For many people the term ‘detox’ immediately conjures visions of minimalist diets comprising perhaps just water and the odd carrot. The reality is of course that a sensible detoxification diet is not a hardship. And indeed many people benefit from a short period of detoxification with a dietary ‘regime’ of their own choosing that simply minimises the ingestion of certain foods and drinks.
The Modern Western Diet & Detoxification
It is true that most ancient civilisations advocated a day of self-denial, or fasting. More recently there is evidence that fasting switches off metabolic activity and starts the body cleansing and also stimulates immune function.
In modern western society the process of a bodily detoxification is much more pertinent. The diet for many of processed or ‘novel’ foods does not sit well with our digestive system that has not changed since caveman days.
The modern diet is unfortunately high in processed grains, flour, protein, sugar, salt, artificial ingredients, caffeine etc. With alcohol consumption another factor contributing to less than optimal health and toxin build up.
Toxins & Detoxification ‘Side-Effects’
The elimination of toxins from our body is the key objective of a dietary detoxification. Toxins that have built up from the foods we eat, the liquids we drink, and other chemical toxins from the air that we breathe. In addition there is a build up of dead cells and their secretions from our metabolic activity and natural cell renewal process.
Feelings of fatigue, allergies, poor skin, unidentified niggling aches and pains, digestive discomfort – these can all be symptoms that a sensible detox can improve or eliminate.
The toxins that we unwittingly digest can become deposited in our body. A diet that lacks certain nutrients, particularly water soluble anti-oxidants, may also impair our natural ability to detoxify chemicals, which further leads to their build-up in the body.
As part of the detoxification process we are looking to improve the function of our whole body and especially our kidneys, liver and bowels. The process of amending our diet for a period of detoxification has a five-fold effect:
1. Letting our bodily organs rest as they have less to process (and certainly less difficult to process foods)
2. A replenishing detox diet focussed on healthy, antioxidant rich foods such as fruits and vegetables to boost our nutritive levels
3. A healthy stimulus to our blood circulation and organs such as the liver, kidney and intestines which will also promote the elimination of toxins
4. A cleansing process for our largest organ – our skin
5. The cleansing of the bowel and GI tract will improve future bowel movements
However, depending on the extent to which you detoxify, you will experience ‘side effects’ during the detox diet with varying symptoms and severity that may include headaches, sweats, tiredness, irritability, skin problems, sleep disruption etc. Constipation or diarhhoea are also common side-effects of a dietary detoxification as your bowels deal with the process of elimination and a changed and reduced diet.
For many the most common symptoms of the detox are due to cutting out (or severely reducing) caffeine intake; similarly alcohol. Therefore a gradually reduction in caffeine intake prior to the detox is a good idea, and remember caffeine is not restricted to tea and coffee but many soft drinks too.
As a simple rule symptoms you may have suffered prior to a detox are likely to briefly get worse during the process as the toxins are eliminated. But it is important to be attuned to your body during the detox and if you are concerned about the severity of symptoms or duration consult a doctor or health professional.
A ‘Measured’ Detox with a Friend or Partner
If you are planning a detox and in a relationship then hopefully you will both undertake the dietary changes; or as a minimum your partner will understand and support what you are going to do. Mutual support and understanding is very helpful toward successfully completing a detox – and if not a husband or wife this can extend to a friend or family member or indeed a group of friends.
The ‘stricter’ dietary detoxification regimes will recommend the cutting out completely (or largely) of certain foods and drinks. For some people attempting a detox for the first time this ambitious approach may be too much and thus the whole detox gets abandoned after a short time.
So set yourself a sensible diet, for example if you normally drink a lot of coffee every day try to limit yourself to one or two smaller cups each day as part of the detox. If you like sugar and sweet items perhaps you will aim to reduce this intake by (say) 80-90% daily during the detox rather than stopping altogether suddenly.
Many people taking this ‘measured’ approach complete their first detox successfully and with the improvements in physical and mental well being it spurs them on to permanent improvements in their diet (such as continuing their reduced sugar intake).
The process of sensible detoxification has ‘awoken’ in many the realisation that a healthier diet really does improve many lifestyle aspects. They are more attuned to their body.
A popular and natural time to undertake a detox is around one of the two equinox periods that occur each year (around 20 March and 22 September). An equinox occurs when the sun crosses the celestial equator. At this time the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun; and day and night is of equal length.
If you are thinking that associating a dietary regime with a calendar event sounds rather odd or pagan it does have ancient, historical and religious associations, but more importantly makes common dietary sense too – particularly for us in the Northern Hemisphere.
