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Demystifying The Detoxification Process

Sep 25, 2014 ● By Charlotte Hammond

If you suffer from drowsiness, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, breakouts or stuffiness that doesn’t seem to go away, you might want to consider the health of your liver. The same can be said for strong reactions to small amounts of alcohol, caffeine or previously tolerated foods, inexplicable problems with weight loss or a sudden aversion to pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents and other chemicals.

We live in a toxic world, and the average American is exposed to more than 100 dangerous chemicals before leaving home in the morning. Because the liver processes all foreign chemicals, friend or foe, it needs specific nutrients to do its job right. Whether you are concerned about cancer, alleviating allergies, dealing with difficult digestion, worried about weight loss or simply trying to feel better, you may wish to help your body detoxify itself.

Many people confuse cleansing with detoxification. A cleanse helps clear the gastrointestinal tract and enables detoxification. Cleansing usually starts by reducing solid foods and increasing fluids to speed the flow of stool, urine and sweat from the body. A “fast”, of which there are many types, is a cleanse lasting for a set period of time using specific foods. Cleanses are not meant to be long-term diet plans.

Detoxification means removing toxins from the body, which occurs in three phases. Toxins are fat soluble and stored in fat. The liver first converts fat soluble toxins to water-soluble toxins (phase I), which it then attaches to other compounds that render them non­toxic (phase II), so that these bound toxins can be eliminated in the stool, urine or sweat (phase III). Dietary choices support all phases. A period of cleansing before detoxifying clears out the pathways of elimination and is crucial for the success of phase III. Importantly, you can watch how the body responds to cleansing and make key decisions about the speed and safety of a detox regimen.

Both cleansing and detoxification are normal body functions that you can help or hinder with lifestyle. Environment, diet, exercise, stress and sleep can all contribute to toxicity. When the liver is overburdened, symptoms start to appear that differ in type and severity from person to person. To reduce your toxic burden, pay attention to lifestyle choices while realizing that without proper diet, detoxification is impossible. Regular periods of monitored detoxification, whether monthly, seasonally or annually, are crucial to reducing your risk of disease.

Environmental toxins are at an all-time high. By helping the body remove them, you reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, immunological problems (autoimmune disease, allergies and impaired resistance to infections) and toxic damage such as nerve and brain problems. Many toxins are suspected of causing obesity and are stored in excess fat. Periodic detoxification reduces toxic buildup and often has the side benefit of meaningful weight loss. But before you start, here are some factors to consider.

Make sure you can detoxify by evaluating your elimination. Are you easily passing medium/dark brown stool that holds its shape at least once per day? Is your urine a lemonade color that occurs a few times daily? Does your sweat smell normal or cause irritation? Note your emotional state.

Learn about and limit toxic exposure and consider your exposure to air, water, food, petrochemicals, xenoestrogens, pesticides, heavy metals, alcohol, medications and other drugs. Plan a detox schedule that fits your exposure, such as a few days per month, a few weeks per season or one month per year. Cleanse before beginning a detox regimen if there are any concerns about your ability to eliminate toxins; sleep for eight hours each night. Exercise regularly, but not to exhaustion or soreness; stress reduction is critical.

Try massage, meditation, seaweed/Epsom salts baths, prayer or spending time outside. Drink at least two liters daily of clean, filtered water; choose herbal/flower, white or decaffeinated green teas. Some herbals are supportive, such as milk thistle or psyllium seed.

Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Look for “organic” or “pesticide ­free” products–“natural” cannot be trusted. Eat a rainbow of fresh, organic, seasonal produce, both raw and cooked. Choose fewer fruits and more vegetables to reduce excess sugar intake. Enjoy fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchi. Load up on cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli) and alliums (onions, garlic); choose healthy, undamaged fats and clean protein sources like organic, grass­fed, free­range, sustainably harvested seafood.

Things to avoid include attempting to detoxify if you are constipated or have any other obvious physical sign that you cannot eliminate toxins; reducing protein and fat intake below minimal daily needs; using alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs; consuming black tea, coffee, chocolate or other stimulants; eating processed, refined, fried, artificially flavored or stimulating foods; consuming the most common allergens—soy, citrus, beef, dairy, eggs, corn or gluten-containing products; and choosing any foods suspected of causing headaches, gut discomfort or breakouts. Afterward, reintroduce problem foods slowly, one at a time after at least three weeks without consuming them.

Perhaps the hardest lesson of all is that detoxification does not and should not happen overnight. Excreting toxins too quickly may result in reabsorbing toxins instead of excreting them. For instance, if the kidney cannot filter the blood effectively due to damage or overload, toxins may continue to circulate and end up back in the liver. A “leaky gut” (breached intestinal wall) may allow toxins to be reabsorbed in the gastrointestinal tract rather than leaving through the stool. Sweating out large amounts of toxins in a short period of time may lead to bad breakouts.

While losing weight during a cleansing diet often releases toxin from fat, poor dietary support of phase II may result in liberating toxins from fat but being unable to render them harmless, causing more harm than good. Detox diets work best when well individualized. Be sure to consult your dietitian, naturopath and/or doctor before you undertake a detox regimen.

Charlotte Hammond, MS, RD, LDN, RYT, is a registered dietitian, hatha yoga instructor, medical/scientific illustrator and owner of Eating With Ease, 150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 800, Chicago. For more information, call 312-547-9247 or visit

Simple Green Soup

Simple Green Soup Detox RecipeThis soup recipe for clients is easy, full of fiber and antioxidants and can be eaten by itself over grains or spiced up as a sauce. It freezes well and can help put up abundant late summer greens or greens that have lost their crispness. Try adding silken tofu, lentils or peas to pack in extra protein.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion (use green onions for a milder flavor)
1 tsp turmeric
1½ lbs of sweet potatoes or yams, cut into large chunks
4 cups of water (or just enough to cover the potatoes)
8 cloves garlic
5­10 sage leaves
½ jalapeno pepper (optional)

1 large bunch of green chard
1 large bunch of green kale (or collard/mustard/turnip/other bitter dark leafy greens)
3­4 cups vegetable broth or water
Black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste

Sauté onions in olive oil on very low heat in the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven.  Gently stir with turmeric.

Add sweet potatoes and about 4 cups of water (just enough to cover the potatoes). Simmer until potatoes are just soft. (If using lentils or peas to boost protein, add them plus extra water).

Add garlic, jalapeno (optional), sage, greens, and broth. Cook until greens are soft.

Blend with immersion blender. Add black pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Adapted from Vegetarian Times.