One of the most common question I get in my office is “How do I start adetoxification program?” It has truly become one of my favorite questions; when someone begins to think seriously about toxicity and detoxification I know one more person is trying to take personal responsibility for self-care to achieve better health and wellness. Ultimately, as a “natural medicine” practitioner, that is my goal with everyone who comes to me for help and guidance. The sad fact is that so much chronic illness that harms so many millions is preventable through better lifestyle choices, when possible. An awareness and commitment to “Detox” is one of the steps down that road. For me, as a health practitioner, it means success.
In this first article I hope to lay out how I approach detoxing for
my patients. My approach is often not what my patients are expecting
when they come in wanting to do a “detox program”. We start with the
notion that it is important to start at the beginning, not at the end.
First a little word history, the word detoxify is a general term not
definitively defined in biochemical terms. The origin of the word itself
dates back to the Greek word toxikon meaning, “poison arrow”. The popular
notion that detoxification means getting rid of the “poison arrow” in
our bodies hits the target. Within this definition, I also include persistent
excess emotional stress. Constant stress is a toxin to be taken seriously.
In the popular sense of detoxing there is also something of a mystique.
When some says, “I am going on a detox program.” or “I need to detox.”
it has a counter culture feel, and for some, the idea seems to flirt
with the evangelical. One does a “program” and that means “hard” or
even some kind of physical “hardship” to overcome the bad “Toxins” overrunning
While this adds drama and perhaps motivation to the idea of detoxing,
it is a misrepresentation. The only thing mystical about detoxing is
in our perceptions. Detoxing is a normal, mundane (Capital M here)
function of the body. It is as regular as breathing, which is an important
detoxification function. When we talk about a “detox program” we are really talking
about supporting the body’s normal function. A beneficial detox program
need not be harsh or a hardship. Detoxing is a positive experience that
makes us feel better about our health and ourselves. I like to think
that taking the mystique out of “Detoxing” makes the idea more accessible
to many of my patients and students.
The Complete Picture
One of the things I love about Homeopathy is that
it starts from the tenant that treatment involves the whole person,
and that each individual presents her/his own unique health and healing
issues. It is the same when we talk about detoxing. We start with you
and your goals, and by “You” I mean the “Complete” you, or as complete
a picture as we can get, your current physical state and health, daily
eating and exercise habits, and your emotional and spiritual state.
Do you have food allergies? Are you pregnant? Are you taking any drugs?
Do you smoke? What are the stresses in your life? What home cleaning
supplies do you use? You get the idea. Rather than something off the
shelf, we are looking for a program that really is designed for you.
“Whoa”, you say, “Hey doc I just want to do a detox!” This is a response
I get often enough when I start at the beginning. My answer is, oh you
mean you just want some pills or powder, and some directions, which
we can call a “program” and I send you on your way. Well, I can do that
but you will most likely be wasting your money and time. How would you
feel if you went to your overworked HMO MD who did the standard fifteen-minute
exam, told you that you had high blood pressure, and gave you a prescription
sending you on your way. I would guess you’d be in my office soon after
complaining that you don’t want to take expensive drugs that won’t address
the CAUSE of your problem, and most likely won’t change your long-term
outcome. I would agree. So how is it different if I take fifteen minutes
of your time, give you a bag of supplements and detox products, which
will not address causal health issues any more than drugs?
The truth is it isn’t. Except that the detox products will not have
the potential side effects of drugs. Perhaps it somehow feels better
because I did not prescribe drugs, the point in either approach, if
we are after healing, is to address the causal issues as best we can
and not just the symptoms? Yes, I can put you on a short-term “program”
that will help flush some organ, but unless we address the broader everyday
issues of toxins and your health, any “program” is a short-term fix
that will address long-term health issues. As you have guessed by now,
improving long-term health is my not very secret agenda.
So now you begin to get the picture. For what most people are looking
for when they think about a “Detox Program”, and that is better health
and feeling better, the beginning is to address lifestyle choices in
our toxic environment. And our environment has some very seductive
sources of toxins. I happen to love a big plate of Nachos at the fast
food taco drive-thru down the street, really full of toxins but SO
Now having made my case that detoxing is most effective when it viewed
in its broader sense and as something more than short-term fix, let
me take a small step back. This is not always the case. There are situations
when a short-term detox program is appropriate to address a specific
health issue. This can be complementary to other treatments. Usually,
when this is the situation, patients do not come in looking for a detox
program. They come in with a specific health issue to address.
So Why Bother?
Studies have shown that scare tactics are not very good
at promoting changes in lifestyle and habits, even if the changes are
obviously beneficial, smoking or eating junk fast foods being obvious
examples. The studies advice is to follow the hormones and ego. What
I tell my patients is that detoxing is sexy and it will improve your
sex life. I believe both are true. We look better, feel better and have
more energy. The rest follows.
It is generally the view of many non-drug based therapy forms of medicine
that most diseases occur
through a slow developmental process initiat
by an accumulation of toxins in the body. Of late, there is increasing
discussion of this phenomenon in the medical journals, and we hear more
and more about low level chronic infections, or inflammation, being
one of the underlying causes of heart problems or cancer, or arthritis,
with much more to follow I am sure. The obvious next question is what
is the cause of the chronic inflammation? Lets begin with a look at
Chronic toxicity can result from two overall sources: The body normally
produces toxins as a by-product of normal metabolism (breaking down
the foods you eat to produce energy at the cellular level). There is
also ballooning abundance of man-made toxins out there in world. We
all know that the rapid development of synthetic chemicals and stress
in all facets of our lives has taxed the body well beyond a healthy
ability to manage. (I suppose there are those who would argue this.
