At this time of the year, newspapers and magazines are filled with weight loss, fitness and detox stories. And I’ll admit, I do enjoy reading them and seeing what nutrition & exercise (mis)information is being passed around.
One of my biggest gripes is seeing articles that talk about needing to detox post Christmas, with claims that a 3, 5, 7, 10 (you choose a number of days!) day detox will cure everything that ails you.
The biological reality is that your body is constantly detoxifying itself – that’s what your liver, kidneys, bowels, lungs and skin are for. And the by-products of this perpetual detoxification are stool, urine and sweat (really! they’re not just annoyances!).
The liver is the body’s waste purification plant and it is perpetually in motion, 24 hours a day. The more toxins you put in, the harder the liver has to work to remove them. By toxins, I mean products and by-products of the digestive system (excess sugar, trans-fatty acids and gut dysbiosis), alcohol, smoking by-products, environmental toxins (lead, chlorine, fluorine, insecticides, herbicides, solvents, metals, mould, pollen, algae) and oxidative stress (free radicals).
Your body really doesn’t want toxins to build up. So much so that the liver has a two stage detoxification process to make sure all the waste is removed – anything from alcohol to heavy metals to pesticides to the by-products of medication to hormones like xenoestrogens. The liver is continuously converting these substances to inactive forms for excretion in urine (via the kidneys) or stool.
How do you know whether your body’s detoxification functions are working correctly? Here are some signs and symptoms are suboptimal detoxification:
If your bowels aren’t functioning well, you’re likely to have bloating, fatty stools, constipation, diarrhoea, an intolerance to fatty foods and bad breath.
If your immune system isn’t functioning well, you’re likely to have food allergies, skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, recurring infections and potentially asthma.
If your endocrine system (hormones) isn’t functioning well, you’re like to suffer from high stress, infertility, PMS, mood swings, anxiety and potentially depression.
If your nervous system isn’t functioning well, you’re likely to have headaches, poor sleep, lethargy and poor memory and concentration.
So knowing all this, the real question (which is less of a quick fix and not as sexy a ‘detox’): how can I consistently support my liver, lungs, skin, digestive system, bowels and kidneys?
- Drink lots of water throughout the day. Most people are slightly dehydrated and often mistake thirst for hunger, so the bare minimum to aim for is 1.5L of water across the day.
- Eat green leafy vegetables. These contain the micronutrients and enzymes that support the first stage of liver detoxification and kickstart the second stage.
- Eat more nuts and seeds. Seeds like pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and nuts like almonds, cashews, Brazils and hazelnuts have micronutrients that help your liver work better.
- Eat enough protein. Red meat, nuts, eggs and fish are amongst some of the protein sources that contain the amino acids needed for the second stage of liver detoxification.
- Don’t drink alcohol every day. Metabolising alcohol puts pressure on the liver and diverts it from its other important functions, such as bile secretion, which is helps the body digest fats.
- Support your gut. A good balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut supports your immune and digestive systems and helps improve the quality of your skin.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Sleep is when your body has a chance to repair and regenerate and this supports its detoxification systems.
- Get sweaty at least 3 times a week. A good excuse for a run, a spin class or a shag!