DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: DETOXIFICATION

Image of scale featuring Detoxification
It has been a while since my last post, I know… but, I had a bit of summer-itis. It is FINALLY beautiful in New York. Fresh fruits and veggies are so abundant…all I wanted to do was eat fruits and cheese in the grass wearing garlands in my hair… Just kidding; well sort of kidding. I have snapped out of my cooking sabbatical and come back inside.

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, I realized it had been a month since my last post as I was sitting in Philly chatting with a friend’s lovely wife. We were chatting about my blog and the healthy cooking philosophy behind it when the conversation inevitably led to “Cleanses and Detox”. The conversation was a long and complex one. One, I believe is worthy of its own post. So here we go….
These two items have become synonymous with expensive store bought elixirs of herbs, powders, fasts and clays that are touted as quick fix cure-alls for the ailments of the modern world or magic ways to lose weight. The idea of detoxification has moved away from the natural process that our bodies partake in daily. We forget that this walking chemistry set that we call a body actually has its own internal system to purge metals, toxins, and waste or maintain a healthy weight.

That being said there are in fact herbs, powders, and foods that support, boost, and maintain our natural detoxification system. But, I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to spend extreme amounts of money on expensive crash course kits that promise losing pounds and elusive “toxins” with miraculous results on health and wellness.

So, how does our own detoxification system work? Well we gotta go back to high school biology class for a moment.

Our Body’s Detoxification System:

1. The Hepatic System: The primary organ of detoxification is the liver.

1. The Respiratory System: Lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, sinuses and nose. ?
2. The Gastrointestinal System: Gall bladder (bile), colon, small intestine. ?
3. The Urinary System: Kidneys, bladder. ?
4. The Skin: Sweat and sebaceous glands. ?
5. The Lymphatic System: Lymph channels and lymph nodes.

First up is the liver: The liver performs over 500 functions, maintains thousands of internal enzyme systems, filters half a gallon of blood per minute and produces a quart of bile daily. On top of all these vital functions, it performs the major task of detoxification. It is considered “the” major organ that works to cleanse our blood.

Every nutrient and “chemical” that enters our body (including drugs, pesticides, herbicides, vitamins and hormones), is broken down by liver cells. Within the liver cells, (hepatocytes) there are a number of intricate mechanisms involved in the breakdown of the substances our body’s don’t need or that are toxic.

If the substance is toxic our body has methods of breaking them down and expelling them. There are two major processes of detoxification known as Phase 1 and Phase II .
?Phase I. Detoxification involves the activation of a series of enzymes, collectively called Cytochrome P450. This phase takes each toxic, fat-soluble chemical (meaning they can only dissolve in oily solutions and not water) and makes it less harmful (neutralizes it). It then begins the process of making it water soluble and more chemically active so that it can pass out of the body easily through the waste management system (sweat, urine, etc)??Phase II. Things that can’t easily be expelled in Phase one go through a more complicated process. Here they must be converted a second time, combining with mineral compounds, amino acids, and biochemical compounds. This process is known as conjugation, making the entire molecule water-soluble, and thus allowing excretion via the urine or bile routes.

However, when liver can become overburdened with “toxins”, these fat-soluble chemicals remain in circulation and become incorporated into fatty tissues. Which, is like leaving smelly trash in the house too long, not the best idea. ??Imagine that the body’s detoxification system is like the windshield wipers on an automobile. Now imagine that snow, rain and hail are toxic substances and that a clear windshield is analogous to a body clear of toxins. When snow begins to fall, you turn your wipers on to clear the windshield. This, in essence, is detoxification. As more and more snow falls, you may have to increase the speed of the wipers in order to continue to keep the windshield clear.??Now imagine a storm that occurs overnight and the snow builds up on the windshield. When you get up in the morning and go to start your vehicle, it doesn’t matter at what speed you set your wipers; the incredible weight of the snow is just too much for the wipers to handle. The only way to get the wipers going again is to first clear the snow with a scraper.

