Doing a ‘detox' has become a major fad – one that while bringing in a lot of cha-ching for health celebs, may cost you more than money- but your wellness. I've had many new patients come to my medical practice needing repair after a detox went very wrong – causing them nutritional depletion, or worse – tumbling them head-long into a health crisis, for example, a thyroid problem because their body was overly taxed. Many of the detox plans you heal about, for example, drinking lemon and olive oil are not based on science and are really bollucks, while some can actually be dangerous, like coffee enemas, while also not being based on good science (you get more health bang from drinking the coffee than taking it per rectum). And some of the doses of herbs and supplements recommended can be harmful, too.
But unlike fad detoxes, detoxification is a real thing that your body does – naturally, every single day. Unfortunately, though,
While occasional detox diets are helpful for a reboot, detox is something we need to support our bodies with every single day, not just a couple of times each year. You see, we are exposed to an unprecedented number – and crazy combinations – of environmental toxins every single day. The Environmental Working Group has found that newborns already have nearly 300 environmental toxins in their blood at birth. That’s seriously scary!
So you can imagine by the time you hit your 20s and beyond, our bodies have been steeped in environmental chemicals!
These chemicals come from herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and artificial ingredients in our foods. They exist as pollutants in our air, water, cosmetics, medications, vaccinations, household cleaners, furnishings, cars – there are literally tens of thousands of them.
Not only that, we create toxic chemicals in our bodies from the process of breaking down the hormones and stress chemicals that our own bodies produce.
The good news is that your body is amazingly equipped with detoxification systems that have been evolving and improving over millions of years. Most of these are in your liver, but also require that you keep your bowels moving well each day to “take out the garbage” that the liver has processed. Your body has the mechanisms in place to keep you healthy – vibrant, in fact.
The bad news is that never before in the history of humanity have we been exposed to so many different individual and combinations of chemicals at once. You know how you can feel overwhelmed by life sometimes? Well, our bodies are overwhelmed by toxic loads and need some extra daily detox help.
How do I know this? As a Yale-trained MD and an environmental health scientist, one of my key areas of research is women’s and children’s health and environmental toxicity.
Also as a practicing Functional Medicine Physician, I see women and children day in and day out in my clinic who are suffering from health conditions that are associated with environmental chemical and hormonal detoxification problems including:
- Weight problems
- Loss of mental concentration and clarity (“brain fog”)
- Thyroid problems
- Blood sugar problems
- Joint pain
- Autoimmune conditions
- Uterine fibroids
- Cyclic breast pain
- Early puberty
- and Eczema, to name a few
In my medical practice, where I am able to do blood tests to see how effectively my patients are detoxifying, I find two common threads: many people are low in the natural chemicals they need to effectively detoxify environmental chemicals and hormones, and are overloaded with harmful toxins such as heavy metals, pesticide residues, BPA and more.
Two Simple Steps to Natural Detoxification
But true health, clear thinking, weight loss, and abundant energy are absolutely possible! They can be achieved with the same simple two-step process I share with my patients.
Here it is:
- Take Out the Bad = Minimize Toxin Exposure
- Add in the Good = Support Natural Detoxification
Not too complicated, right? I like EASY!
And the cool thing is that this is not a “diet.” It is a way of life that makes living easier because you feel better. And hey, we should all try to reduce our use of environmental toxins – it’s good for us and it’s good for the planet.
Take Out The Bad
I’ve never said this in print before, but honestly, I am almost 50 years old and there’s not a day in my life that goes by that someone doesn’t ask me if I’m 30. I’m not kidding. I have to tell patients I’m older than they think so they take me seriously in my practice!
It’s all because of the healthy lifestyle I’ve had for over 3 decades.
Here are my “rules”:
- Eat a wide variety of vital natural foods. Not junk. That simple. This way I avoid most of the agricultural and added chemicals that act as toxins in my body.
- Eat only organic meats and dairy, and follow the Environmental Working Group Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen which you can link to here.
- Use natural household cleaners, cosmetics, and body products. As women we apply more than 15 different products, many with a dozen or more chemicals, before we even leave the house in the morning. There are many fantastic natural cosmetics available to us now. Click here to learn more.
- Avoid unnecessary medications – use diet and natural remedies whenever possible before taking tylenol, ibuprofen, antibiotics, or hormonal treatments. Click here to detox your medicine cabinet and here or here to find a functional or integrative medicine physician who can help you with your health care more naturally.
- Don't smoke (I never have), keep alcohol to a minimum (less than 4 drinks/week, preferably red wine — I rarely ever drink)), and stress less (yes, I stress plenty, too — working on it!).
Add in the Good
To add in the good, all you need to know is which foods and herbs support and enhance your body’s detoxification pathways. And I’m going to make that easy for you with the information below. While there are many options, here’s my Top Ten Detox Hits List.
