The industrialisation of society has led us to be exposed to increasing levels of toxins, many of which are known to be harmful over time. Whilst everyone hasvarying responses to toxins depending on factors including genetics, gut health and detox capacity, there’s no doubt that excess toxin exposure can be vastly damaging to our health. Part 1 of this blog series outlined ways in which you can reduce your toxin exposure. The focus of part 2 will be on assisting you to improve your detoxification capacity so that you can minimise the effects of unavoidable toxin exposure.
Improving Your Detoxification Capacity
Regardless of our best efforts, there’s no denying that toxic chemicals are in us. The Environmental Working Group has found that the average person carries 91 toxic chemicals in his or her blood and urine whilst the umbilical cord of newborn babies has been shown to contain an alarming 232 different toxins.
Whilst there’s limited research investigating the effects of chronic, low-dose toxin exposure, a growing body of evidence has linked such exposure to endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity and various chronic diseases. It thus appears that there may not be such a thing as ‘safe’ low-level toxin exposure and that we must take concerted steps to reduce the harmful effects associated with toxins. Let’s take a look at the main ways in which we can protect ourselves.
Eat a Nutrient Dense Diet
The food you eat can either support or hinder detoxification processes in your body. Research has revealed that diets rich in fruit and vegetables, most likely due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents, can help to protect against environmental toxins. In contrast, inflammatory diets such as those high in omega-6 fatty acids, refined flours, sugar and industrial seed oils can increase the toxic effects of environmental toxins.
So what should you eat? A diet supportive of detoxification should consist solely of whole foods with ample amounts of fresh produce, preferably organic. Variety is essential and fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, fish, lean red meat and poultry should all be incorporated if digestive function and dietary preferences permit. Food should be as fresh as possible, in season, and be of good quality.
Support Your Gut Health
The gut can be very effective at removing ingested toxins, but only if it is working properly. Antibiotics, birth control pills, diets high in refined carbohydrates and industrial seed oils, chronic stress, and chronic infections can all contribute to unhealthy gut flora. Healing and maintaining your gut microbiome is vital to overall health and is especially important for protecting yourself against toxins.
Probiotics and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi represent sources of the live healthy bacteria that live in your gut. Incorporating probiotics in your diet, either through food or supplementation depending on your requirements, can assist in promoting gut health through various mechanisms such as stimulating mucosal barrier function, improving immune function and preventing the growth and proliferation of harmful bacteria.
In addition to probiotics, prebiotic foods are essential as they represent food sources to fuel the growth of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are essentially useless if they are not used concurrently with prebiotic foods to fuel their growth. Prebiotic sources include foods such as chicory, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic, lentils and legumes.
Support Liver Detoxification Pathways
The detoxification process happens mostly in the liver, through two phases. Phase 1 begins to process the toxin, often creating free radicals and other more harmful substances. Phase 2 further metabolises products into water-soluble compounds that can be readily excreted from the body.
The two detox phases involve a complicated network of biochemical reactions, which are assisted by dozens of cofactors, enzymes, and more. Although an intricate process, there are several ways to improve and support your liver’s detoxification capacity.
Various nutrients are required for Phase I & II liver detoxification. These nutrients include the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, betaine, manganese, selenium, molybdenum and glutathione. Protein is also essential as it provides the amino acids (cysteine, methionine, glutamine, taurine, glycine) that are also vital for detoxification processes. Individuals who eat a whole-food and nutrient-dense diet with a wide variety of foods are probably getting adequate levels of these nutrients, but not always. In this respect, it may be necessary to work with a naturopath or integrative medical practitioner to determine whether supplementation may be necessary.
Further to these specific nutrients, increasing your intake of bitter foods such as rocket and mustard greens will improve bile secretion from the liver which will further assist detoxification processes. Avoiding or limiting your intake of alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats, trans fats, processed foods, artificial colourings, flavouring and preservatives is also necessary as these substances act to burden liver function and hinder its detoxification capacity.
Drink Plenty of Water
Proper hydration is also essential given that the kidneys release toxins through urine. Everyone needs different amounts of water per day so one of the best ways to assess whether you’re drinking enough is to listen to your body and look for markers of dehydration such as like dark-coloured or infrequent urination.
Work Up a Sweat
Toxins that the liver and kidneys cannot properly detox can sometimes be expelled through sweating. Whilst this remains a controversial topic, there is evidence of heavy metals, BPA, and flame retardants found in sweat. Working up a sweat during regular exercise or frequent infrared sauna use may assist in releasing toxins from your body.
Chronic stress raises cortisol levels and this can have dire health consequences, including a weakened immune system, hormonal imbalances, mood disorders, and decreased detox capacity.
In our increasingly busy world, it’s especially important to find time to wind down and relax. Incorporating regular stress management practices like meditation, yoga, tai chi, or progressive relaxation can provide many benefits and will vastly enhance your detoxification capacity.
Get enough sleep
Almost one-third of Australians are getting six or fewer hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation increases stress levels, increases inflammation and impairs the immune system, each of which negatively impacts the body’s ability to detox. Further to this, research indicates that during sleep, neurotoxic waste products are eliminated from the brain, thereby highlighting a direct role for sleep in detoxification.
Here are some tips for getting enough sleep:
- Avoid artificial light from screens at least an hour before bed.
- Minimize all artificial light exposure in the late evening hours.
- Ensure you get adequate natural light exposure first thing in the morning.
- Sleep in a dark, relatively cool room.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
Toxin exposure and impaired detoxification is proving to be an increasing problem today. I hope these tips will help to jump start your journey towards reducing your toxic burden and regaining your health and vitality.