No matter how vigilant I am, I still go home for Christmas and dabble in the treats. Of particular interest to me this year was the fudge from a family friend. Since my grandmother’s fudge recipe took me all the way to winning the first place ribbon at the Carbondale Mountain Fair as a child, I know the ingredients. Yes, one of them is marshmallow creme. And I ate it anyway.
Due to this personal experience, I understand why the most frequently asked question in my office in January is “Should I do a detox?”. All of the indulgences have piled up and now we’re either simply feeling guilty, or we’re actually feeling sick with fatigue, heaviness in the body and mind, achy joints and the digestion is off. PLUS, everyone around us is dropping like flies with the cold and flu, and we know we want our immune system to be in tip top shape as we hunker down for the winter routine.
Well, here’s my answer to the question “Should I do a detox?”. Yes and no.
First of all, what is detoxification? On a cellular level, detoxing is complicated. It’s the process of transforming and removing potentially harmful products, which can come from exogenous sources such as the food we eat, the air we breath, the water we drink, and medications, or endogenous sources, such as by-products of the digestive process, energy metabolism, tissue regeneration, hormone metabolism and also bacterial by-products. This process is called biotransformation and, you guessed it, it’s happening all the time. Detoxification involves two phases. Simply put, in Phase I a toxin is acted on by an enzyme and made ready for Phase II where this toxin, which has changed forms, is further acted upon making it water soluble and amenable for excretion through the urine by way of the kidneys, or through the feces by way of the bile. There are certain nutrient cofactors that are necessary for these chemical transformations to occur along the way, and when I’m asked about a detox, most people are looking for the bottle of pills with these nutrient cofactors in them.
Here’s the thing, unless you have a healthy gut, detox is not going to be of any benefit. A significant amount of the detoxification system is in the gastrointestinal tract. Bowel dysbiosis actually inhibits Phase I detox. The only way to have access to the nutrients necessary for detox is if your body is able to absorb them and send them where they need to be. And if you have intestinal hyperpermeability (which is really, really common), you’re going to be adding toxins to your body simply by eating what would otherwise be healthy protein, which is obviously going to offset any gain you might get from the detox herbs you’re taking.
That is why my answer to the question is yes and no. Yes, beginning a detox would be a marvelous idea, but, no, that doesn’t mean buying a fancy box full of herbs and supplements that say “Detox” or “Cleanse” on them (you guys, marketing is big in this industry!). What it means is that you start where you need to start, which is getting your gut happy.
So here are some easy steps that will leave you feeling better and put you in the running for an herbal detox down the road. Commit to the following for one month:
Step 1: Make a commitment to avoid sugar, alcohol, refined flours and non-organic dairy products. (It should go without saying that anything artificial, such as artificial sweeteners, should be avoided as well).
Step 2: Commit to taking a Probiotic daily, and supplement that with a fermented food or drink such as Kim Chi, Sauerkraut or Kombucha. If you're someone who experiences heartburn, also add 1/4 to 1/2 cup organic Aloe Vera juice everyday (JUST Aloe Vera, not the juice/aloe combo)
Step 3: Commit to focusing on Fiber, about 30-35 grams per day. This can be accomplished by including cruciferous vegetables every single day. Through a series of events these tasty veggies produce Indole-3-carbinal, which is a promoter of both phase I and phase II detox (this is important, because between phases the toxin can become more harmful to the body before becoming water soluble). These include broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, arugula, bok choy, rutabaga, turnips, kale, collard greens, cauliflower and watercress. Whole grains are also a good source of fiber. Keep track of your bowel movement. Make sure you’re going everyday and that it is of normal consistency.
Step 4: Commit to drinking plenty of clean water every day, half your body weight in ounces is generally a good rule (120 lbs = 60 oz water/day).
Step 5: Commit to making sleep a priority. Your liver, which is the primary source of enzymes for biotransformation, does a lot of it’s work in the middle of the night and it needs your mind to get out of the way! According to the Chinese medicine horary clock, the time the liver is most active is between 1 and 3 AM.
Step 6: Commit to an exercise routine, get your Qi and Blood moving.
Step 7: Get an acupuncture treatment to increase the vitality in your GI tract and your liver.
After a month you will be feeling better, your immune system will be strong, and you’ll have created some healthy habits to take with you all winter long!