Taking Out Toxins
by Monika Klein, C.N.
A detoxification program to cleanse the body and free the mind.
Mary came to my practice complaining of weight gain, fatigue and severe bowel problems. She felt "toxic" and said, "Nothing in my body works right." She had gained 80 pounds over a five-year period. Her addictive and destructive eating patterns included sugary and fatty foods as well as starchy breads and pasta she believed were weight-loss foods. Chronic diarrhea forced her to the restroom after every meal. And on many occasions she went home from her busy job as an engineer so exhausted she fell asleep by 6 p.m. More often than not, she'd wake in a few hours for a late meal.
I recommended a detoxification and food elimination program to help Mary lose weight, get her body working more efficiently and encourage healthier eating habits.
While Mary's case is extreme, a monthly or yearly detoxification process is beneficial for almost anyone at any age. Toxins inhabit all areas of our lives.1,2 Mental and emotional stressors can create additional physiological toxins that need to be eliminated.
Detoxification also reduces inflammation in the body by eliminating
toxic byproducts that stem from digestive conditions such as intestinal permeability, parasites and yeast infection (candidiasis) in the GI tract.3 Using omega-3 oils in the form of flaxseed oil (liquid or capsules) or EPA/DHA in the form of fish or fish oil is an excellent way to reduce pain and inflammation in the GI tract.4
During a 15-month period, Mary underwent two detoxification programs with dietary changes, initiated an enjoyable exercise program and lost 60 pounds.
Three Steps to Detox
Detoxification regimens generally start with the liver, the body's major detoxification organ. When the liver is working efficiently and effectively, other organs often follow suit. Once the detox process begins, digestion, brain function and other physiological processes also tend to work better.5
The actual detoxification process is typically broken into three stages, varying in duration depending on the individual. The stages include:
The elimination process is the first step, and can begin if a person is relatively healthy and free of any serious chronic health conditions such as cancer, colitis, diabetes or heart disease. The elimination phase rids the diet of potential food allergens such as citrus, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, dairy, eggs, sugar and sugared foods, red meat and gluten-rich grains such as wheat, oats, barley and rye.6
The intensive stage for my patients comprises at least three days of eating only vegetable broth and nonstarchy steamed vegetables. These alkalizing foods reduce acidity and inflammation. If a person is hungry during this stage, nuts and seeds — such as almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds — are also alkalizing and usually nonallergenic.7
The experimental phase slowly reintroduces foods into the diet to see if they are tolerated. During a detoxification program, a person often becomes more sensitive to food allergens. If an introduced food triggers a reaction, it is once again eliminated from the diet and added one or two weeks later to verify a food sensitivity or allergy. People often are more aware of their food and behavior addictions during this period. This is the longest phase and often requires emotional support and education.
At the onset of the initial elimination phase, antioxidants should be taken to eliminate toxins and repair free radical damage. All of the following antioxidants work together to protect and strengthen the body during a detox.
Glutathione is a sulfur-containing amino acid. High concentrations of glutathione exist in liver cells. Studies have shown that glutathione attaches to toxic compounds in the liver, neutralizing toxins or enabling them to be excreted.8
Glutathione is too large a molecule to effectively pass through the intestine into cells, so supplementing with glutathione alone is not helpful.9 But when taken with vitamin C, which protects it from oxidative damage, glutathione is recycled and becomes effective.10
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, aids the detoxification process in several ways. Just as it recycles glutathione, it does this with other antioxidants, including vitamin E.
The major fat-soluble antioxidant in the body, vitamin E is the most studied free radical quencher.11 Vitamin E and water-soluble vitamin C work symbiotically to recycle one another in the fight against free radicals. Vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene, protect the liver from damage and help support detoxification mechanisms.12 Oral doses of vitamin E up to 3,200 IU/day show no evidence of toxicity.13
Zinc is a mineral antioxidant that works with the sulfur component of the antioxidant enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase) to protect tissues.14 Zinc also improves liver function.
In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 22 cirrhotic patients with chronically enlarged livers took 600 mg zinc acetate supplements daily for seven days. The supplemented group showed an improvement in their condition by the eighth day and also had blood zinc levels restored to normal.15
Selenium makes zinc more effective and works closely with vitamin E to maintain not just a healthy liver but a healthy heart, too. An animal study showed vitamin E supplementation increased vitamin E levels specifically in the liver. Adding 0.03 mg selenium/kg body weight enhanced the antioxidant effects of vitamin E.16
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), added before the intensive stage, is recommended. The detoxification program is usually successful without having to add it after the program. Milk thistle is beneficial to the liver because silymarin, the active component of the herb, inhibits liver damage and stimulates the growth of new liver cells to replace damaged cells. The standard dose is 70-210 mg of the standardized extract, three times a day. Even prolonged use has not been associated with toxicity — though silymarin does increase bile flow, which may produce a looser stool.17
Tailoring the Program
Every person's detoxification program is unique. Mary needed to heal her intestinal lining before she was ready to detoxify. I started her on glutamine to preserve gut integrity18 and the probiotics acidophilus and bifido bacteria to balance gut flora, which relieves bloating, gas and other gastric disorders.19
Food and supplementation are only one facet of a whole mind and body detoxification. Mary began her own walking exercise program and started with a bodyworker to eliminate toxins through lymphatic drainage.20
Because the intensive stage is low in fiber, additional colon help is recommended to keep things moving through the intestine.21 Consider taking ground flaxseeds either sprinkled over steamed vegetables or taken at bedtime in warm water.
Some people incorrectly believe that a detoxification program is a great way to lose weight. Most people do lose weight, but it is only temporary. Permanent weight loss requires a concerted lifestyle change. Detoxification can, however, reduce and eliminate food cravings, reduce overall food consumption and make the body feel more functional, whole and balanced.
Many people benefit from some sort of regular detoxification program. But whether it lasts two or 30 days, it is not recommended when one's life is filled with stressful situations such as tight deadlines or emotional losses.
Those suffering from diabetes, thyroid conditions, cancers and other wasting diseases must be carefully supervised by a qualified health care practitioner. Balancing the blood sugar and insulin levels in diabetics and ensuring that additional weight loss does not occur in cancer patients may require additional supervision and care.
Detoxification programs are not recommended for pregnant or lactating women22 or for children and infants.23
Taking care of the body through proper diet and supplementation, exercise, self-reflection and education greatly increases the chances of healthy aging and longevity. It is never too late to begin cleaning up.
Monika Klein, C.N., runs a nutritional counseling practice in Malibu, Calif., and is the television host of Total Health Talk.
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