Each year as Spring arrives, the world outside renews itself with greening rains and cleansing breezes that carry juicy smells of thawing earth and growing things. Springtime can also inspire us to take time for self-renewal: to clear the stale and stuffy air of winter from our lungs, to take in the sights, sounds and scents of new life all around, to move with Nature’s own rhythm of renewal and rejuvenate our bodies, minds and spirits. A springtime detoxification program is a great way to “go with Nature’s flow”, by letting go of accumulated toxins to awaken the vibrant energy and life force lying dormant within every cell of our bodies.
Why don’t more of us do a detox? One of the reasons people put off such a program is the association of detoxification with unpleasant “detox symptoms”, such as fatigue, rashes, aches and pains, headaches, and changes in digestive function. It can be discouraging and inhibiting to contemplate undertaking a program that might cause us to feel lousy for an indefinite period of time. What many people don’t realize is that these unpleasant manifestations of toxin release can be reduced or eliminated simply by using nutrient and herbal support to help your body more easily clear toxic compounds.
Pathways of toxin clearance
In order to understand how this support works, it helps to know a little about how the body deals with toxins. The liver, kidneys, intestines, lymph system, lungs and skin all participate in toxin elimination, and have very individual and specific ways of interacting with, neutralizing and clearing the various toxins we encounter. When the body is healthy, our detox systems run smoothly, and toxins are transformed into neutral compounds and completely eliminated through appropriate channels. Together these systems represent a sophisticated series of interlocking parts that work interdependently to maintain metabolic equilibrium by neutralizing external toxins from our increasingly toxic food supply, environment, and from medications; and internal toxins produced as a consequence of both natural bodily processes and unhealthy functional imbalances. When we store toxins instead of clearing them, it may mean that one or more of the factors necessary to keep this complex machinery running well are not available. When we embark on a program of detoxification, the idea is to release stored toxins from cells and tissues, so it becomes crucial to compensate for any inadequacies in the clearance pathways; otherwise not only will the process be more uncomfortable, but some toxins may re-circulate, exerting toxic effects as they do so, and then be stored again.
Move ‘em out
A simple way to help out the body with toxin removal is to promote a 1-3X daily bowel movement. Increasing fluid intake may help, but adding a high-quality fiber supplement normalizes the bowel habit and in addition binds toxins released into the intestines and promotes the growth of healthy intestinal microbes. Detoxification can disrupt bowel movements in either direction (diarrhea and constipation are both common detox symptoms) and different kinds of fiber absorb fluid to reduce diarrhea and provide roughage to improve constipation. A supplement which contains more than one source of fiber is beneficial – arabinogalactans, ground flax seed, apple pectin, carrot or beet fiber, psyllium husk, oat or rice bran – these are fiber sources which may be included in better-quality formulas. If you are unused to taking a fiber supplement, start with a small amount (perhaps 1 tsp. daily in water) and increase gradually to 1 Tbs. 2X daily over the course of several days.
Raise your pH
The acidity or alkalinity of the blood influences whether the products of detoxification are cleared from the body through proper channels. An acidic systemic pH (pH is the scale for measuring acidity and alkalinity; for healthy detoxification, urine pH should be above 6.6) will obstruct healthy routes of elimination, leading to build-up of toxins in the blood and creating unpleasant “detox symptoms”. Just as fresh vegetables, berries and fruits in the diet or in juiced form have an alkalinizing effect on internal body systems, concentrated greens formulas (which often contain a carefully chosen mix of veggies, berries and fruits) can be used during detoxification to improve systemic pH and encourage elimination of toxins. Choose a greens formula that is attentive to organic sources of the ingredients (the last thing you want is pesticide residues in your detox program!), avoids bulking agents such as alfalfa and grain components, and uses primarily freeze-drying rather than spray-drying in the manufacturing process. A greens product should be packaged to provide protection from the damaging effects of heat, light and moisture. For purposes of detox support, I often recommend 1 Tbs. of the powder twice or three times daily mixed with water.
Balance Phase 1 & 2
Another reason for impaired detoxification and its negative effects is a mismatch between the two phases of liver detoxification. The liver processes toxins in two steps, which are designated Phase 1 and Phase 2. Toxins are first worked on by Phase 1 (cytochrome P450 enzyme systems) and then passed to Phase 2 to complete the detox process. But what if Phase 2 can’t “catch” all that is passed to it? When this happens, the partially metabolized toxins can’t be eliminated and they continue to circulate through the body; they are eventually stored in cells and tissues if Phase 2 just can’t finish the job. Unfortunately, many of these intermediary metabolites are even more harmful than the original toxin.
It makes sense that many people who have symptoms and health issues that lead them to detoxification programs may already have impaired clearance pathways – so when they begin the work of releasing quantities of stored toxins, it is not surprising that the detox pathways become overwhelmed. These “pathologic detoxifiers” often experience the most severe detox symptoms, but almost everyone who takes on a serious detox would benefit by addressing the nutrient requirements of the liver’s Phase 2 clearance pathways. In this way, Phase 1 and Phase 2 work with greater synergy and toxins are more effectively neutralized.
Hope for “Pathologic Detoxifiers”
A number of supplement formulations are specifically designed to provide broad support for Phase 2 reactions. Phase 2 co-factors include amino acids such as N-Acetyl L-Cysteine, Glutathione, Glycine, Glutamine, MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), Taurine, Ornithine and Methionine; B-vitamins, including folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine/ pyridoxine 5-phosphate and vitamin B12; vitamin C; and minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, molybdenum and selenium. No single formulation will provide all these nutrients, so it may be appropriate to augment a Phase 2 support formula with an additional B-Complex or a high-potency multiple vitamin & mineral complex to fill in gaps. Depending on the degree of co-factor deficiency or toxin overload, multiple doses through the day may be appropriate. Essential fatty acids such as those from fish oil and borage oil are used in Phase 2 reactions, so doubling or even tripling your usual daily dose may be helpful; dry skin is often a sign of EFA deficiency, so increase intake if this appears during a detox.
The herbal flavonoids silymarin (derived from Milk Thistle) and curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric) have been found to increase levels of the Phase 2 enzyme glutathione S-transferase, and are excellent additions to a detox supplement program. I recommend phytosomal preparations, which enhance absorbtion, up to two or three times daily of Milk Thistle (standardized to 80% silymarin) 100 mg. and/ or Curcumin 250mg..
Easy = Effective
Years ago, detoxification programs seemed to align themselves with the “No pain, no gain” philosophy – if you weren’t miserable for at least some of your detox, you weren’t doing it right. Time, experience and research have shown, however, that a gentler, well-supported approach to toxin clearance is not only more pleasant, it’s more effective. The most successful detox processes are those which honor the needs of the body, mind and spirit.