Simply add in some of these natural detoxifying foods and herbs every day, and if you’re taking out the bad, too, you’ll find that within days to weeks your energy, health, and mood are picking up! Taking a probiotic and adding fermented foods to your diet is a detox plus because they help provide the necessary microflora to help you make use of the nutrients in many of the foods and supplements below, especially the flax seeds and leafy greens. Healthy flora is an important ingredient in optimal detoxification.
Flax seeds contain lignans, which when broken down by healthy gut flora help you to bind and eliminate toxic by-products with your daily evacuation (magnesium citrate can help you get going daily if you’re not!). I recommend 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground seeds added to your whole grain cereal, morning shake, or on top of your salad daily. Just don’t heat the flaxseeds.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and Napa cabbage – all in the Brassicacae family – are the Queens of Greens. I eat them abundantly every day in stir fries, steamed, and in the case of broccoli and Brussels sprouts, even baked. Juicing is ok, but I think eating the veggies is optimal. At least 2 cups cooked of one or a combination DAILY. Greens contain a host of naturally occurring chemicals called glucosinolates, which break down into isothiocyanates (you don’t have to know this, but it’s fun to throw around big science words!) or ITCs, which bump up the volume on liver detox while giving your gut flora the best nutrition possible (yes, gut flora need good nutrition to flourish, too!). The fiber in them also helps you to have a good daily BM – which not only keeps you feeling peppy, but clears out the environmental crap. EAT GREENS!
Talk about awesome medicine for the body and deliciousness in life! All the berries are fantastic for you. Blueberries, red raspberries, strawberries (organic for these please!) and blackberries are my top go to’s. Looking for a healthy detox snack or dessert? Try ½ cup of mixed berries tossed with ½ teaspoon of chopped mint and 2 chopped squares of a dark chocolate bar! Click here for the full recipe.
Pomegranate has 3 times the antioxidant effects of green tea and red wine. It improves detoxification in the liver and helps keep cholesterol and blood sugar balanced. Take 2 ounces of unsweetened pomegranate juice concentrate in 8 ounces of still or sparkling water daily for a lovely natural “spritzer” that is safe even for diabetics because it reduces insulin resistance!
Olive oil, taken in amounts of 2-4 tablespoons daily, will not increase your weight and will improve your cholesterol, and will decrease isoprostanes, nasty little inflammatory chemicals that your body makes. Rich in naturally healthy phenols, olive oil gives a power boost to your body’s production of naturally occurring detox chemicals like glutathione. Olive oil, like the other foods and herbs listed here, can also help mitigate damage to your DNA because they create chemicals that scavenge free radicals, harmful little inflammatory forms of oxygen that get loose in our bodies as a result of toxins and detox problems.
Ok, I wouldn’t be The Women’s Doctor if I didn’t include dark chocolate. But I’m not including it just to make you like me! Dark chocolate really is good for you. In addition to improving mood and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, dark chocolate is a detox plus in your daily diet. Yes, you can eat a couple of ounces of dark chocolate every day – as long as it’s 72% dark or higher.
A spice that has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years, this bright yellow herb has become famous for its ability to support our natural detoxification processes. And rightly so! Curcumin, the most medicinally active part of the plant, helps the body slow its roll on breaking down toxic chemicals long enough for the body to be able to do it effectively and efficiently without causing you to build up what are called toxic intermediates when the two phases of liver detoxification are out of sync. It also boosts up your body’s natural anti-inflammatory production. It’s one of the herbs I use most in my practice, at a dose of 1000-2000 mg of curcumin extract daily. You can also use it in cooking or in your favorite shake, 2-10 grams of the powdered spice per day.
Green tea boosts liver detoxification, helping you to break down and get rid of toxins while acting as an antioxidant, putting out the fires of inflammation around your body. It can be taken as a tea, but in extract form it is a potent supplement for weight loss, hormonal balance, and detox. A typical daily dose is about 200 mg of green tea catechins, or 4-8 cups of green tea. If you are very sensitive to caffeine, this amount might cause you some side effects including insomnia and heart palpitations – if you experience those, try something different instead.
Comes from grapes, berries, and is found in red wine; has antioxidant effects that help with detoxification, improves detox in the liver and is also anti-inflammatory, which helps with everything from joint pain to menstrual cramps. You can get it from your diet by eating plenty of fresh berries, and you can take a supplement containing 10-25 mg of resveratrol daily.
Artichoke leaf extract
Supports liver detoxification and acts as an antioxidant, while increasing the amount and availability of natural detoxification chemicals produced in your body, especially in your liver. A typical dose is 320-640 mg artichoke leaf extract three times daily.