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Why Should We Detoxify?

DETOXIFICATION / PURIFICATION:  Why should we detoxify?

By Dr. Keith E. Lewis
June 19, 2008

We are living in the most polluted environment in earth's known history. We are continually inhaling and assimilating residues from petrochemicals, plastics, pesticides and herbicides that occupy cell receptors sites and block hormone utilization.

Consider the following: Since 1980, there has been a 1600% increase in birth defects and 250% increase in breast cancer. Since 1940, a 59% decrease in male sperm count.  Since 1900, a 500% increase in cancer mortality and 400% increase in heart disease. Many experts believe that these statistics are directly related to the increased exposure to petrochemicals, heavy metals, and other chemicals and toxins in our environment which include the air we breathe as well as the foods that we consume.

While there is no one single process or modality that can guarantee the prevention of these conditions, it is logical to assume that an ongoing detox program performed on a somewhat regular basis can act at minimizing the toxic accumulation in the body.  Also, per many experts, these toxins over a period of time do lead to chronic degenerative disease processes which obviously affect the quality of life.

Detoxification is a natural process that occurs continuously in the body. It is a process of neutralizing or eliminating toxins from the body. Toxins could be defined as anything that harms body tissue. The body through detoxification processes in the liver actually transforms these chemicals to less harmful compounds that can be excreted via our bowels or urine.

As previously stated, there are many sources of toxins. You sit back and just think about it. You can identify many possible toxic exposures you have on a daily basis. Again, some other toxic exposures besides pesticides and herbicides would include household cleaners, perfumes, food additives, drugs over-the-counter and prescription, pollution in the air we breathe, pollution in the water that we drink, cigarette smoke (both secondary and primary) as well as heavy metals that enter our body when we ingest or inhale them. Oftentimes, when we think of detox, we think about drug addiction, whether it is through drugs or alcohol. The term nutritional detoxification refers to the use of diets and herbs as well as other whole food vitamins and minerals to remove environmental and dietary toxins from the body for optimal health.

There are many types of detox diets. In most cases, detox diets are short-term lasting anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks to 6 weeks.  Most of the diets consist of minimizing the amount of chemicals you ingest.  For example, the use of organic foods is highly recommended, emphasizing foods that provide vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that the body needs for detoxification. Foods used during a detox diet include foods that are high in fiber, high in water in content, foods that help actually to draw out toxins by increasing frequency of bowel movement and urination, but also aid the liver in its two-part detoxification process.

Although our bodies are built to handle detoxification processes, oftentimes we find our patients are malnourished or lacking in certain vitamins, minerals, and key nutrients involved in the detoxification process.  Hence the body is unable to detoxify these unwanted chemicals on its own, and for this reason these patients do require a specific detoxification program or diet to maximize their health. A diet that lacks certain nutrients may also impair our natural ability to detoxify chemicals, which further leads to their build-up in the body.

This cumulative load that occurs over time is called "body burden" and is thought to lead to illness and has been linked to hormonal imbalance, impaired immune function, nutritional deficiency, and an inefficient metabolism. Signs include indigestion, bad breath, fatigue, poor skin appearance as well as musculoskeletal pain. Individual patients who undergo a detoxification program typically find they have better energy, they have clear thinking process, they have better sleep, they feel more rested, they feel calm, less anxiety, they experience less stress or at least are able to handle their stressors better. They also notice better bowel movements, more regular bowel movements, better digestion, decreased bloating, decreased indigestion, and overall better sense of well being.

A word of caution for anyone considering a detoxification process: Any detoxification diet should be guided or under the supervision of a health care professional. Pregnant or lactating woman or even young children should not go on a detox diet unless supervised. People with anemia that have eating disorders, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, terminal illness, certain genetic diseases, and other chronic conditions should not try the diet unless under the supervision of a primary care provider. Detoxification diets are not really intended for alcohol or drug detox. However, they can be a great adjunct with other treatment modalities.

Oftentimes, our patients experience side effects when undergoing a detoxification program. These side effects are normal.  One of the most common is a feeling of malaise or lethargy. Some of our patients will actually feel headache or feel as if they have flu-like symptoms for the first 7 days of the program. Oftentimes, as they are weaned away from white sugar products and caffeine, they actually go through withdrawal process which creates and contributes to many of the symptoms they experience. We oftentimes have our patients gradually reduce the amount of caffeine prior to starting the detox program as well as slowly starting to wean themselves from white sugar or refined carbohydrates before the program starts. Other side effects which we do not see that often could include a loose stool leading to diarrhea. Sometimes even constipation is not unusual from the first several days. Other patients experience mild fatigue, irritability, weight loss, and of course they feel very hungry for the first seven days. After the seventh day, most patients start feeling better, most of the adverse symptoms start to subside, and they begin feeling better. We actually recommend our patients undergo a detoxification program one to two times per year; some patients more, depending on their health condition, but one to two times a year seems to be a frequency that fits most of our patients.  

If you like more information concerning a detoxification program or diet, I would recommend you contact your family physician or a licensed health care provider.