How to Detox the Right Way

“Detoxing” has become the popular marketing expression used to describe what a health product or process can do for the body. Many people think of a detox as a quick way to lose weight, a colon cleanse from an infomercial or a lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper fast. But what does it actually mean to detox?

According to Taber’s Medical Dictionary, the clinical definition of “detoxify” is “to remove the toxic quality of a substance.” The body actually does this naturally with the help of the liver, among other organs. But our own detoxification processes can become over-burdened by the toxic world we live in. Think about it. If our bodies can only flush out so much, what happens when those detoxifying systems are backed up or overloaded? The toxicity levels of the body increase and inflammation levels build. This is a bad combination for good long-term health.

Sources of toxins include, but are not limited to, chemicals and additives in processed foods and low-quality supplements; industrial uses of mercury, heavy metals and pesticides; carbon emissions; voluntary use of pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical byproducts and heavy metals from contaminated tap water; and even preservatives from hair- and skin-care products. In addition, the diminishing nutrients found in natural food sources give the body fewer tools to work with to keep our detoxification systems running properly.

In order to stay healthy, it is very important to take some time to help the body detoxify at least once per year. A safe and effective detox program will counteract the buildup of toxins in the body and give its systems some time to repair and catch up. Also, many of the toxins that accumulate within the body are stored in our fat cells as a way to protect or “wall them off” from the rest of the body. These cells, when filled with toxins, are also filled with water. Once the toxins leave the cells, excess water is released, which is why many people experience weight loss during a detox. A detox is often recommended to those who are unable to lose weight. Once the toxins are released, fat can be burned off more easily and metabolism improves. It should be noted, however, that doing a detox should not be used as a “quick fix” for weight loss.

Cleanse vs. detox: what’s the difference? Actually, not much. In the grand scheme of things, what affects the liver is also going to affect the colon, the kidneys and, basically, the entire body. A detox can be customized, however, so that certain nutrients or dietary changes can have a greater impact on specific organs.

Detox Structure

A detox program is typically structured in phases: a prep phase, a detox phase and a post-detox phase. Think of a detox as a vacation for your body. You should schedule a time between social commitments which could sabotage your program. For example, detoxing during your Mardi Gras vacation simply will not work.

The prep phase is the time to clean all of the junk out of the house, eliminate inflammatory foods, including wheat and dairy, and reduce caffeine and alcohol as much as possible. During this time, nutrients such as digestive enzymes and beet extract may be introduced to get the process going. The duration of the prep phase will vary from person to person, but may typically last about a week. If your diet is extremely toxic, however, it can take some time to clean up your diet, so the prep phase may be extended.

Once you have managed to clean out your kitchen and improve your diet, it is time to take the next step: beginning the detox phase. During this time, the diet should be a little stricter. Completely eliminate alcohol and caffeine and try to lower your carbohydrate intake significantly. Yes, this means cutting out much fruit. Protein shakes and vegetable juices may be added to replace some meals, but always make sure you are eating enough. Additional nutrients and herbs are recommended to aid the body in releasing toxins from fat cells and, equally as important, opening elimination channels to efficiently escort the toxins out. Drinking adequate water is critical during this time. Herbs that are commonly used include oregano, which aids in killing parasites, yeast and bad bacteria; and dandelion and milk thistle, which cleanse the blood and support the liver. The average length of the actual detox is about 10 to 14 days.

The biggest question people ask is, “What can I eat during a detox?” Many detox programs will answer this differently, but an anti-inflammatory diet that includes lots of vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats is sufficient. If you were to divide up a dinner plate into four quadrants, one quadrant should be a lean protein, such as wild salmon; the second should be a starch, such as half a sweet potato; the third should be raw vegetables, such as a garden salad; and the last should be steamed vegetables, such as asparagus or broccoli. Often people are upset about what they can’t eat, but this is a great opportunity to discover all the vegetables you can eat in various ways. If you’re used to chicken tacos, try something similar, such as Asian lettuce wraps, that are fun to eat and delicious.

The detoxification herbs and nutrients wind down during the post-detox phase; this is when baseline nutrients for long-term use are introduced. Most doctors agree that everyone should be taking a multi-vitamin, probiotics, vitamin D and good essential oils. Certain foods will be introduced back into the diet. This is an important time to eat consciously, as you’ve probably increased the sensitivity to foods that are either beneficial or hurtful to your body. If you pay attention, you may discover that some foods that you have been eating all along may not agree with your body. Doing a detox can empower you to make long-term decisions about what you may want to eat vs. how you want to feel.

Last, your first detox should be supervised by a professional to ensure that it’s done properly, especially if you suffer from problems with blood pressure or blood sugar. Detox programs are not recommended if you are pregnant or lactating or if you are 10 pounds or more underweight. If you’re taking prescription medications, you should talk to your doctor, as a detox program may increase the efficiency of your organs and how much you metabolize medications.

Dr. Justin Gruby is a chiropractic physician who specializes in nutritional therapy, wellness and preventative medicine. His office has been customizing detoxification programs on an individual basis for the past three years in Glenview. Visit his website at or call 847-730-3988.

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