Keeping It Clean

We are already neck deep in holiday eating, and the extended forecast calls for seasonal gluttony, gluttony and more gluttony. While eating in moderation is advised, we might as well enjoy ourselves, and start thinking about how we’re going to shed a few pounds, exercise more or generally focus on maintaining or improving our personal health in 2018.

One process that gets a lot of attention is detoxification, or using a “cleansing diet” to rid ourselves of unwelcome compounds. Detoxification is performed naturally, 24/7, utilizing important nutrients from our diet. Our bodies transform molecules, or toxins, that need to be removed from the body. They fall into two main categories: toxins made in the body as byproducts of regular metabolism (endotoxins), and those that come from outside the body and are introduced to the system by eating, drinking, breathing or those absorbed through the skin (exotoxins).

Endotoxins include compounds such as lactic acid, urea and waste products from microbes in the gut. Exotoxins include environmental toxins and pollutants, pesticides, mercury in seafood, lead from car exhaust and air pollution, chemicals in tobacco smoke, dioxin in feminine care products, phthalates from plastic and parabens from lotions and cosmetics.

Detoxification also is the process by which medications are metabolized, then excreted. Because toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted from the body through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Our ability to detoxify varies and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, health status and genetic factors.

But, like many other bodily systems, too much “in” and not enough “out” can throw off our gastrointestinal balance, exceeding the body’s ability to excrete toxins. When this occurs, the toxins may be stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone, negatively affecting health.

How to detoxify

Detoxification protocol recommends removing processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat. Instead, we should try and eat organically grown vegetables, fruit, whole nonglutenous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein.

Fasting, which seems a normal reactive response, may actually suppress detoxification pathways in the body. Many health practitioners advise against this practice. Detoxification programs can vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as people with multiple maladies, those who take multiple medications and pregnant or breast-feeding women). Whatever you choose to do, it is important to work with a credentialed health professional for guidance and support.

Simple, ongoing detoxification doesn’t require a rigorous plan; doing some or all of the following can support healthy detoxification:

  • Maintain adequate hydration by consuming plenty of clean water.
  • Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Consume a significant amount of fiber each day from vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, turmeric and milk thistle, and drink green tea. These foods support detoxification.
  • Consume adequate protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme.
  • Consider taking a multivitamin/multimineral to fill any gaps in a healthy diet, since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body’s detoxification processes to function.
  • Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, eat yogurt with active enzymes, or take a high-quality probiotic to help the body manage toxins from microbes that live in the gut.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor to glutathione, often is recommended to support the body’s natural detoxification activity.
  • Maintain bowel regularity.

Beware of juicing and cleansing products

Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

Juice cleanses often require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. Trendy beverages might contain kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular (and containing healthy foods), there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

One of the most well-known detox diets instructs people to drink lemon juice and water spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper — supposedly this helps the body remove toxins and aid in speedy weight loss. Physicians worry that any 10-day liquid diet, regardless of the combination of liquids you imbibe, could pose serious health risks, especially for people who use it for longer periods of time.

During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and return to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common-sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!