There’s never been a better time to detox: Exposure to environmental toxins is more prevalent than ever. But few people are eager to embark on a restrictive cleansing regime. Don’t bother, advises Gaetano Morello, ND, author of Whole Body Cleansing (Active Interest, 2009). “Doing a multiday detox once or twice a year and then being done is just not realistic,” he says. In fact, because the organs need nutrients to cleanse the body, fasting can do more harm than good, he says.
Start with the basics: Eat a fiber-rich organic diet with lots of vegetables, lean protein, and minimal refined carbs and sugars, and take a good multi. Use air and water filters, and avoid plastic containers, says Walter Crinnion, ND, director of environmental medicine at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. And take targeted supplements, such as these, daily to support the organs’ cleanup work, he says.
This single-cell algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa is loaded with chlorophyll, a compound believed to cleanse the blood and keep the body from absorbing industrial toxins such as dioxins, says Crinnion. Polysaccharides in the algae’s cell wall also have strong immune-boosting properties. One study of 35 pregnant Japanese women found that those who took chlorella supplements had significantly lower dioxin levels in their breast milk. Dose: One scoop (2–3 grams) of chlorella or another chlorophyll-containing greens powder daily.
Perhaps the best-researched herb for overall liver health, milk thistle contains a group of antioxidant compounds commonly called silymarin, which bind to liver cells and prevent harmful chemicals from breaching cell walls. Silymarin also promotes cell regeneration and boosts levels of glutathione, a critical antioxidant that zaps harmful free radicals produced when liver enzymes break down toxins. A 2010 study of 50 children undergoing chemotherapy found that those who took oral milk thistle for 30 days had significantly less liver toxicity than the control group. Dose: 100–200 mg daily of milk thistle bound to phosphatidylcholine for better absorption.
Another glutathione precursor, NAC helps the body excrete toxins such as mercury, studies show. Emergency-room doctors commonly use NAC as an antidote to acetaminophen poisoning. Dose: 500–1,500 mg in capsule form daily, says Crinnion, particularly if you eat a lot of large-fish seafood or live in (or are visiting) a highly polluted area.
Fiber binds to fat-soluble toxins in the bile and ushers them out of the body through the gastrointestinal tract. But not all fiber is created equal, Crinnion says. Found in whole-grain brown rice, rice bran fiber has been shown to bind particularly well with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other industrial toxins. Studies showed that after Japanese patients who had been poisoned by PCB-contaminated cooking oil consumed 7–10 grams of fermented rice bran fiber three times a day for a year, they excreted twice as many toxins as those who did not. Dose: Try 2 tablespoons rice bran fiber powder, or 3 capsules, with each meal.
Found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, and cabbage, this compound activates production of “phase 2” liver enzymes, which transform stubborn fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble ones that can more easily be secreted. It also helps the body neutralize harmful carcinogens, including excess estrogen. Dose: Take 30 mg of broccoli seed extract daily in capsule form, or drink one to two cups daily of tea made with sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS).
This key antioxidant mops up free radicals generated in the liver during detoxification. Vitamin C supplementation can also reduce risk for gallstones, according to a recent study, and protects lung cells from air-pollution damage. Dose: Start with 1,000 mg daily and increase by 500-mg increments to 2,000 mg or more, especially if you often run, walk, or cycle near traffic, says Crinnion. Reduce dose if loose stools result.
Certain protein types help the liver break down and clear toxins: Numerous studies link low-protein diets with a higher toxic load. (To avoid fat-soluble environmental toxins, be sure to choose vegetable-based protein—tofu, nuts, beans, quinoa—or small amounts of organically raised lean meats.) Whey protein is particularly helpful in that it also boosts glutathione levels. Dose: Blend 21 grams of high-quality whey protein powder into a smoothie daily.
It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new supplement.