During the cold and dark winter for most of us our diets change, we exercise less and our body metabolism is likely to slow down. We are often more inclined to eat hot and carbohydrate laden meals and to be more sluggish on a cold and dark morning or evening.
As we move toward spring the daylight hours lengthen, there is more sunshine and warmth and we start to become more active and looking forward to the changing season. For most of us our diets change too, away from hearty winter meals.
The equinox is therefore a natural time to ‘cleanse’ our body, to give us that extra exciting boost into spring and summer. If you are in tune with your body you will notice that you tend to want to eat less at these two times of year, and we often feel sluggish as our body uses these times to try to naturally eliminate waste build up. So it makes sense to work with the natural bodily flow and enhance its detoxification process.
Similarly autumn is a popular time to detox in order to prepare for the winter months. For 2014 the spring equinox falls on March 20th.
The Food ‘Villains’
There are eight key food groups or items we are going to highlight here as being the most common ones to restrict as part of a detox diet.
Alcohol – It goes without saying that if you have been consuming too much too regularly try to reduce this intake dramatically as part of the detox; certainly with most days alcohol free.
Sugar – Firstly if you like sugar in your tea or coffee or on your cereal try to cut this intake out or minimise as part of the detox; this includes artificial sweeteners, fructose but honey is ok in moderation. It goes without saying that we want to try and avoid unhealthy snacks, biscuits, chocolate etc. Premade meals that promote as ‘low fat’ often have a high sugar and salt content so check all pre packaged foods you plan to eat.
Caffeine – We love our tea and coffee but caffeine is addictive and puts a burden on our body and especially the liver. Try to reduce or cease your intake during detox and if you like a lot of caffeinated drinks try to reduce this post detox. (See our comment on caffeine withdrawal above).
Wheat – Processed wheat products form so much of the modern western diet, they are perhaps in more foods than you think. The elimination or reduction in wheat consumption is one of the cornerstones of a detox diet; this abstinence helps to reduce gluten intake and digestive burden amongst many benefits.
Salt – Hopefully you are aware of the health dangers of too much salt in the diet. Needless to say we are seeking to reduce salt intake to a satisfactory level during the detox. Some salt is important for all of us to help maintain certain functions, but liberally sprinkling salt on food or as part of your cooking is not a good sign. Many pre-packaged and processed foods are high in salt and table salts can have many additives. Supplementing with ‘Kelp’ (from seaweed) is a popular alternative to salt during the detox and can aid the detox process, however kelp should be taken in moderation and not at all for certain people – we have more details later on kelp.
Meat – Reducing or eliminating all meat consumption is our objective during the detox; so red meat (beef, mince etc.), pork (especially bacon, sausage and cured) etc.; and certainly fatty meat cuts. Chicken in moderation is okay but ideally organic chicken. It is fine to maintain a reasonable intake of Omega 3 rich fish during the detox, but ideally white fish.
Dairy – Try to keep your dairy intake to a minimum during the detox; a little butter and bio-live yogurt is okay. Dairy foods did not form part of the human diet centuries ago and are not best suited to our digestive system; so little milk and certainly try to avoid cheese.
Select Carbohydrates – We have already mentioned wheat and sugar but refined carbohydrates play such an enormous and unnecessary part of the modern western diet. Try to minimise your intake of bread, potatoes, pasta, and carb laden snacks (etc.).
The Detox Diet – the Foods to Eat
The great news is that the internet now provides us all with a wealth of detox diet recipes and ideas for free. Make sure you use reputable websites, but for the detox novice on browsing the web you will soon get a good idea of typical detox ‘dishes’ and how to construct a daily and weekly diet regime.
And if you are carrying out the detox with one or more people you can share recipe ideas and research. We are not providing a long list of suggested detox recipes here but the following are key points:
Fruit & Vegetables – Fibre, Antioxidants and Natural Nutrients: The focus for the detox diet will be a predominant intake of fruit and vegetables. Don’t worry you can revert back to some meat after the detox is over – but hopefully in moderation. A diet (post detox) rich in fish is always to be recommended in line with UK Government advice.
Fruit and vegetables are a wonderful and natural source of raw fibre, water, vitamins and minerals. There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables to choose from. A good intake of these foods throughout each day will help cleanse the body and boost nutritive levels.
Ideally eat organic fruit and vegetables as they will have higher natural nutrient levels and absolutely minimal toxins (if any). ‘Little and often’ is a good mantra for the detox so snacking on a little fruit or carrots and celery (for example) during the detox day is a good idea.
Juicing: Juicing fruit and vegetables at any time for a healthy drink or smoothie is to be recommended – and particularly as part of a detox diet. Ingesting fruit and veg in their raw state maximises the nutritive benefits and a mixed juice can taste great. The use of fresh ginger, and indeed garlic and onion (where appropriate) all support detoxification.