One thinks of cigarette manufacturers during the last decade.) The simple
fact is that we have no idea of the long-term health impact of all these
toxins, especially when the process of toxicity from synthetic chemicals
starts with the developing fetus.
The list of synthetic toxics in our environment is huge and ever growing.
There are tens of thousands of synthetic chemical listed with the EPA,
and thousands are added every year. Only a small number of these have
been tested, whether adequately or not, for safety. Chemicals thought
to be harmful, especially to children, are released into the atmosphere
by the billions of pounds every year. The New York Times (February,
16 2005) reports of a new study by Columbia University that shows air
pollution may result in measurable genetic changes in utero. Any such
change can become a disposition for cancer or other serious illness.
Of course, there is also what we put directly and consciously into our
bodies when we eat: over-processed, non-nutritious and harmful foods
and beverages (Chips, cookies, excess alcohol), non-foods and beverages
(Sodas, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners), lack of natural fiber
in foods, a host of chemicals in our foods and beverages, poor profiles
of fatty acids (which come from salad dressings, cooking oils, and margarine
because they are almost always rancid.), and on and on.
When we think of our health and the health of our children it is the
most reasonable thing in the world to acknowledge that the skyrocketing
growth in chronic diseases and development problems in children is
related to the deluge of toxins in our food, water and air. At our
own risk, we believe blindly that “they” are looking out for us. There
I go with the scare tactics.
Where Does it All Go?
This, of course, all leads to a general toxic
overload of the body. Is anyone really surprised at that bit of information?
This occurs as the body just cannot expel toxins well, or fast enough,
and toxins build up from the normal metabolism of the body and other
sources. Graphically put, our bodies become toxic landfills.
Studies done to test the toxicity in the body have found that, of those
for which we can test, there are over 160 synthetic toxins that tend
to take up resident in our bodies. All of us probably carry over 80
from these stored in our bodies. In a recent chilling study, children
who ate organic foods were compared to children who ate non-organic
foods. The kids ranged in age from 9 to 12 years old. Those that ate
non-organic were found to have 9 times, again — 9 times, more stored
pesticides in residence. What will the long-term impact on health be,
we simply do not know. But I do know as a parent which group I would
want my kids in. This has nothing to do with science; it is just basic
common sense. When the body cannot expel toxins they are stored throughout
the body and mostly in the liver, kidneys, lungs, joints, pancreas,
and in fat tissue. One cause of gradual weight gain so many experience
over the years is that the body manufactures fat for the storage of
synthetic toxins it cannot process.
That we live in a toxic environment impacting our health
is not new information. The question is whether we bury ourselves in
denial, or take responsibility for doing what we can for our health
and the health of our children. This gets us back to the beginning
of any detox. A short-term fix just does not sweep clean enough in
today’s world. Yes, change can seem difficult for us in our culture
of excess commercialism that leads us “by jingle by jolly” to accept
poor habits and a toxic environment as normal way of life. Especially
if doing things different seems to put outside the norm. I say to you,
just imagine what simple healthy and detoxing lifestyle choices will
do for your sex appeal and your sex life!
To start your detox program, take a look at where you can reduce or
eliminate toxins every day. What I call your “Fight Back Daily Detox
Program”. We cannot eliminate toxins entirely but we can make a huge
difference with some simple common sense choices. The list below gives
you a few easy rules to get you going. All of this is especially important
if you are pregnant, considering, or breastfeeding.
- Invest in good habits the return
is well worth it.
- Persistent stress is a serious
toxin. Develop healthy avenues for reducing stress.
- Drink adequate amounts of clear
and clean filtered water (This is NOT liquids. It is water.)
- Eat smart and balanced. We all
pretty much know the rules now
- Eat lots of natural fiber in your
- Reduce or avoid bad fats and foods,
which may contain them. This includes ALL trans fats (hydrogenated
or partially hydrogenated oils)
- Use only ‘good’ oils. (Olive oil,
safflower oil, canola oil, cold pressed is best.)
- Go whole grain. Reduce or avoid
the over processed foods in your diet. (That muffin or white flour
bagel in the morning.)
- Eat organic or “natural” avoiding
hormones and chemical feeds in foods when you can.
- Read the labels and avoid the
chemical of the week food additives
- Reduce or avoid the in-house
and yard use of chemicals and pesticides. (And that includes air “fresheners”)
- Reduce or avoid chemicals in
your soaps, makeup, and body products. (They are loaded.)
- Consume lots of healthful, friendly
bacteria to promote good bowel habits. (yogurts, probiotics)
- Finally, relax and work
into it. It really is not that hard. Today, the alternatives are out
there if we look.
For most of the people who come to see me, a conscious and consistent
effort at these kinds of simple changes would be a terrific “Detox
Program”. When you can say I am good on the above, we can think about
a focused detox to help clean up some of the bad boys currently in
residence. That is where we will start next time.
Below is a link if you want to look a little further into toxins in