I don’t know about you, but in December I indulge. I celebrate my birthday and that of several close friends and relatives. Like many people, I move through the holidays attending lots of social gatherings. Lots of hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and sweets. So much chocolate, cheese, and wine that I literally can’t wait to take a break from them all come the New Year. I have been doing a January cleanse since I was in school to become an ND. But over the last 15 years the cleanse has changed. This is what I’ve learned since then.
First of all, Is Detox A Gimmick? Check out this article from my colleague at Bright Almond answering this important question. Dr. Alison Chen warns of the risks in following detox advice from what she calls “uneducated health gurus”.
On the other side of the health-advice-giving spectrum, many conventional MDs claim that changing diet and lifestyle doesn’t help you “detox”, because that’s something your organs of detoxification are naturally designed to do. This logic doesn’t explain why government agency body burden studies in Canada & the US consistently show that we are full of chemicals.
Indeed, I was shocked to discover during my education that not only are MDs not trained in Environmental Medicine, but neither are NDs!
Which brings up the question of whether the chemicals in our bodies actually affect our health.
Here is the official World Health Organization report on the science on hormone disrupting chemicals, or “EDCs”. A joint UN report on the effects of human exposure to EDCs explains that “human health depends on hormones that are essential for metabolism, growth & development, sleep and mood”. It highlights associations between chemicals found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics, and additives or contaminants in food and common health problems. There is now irrefutable evidence that our toxic burden contributes to many chronic diseases, including allergies, arthritis, ADHD, diabetes, thyroid disease & certain cancers.
So, after practicing as an ND for a few years, I knew I needed to learn more about how everyday chemicals impact our health, and how to reduce our toxic load, based on scientific evidence. I enrolled in an Environmental Medicine for physicians certification program taught by the incredibly knowledgable and compassionate Dr. Walter Crinnion.
This is where I learned that restrictive or cathartic cleanses do not support detoxification. The first cleanse I ever did was a kit from an herbal supplement company. It included dietary restrictions, and several different bottles of pills to take throughout the day. One of them was a combination of herbs that are classed as cathartic laxatives. In naturopathic medical school I learned that these herbs act by irritating the intestinal tract. They don’t support bowel function. They are not healing.
In Dr. Crinnion’s course, I learned about many key micronutrients for the liver to metabolize toxins, but also how essential it is to have adequate macronutrients – protein, fiber, healthy fats – for the bowel to be able to excrete them.
So, while many people believe that “detoxing” involves juicing, fasting, or drinking purging concoctions, that is not how to support the clearance of toxins from the body. Cleansing can be more about bringing in more of what you need rather than cutting something out!
In fact, in my clinical experience with patients who’ve done these types of cleansing, it takes months for their bowels to return to health. Just this week I asked a patient how she’s recovered from a conventional cleanse, and she remarked that her normal “sausage” stools were still “french fries” after several weeks. We all know how dreadful that feels. If the goal is to decrease your toxic load, eat real food and excrete voluminous poops.
In addition to enhancing the function of our organs of detoxification with diet & supplements, I also learned how to assess & track our toxic burden with laboratory evaluations, and to avoid exposure to toxins in:
- Our Indoor Air
- The Water We Drink & Bathe in
- Our Personal Care Products
- The Foods We Eat
- Our Emotions
(See my other blog articles for resources!)
So, how have the mechanics of my cleansing practice & guidance actually changed since that first box program?
First, it’s based on science. Second, it’s comprehensive.