Here is an example of a yummy and healthy detox juice:
1 slice fresh pineapple,1green apple,3 stalks celery,¼ red onion,½ peeled lemon, 2 carrots, 1/2 teaspoon Spirulina (see below) -Juice & Drink.
The Importance of Water: We consider one of the most important things in a cleansing process is that you ensure that the body’s liquid levels are sufficient to allow cleansing to take place. To address this, we believe you should ideally drink 3-6 pints of purified, filtered or glass-bottled natural water, spread out evenly through the day. This will make sure that the cleanse itself will not put excess demands on an overburdened digestive system.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s): EFA’s are an essential source of Omega 3 (and Omega 6) fatty acids. If you are unfamiliar with the term read more on our blog by selecting the relevant category (in the right-hand margin).
We need good levels of Omega 3 at all stages of life for many essential bodily functions, and the source needs to be food and/or supplements. Maintaining good levels of Omega 3 throughout the detox is a good and beneficial idea for many and we suggest organic flaxseed oil – more details can be found below.
However some people prefer not to take EFA’s during a detox. The detoxification effectively comprises two stages with the first being elimination and the second stage being repair and replenishment. As such some would abstain from any oils (such as Omega 3) during the initial cleansing period and reintroduce them after a few days.
The ‘Paleo’ Diet: The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) is also termed the ‘caveman diet’; it mimics what our caveman and women ancestors ate. Our body has not changed in these thousands of years yet the western diet has introduced a huge number of food items largely unsuited to our digestive system.
Following a Paleo diet or taking ideas from it will be no bad idea for your detox. You can find out a lot more on our blog by selecting the relevant category (in the right-hand margin).
Exercise and Cleanliness: If you do not already have a regular exercise routine then try to get some daily exercise during the detox – just a simple daily brisk walk of half an hour will be of help. Exercise will encourage the toxin elimination and blood circulation etc.
Daily cleansing in terms of a shower or bath is important during the detox. For the more disciplined detox there are many cleansing routines you can follow. However ‘skin brushing’ each day is an excellent idea and full details are below.
Enema (colonic irrigation): For many health practitioners, particularly those specialising in detoxification, the use of an enema as part of the overall detoxification process would be their strong recommendation. The administration of an enema by liquid treatment helps stimulate stool evacuation; particularly the release of old and encrusted colon waste.
As well as having this ‘purging’ effect the process will help reduce the symptoms of constipation frequently caused by the change in diet during detoxification. And it will support the elimination of toxins from the body.
For some of you considering a detox diet for the first time the thought of an enema as part of the detoxification may seem a little daunting. However you can certainly speak to a trained practitioner in your area to better understand the enema process and benefits as a starting point.
Length of Diet: Try to set a minimum period of five days for a detox, especially if you have not done it before. Ideally seven days minimum is to be suggested. Depending on how strict you are going to be with your diet the ‘side effects’ of the detox will occur early on.
Once you get through this period you will really begin to experience the benefits of increased mental and physical alertness that the detox has generated – and this should spur you on to long term improvements in your diet.
Supplements to Support Detoxification
We all have trillions of live bacteria in our gut; in a balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. If this balance gets out of kilter so that bad bacteria start to ‘colonise’ the good bacteria we suffer in many ways but specifically with digestive disorders such as pain, bloating and reflux. Candida (Candida Albicans) is a common example of this problem.
Modern diets rich in sugars, alcohol and carbohydrates frequently lead to bad bacteria overgrowth and Candida; this can also cause diarrhoea, affect our sleep, skin and general feelings of lethargy. Many people who undertake a detox diet are in this type of situation where ‘overdoing’ it has caused a gastro intestinal bacterial imbalance. A course of antibiotics can also lead to Candida overgrowth.
The detox diet will help to restore this gut balance to the correct levels (i.e. increasing the good bacteria). The problem with Candida is that once bad bacteria colonisation has taken hold it is hard to reverse this bad balance.
A suitable live bacteria supplement can help support good gut health at all stages of life and particularly help as part of a detox diet. The general rule is to select a multi strain live bacteria supplement – the more strains the more likely it is to have a beneficial effect throughout the GI tract and bowel.
It is also important to select a supplement specifically for your age as the important bacterial gut strains change as we get older. So, generally there is one supplement for children and adults up to age 50 – and a differing multi strain live bacteria supplement for those aged 50 plus.
