Digestion : Detox 101 for Spring Cleaning

Megan Witt, RD, LD

Spring is finally in the air. During this season many rid their homes of unwanted junk and give it a good cleaning. Your body also accumulates “junk” or toxins and may benefit from some “spring cleaning” of its own.

A Toxic World

We live in a toxic world. Every year there is an increasing amount of chemicals, preservatives, pesticides and other pollutants added to our environment. Our liver works hard to keep up with the demands of detoxification as it cleans the blood and breakdowns harmful substances for removal from the body. Toxic build up can occur if the liver is over-burdened, which may lead to a variety of symptoms including fatigue, headaches, allergies and other ills. A gentle detox program that supports the health of the liver and allows the body to rid itself of toxins may help restore lost vitality, allowing you to follow through with those New Year’s resolutions!

Detox Basics

When undergoing a basic detox program, one should avoid extra toxins such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco smoke and any unnecessary medicine. Research suggests that a nutritionally balanced diet has many advantages over a juice or water fast when undergoing a detox program. In general, a basic detox-supporting diet should include plenty of fresh, fiber rich, whole organic foods. If consumed, dairy and other animal products should come from organic sources where growth hormones and antibiotics are not used.

Adequate protein is needed to manufacture important enzymes in the liver for toxin breakdown and removal. A carbohydrate rich diet that lacks protein may actually have an inflammatory effect.

Carbohydrates from fruits, veggies and whole grains are important as they provide fiber and antioxidants. Fiber is important for removal of waste from the body. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, are needed to neutralize free radicals caused by the detoxification process in the liver.

Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and the allium veggies including onions, garlic and chives are especially important for liver health. These foods contain compounds that help the liver produce enzymes needed for toxin breakdown and elimination. They also provide antioxidants that quench free radicals produced during the detox process. Other foods rich in antioxidants that can provide additional support during detox include berries, avocados and green tea.

Herbs & Supplements to Support Liver Health

Milk thistle can help protect the liver from damage caused by drugs, alcohol and even viruses. The active compound found in milk thistle, silymarin, even appears to help the liver regenerate cells after damage has occurred.

Dandelion, the common yellow yard weed, has long been used to support liver health and treat various liver conditions. It also increases the production of bile from the liver and gall bladder, which helps carry toxins out of the liver. Artichoke also helps stimulate bile production.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
helps the body make more glutathione, an important antioxidant involved in liver detox. NAC is commonly used to reduce liver and kidney damage from acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdoses.

The spice turmeric (a common ingredient in curries) has been shown to boost bile production. Animal studies have also found that turmeric can help protect the liver from certain toxic substances.

Toxin Elimination

Adequate fiber and purified water are essential to help remove toxins from the body. Psyllium, which is a bulk forming laxative or whole, ground flaxseed, can be added to provide extra fiber. Senna is an herbal laxative sometimes used short-term in detox to stimulate colon activity. Exercise to induce sweating is another way to help rid your body of toxins.

References:

American Liver Foundation

Percival, Dr. Mark. Nutritional Support for Detoxification. ANSR-Applied Nutritional Science Reports. Advanced Nutrition Publications, Inc. 1999.
A.D.A.M. Inc., 2004

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