathway. A juice cleanse (such as Peoples’ new 3-day cleanse) is actually a great detox because it provides most of these B vitamins, antioxidants, and bioflavonoids. You can always supplement with B12, the branched chain amino acids, and glutathione.
Phase II pathway involves a process called conjugation, which means various chemical “anchors” are used to grab things and get them out of the body, sort of like scrubbing the dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. Well known “scrubbers” are glucuronidation, acetylation, and sulfation. The purpose of this pathway is to further increase the water-solubility of a substance for elimination, just using different chemistry. (Wen H, Yang HJ, An YJ, et al. Enhanced phase II detoxification contributes to beneficial effects of dietary restriction as revealed by multi-platform metabolomics studies. Mol Cell Proteomics. 2013;12(3):575-586. doi:10.1074/mcp.M112.021352)
Some people have a “detox reaction” during which they experience headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, chills, nausea, even skin rashes and mild fever. This happens because phase I and II systems are unbalanced and metabolic toxins are not being eliminated optimally. Typically phase II is overloaded and more scrubbers and water need to be added.
Some very supportive amino acids and vitamins that can be taken to remedy the detox reactions are cysteine, methylated B vitamins, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Antioxidants like Vitamin C are particularly useful to “recharge” the chemical reactions involved in this detox pathway. You will often get more miles out of your liver support (especially glutathione) by simply adding Vitamin C.
A very simple herb that supports phase II detoxification and can be given in the form of tea or capsules is milk thistle. I like using Super Milk Thistle Plus by Integrative Therapeutics as a quality milk thistle supplement. Increasing support for phase II often stops the “detox reactions.”
Remember, detoxing is just a reset. For a long term fix, habits will have to change after the detox is finished. You simply cannot go back to the inflammatory living that got you to the pathology you are trying to change. With the proper help and determination to forge new habits, you can detox to a new you!
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