Organic Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed Oil is one of the richest seed oil sources of Omega 3 alpha linolenic acid, of which it contains an average of 50%. The Omega 3 family of fatty acids helps to balance the body’s inflammatory response, and therefore a supply of this oil is beneficial to help support a healthy digestive tract.
Within the oil, there will also be small quantities of proteins and phospholipids to help with the emulsification and absorption of the oil, as well as small amounts of a selection of vitamins and minerals, but the primary component of interest is the alpha linolenic acid. It is this fatty acid which helps maintain the function and integrity of cellular membranes, and participates in the regulation of cholesterol metabolism.
Aloe Vera Inner Leaf Juice
The Aloe Vera plant provides some wonderful and natural health products. The Aloe juice made from the inner leaf gel is commonly used as part of a treatment for digestive disorders including IBS. Aloe Inner leaf gel has reputed immune amplification and anti-inflammatory properties to the digestive system. Aloe also contains prebiotics which help stimulate replenishment of native bacterial strains.
This supplement is ideal as part of a detoxification to help support gut function and for its calming action. It is to be used in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations (typically twice daily before food) but is not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women (who should not undergo a strict detox diet anyway).
Psyllium Husk Powder
Psyllium Husks are a good form of dietary fibre and help maintain healthy, efficient intestines. Reputable psyllium husk supplements are dry processed and solvent free and come from the seed coatings from Plantago Ovata; they come in a powder or capsule form.
Psyllium Husks are a good supplement to take during detox to help support the colon cleansing process. Once taken the psyllium husk powder passes through the body and turns into a gel which expands considerably during peristalsis, and helps collect the waste products. The powder form has to be taken quickly, as it thickens very rapidly.
Psyllium Husks are commonly associated with a bowel cleanse; the bowel cleanse is part of an overall natural detoxification diet and the psyllium husk powder can help support this process.
It is generally considered that the bowel (which contains all of the colons) is one of the most important organs for self-cleansing. Essentially, a cleanse programme will help return integrity to the bowel by removing waste matter from the digestive system. This then allows the body to digest and absorb its food more efficiently, improving the overall absorption of nutrients from food into the body’s systems.
We reiterate the importance of a plentiful supply of clean water as part of a detoxification and colon cleansing diet and when using a psyllium husk powder supplement.
Spirulina is used in detoxification programmes and provides an ideal natural aid to detoxification. Spirulina Platensis supplements come from a ‘farmed’ multi-cellular, filamentous, blue-green alga and are a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, essential and non-essential amino acids and fatty acids.
Spirulina’s unique combination of phytonutrients and chlorophyll provides a natural chelating and healing product with evidence of benefits to heavy metal chelation. It is to be found in a tablet and powder supplement form and you need to select a pure Spirulina supplement with no excipients.
Kelp is the name given to a whole variety of seaweeds and contains large amounts of organic iodine and traces of every known mineral and element. These act as catalysts in the body and stimulate vital enzyme reactions. Kelp supplements will come in a powder, tablet or capsule form.
Kelp supplements are popular in detox diets for their digestive enzyme qualities, in promoting toxin expulsion from the body, for their natural iodine content (which is deficient in many western diets) and to replace lost salts where table salts are removed from the diet.
Although good iodine levels are important for pregnancy and breastfeeding certain dosages of kelp supplements are not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women (who should not undergo a strict detox diet anyway).
Skin brushing is beneficial in all cleansing programmes. It has the effect of invigorating the body through the massaging strokes of the bristles, moving excess waste into the solar plexus area, where the toxic fluid is drained into the intestines and excreted from the body. Skin brushing can help maintain healthy muscle tone. Your skin will be revitalised and you will radiate health.
A pure bristle brush is essential – plastic or synthetic fibres can scratch tender skin and have no beneficial effects. Once your skin is used to daily brushing, you may find pure bristles too soft. For greater stimulation you can buy vegetable brushes, which are made from natural fibres, often coconut, and are very hard-wearing.
Always begin when your skin is dry. Starting at your feet, brush with firm, gentle strokes up towards your navel, between one and four strokes on each section of skin. Cover each leg, then each arm, over your shoulders, down your front, then down your back. Your skin brushing is now complete. If you wish, take a warm bath or shower to wash away the excess skin flakes.
The best time to skin brush is in the early morning, before bathing and dressing, although any time will do. Some people find skin brushing too stimulating just before bedtime. You will be surprised at the wonderfully invigorating glow just five minutes daily will achieve, and how refreshed and lively you will feel each day.
Warning on Detoxification Diets
The above are all suggested as part of a detoxification programme. We would not consider it appropriate for any of the treatments to be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication please consult your doctor first before embarking on a detoxification diet. You should not undertake a detoxification diet if you are unwell.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.