Now here is where those box/diet/fast programs would suggest you can run out and buy their products to “fix” the problem. In an acute (one time) situation yeah they might be helpful but, in the long run you can’t and shouldn’t relay on those programs to keep you healthy. They are like a jump start for a car when stuck on the side of the road. It might get ya home but, you really need a new battery to keep moving.

In this case the new battery is a new way of looking at your diet and lifestyle. (Diet meaning every day way of eating not some special short term regime.) If we eat/consume items that keep these natural detoxification systems healthy and happy we don’t need to take the crash courses box systems.

If we spend time getting enough fiber to keep the bowels nice and happy, eating foods like beets, greens, blue green algae like Chlorella and Spirulina, adding sulfur rich foods, drinking enough water, and exercising, etc… we are already facilitating Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification process. That doesn’t mean supplementing your healthy diet with things like Milk Thistle, Burdock root, lots of fiber, or other homeopathic and Ayurvedic herbs is a bad thing, but they are supplements not a substitute for proper nutrition.

Eating well is the best way to stay healthy because high quality food provides all the things we need to keep our bodies working at their optimum level. If we need some added tricks to gives us a small boost fine, but quick fixes won’t help in the long run.

I do think there is a place though for Ayurveduc herbs and homeopathic medicine as preventative measures in our lives. I have a few of my favorite foods and herbs that I incorporate into my regime.

Here are 10 of my favorite supplements and foods that I find particularly great for our overall health and detoxification are: (in no particular order)

Milk Thistle: Helps support liver functions and health. Helps rejuvenate and repair liver.

Artichokes: I did an entire food of the day blog dedicated to the amazing things artichokes do to restore, protect, and maintain liver health.

Burdock Root: high fiber root vegetable that contains pre-biotics that help keep the digestive system happy and healthy. Also, a diuretic and blood purifier.

Teas: Green/Rooibus: Filled with antioxidants and nutrients that support multiple systems and bodily functions including detoxification.

Slippery Elm: Slippery elm contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. It coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines; it also contains antioxidants that help relieve inflammatory bowel conditions. Slippery elm also causes reflux stimulation of nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased mucus secretion. The increased mucus production may protect the gastrointestinal tract against ulcers and excess acidity.

Flaxseed Meal: Known for its high Omega 3 and Antioxidant properties, is high in fiber, soluble and insoluble, great for maintaining healthy digestive system, cholesterol, blood pressure and bone health. Believed to be protective against many types of cancers, inflammation and the diseases chronic inflammation lead to, and even hot flashes.

Beets: Filled with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that provide support for detoxification, and is anti-inflammatory. The betalin pigments present in beets have repeatedly been shown to support activity in our body’s Phase 2 detoxification process and are known to be a powerful “blood purifier”.

Aloe Vera Juice: Aloe if filled with a range vitamins and nutrients including Vit A, B1, B2, B6, B12,Vit C, Vit E, folic acid, niacin, calcium, copper, zinc, chromium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Which are beneficial to your overall health and definitely many detoxification systems.

Probiotics/Prebiotics: Keep your digestive system happy and healthy so we can properly absorb nutrients and purge waste and toxins. Our bodies have millions and millions of these good bacteria living in our guts but stress and poor diet can throw them out of whack. I personally like Kefir, Indian Lassi, Greek Yogurt, or probiotic pills that also have pre-biotics in them.

Blue Green Algae/Spirulina/Chlorella: These can be seen as a controversial pick as there is a lot of wild health claims for these algae. But, it is clear that they are good sources of protein and vitamins that do support good health and detoxification. But, be very careful of what brands you buy to make sure it’s 1) not contaminated with heavy metals or 2) packed with fillers.

Some of the above things I use all the time and others I rotate in occasionally, especially when tired, sluggish, and stressed. I prefer to buy the supplements separately and from the most reputable brands. It allows me more control of what I am ingesting. Always of course check with your doctor about any supplements you are or hope to take, especially if you are on any medications.

All of the above is great for over all health and well being I believe. But, what if you want to clean out that colon or get your sluggish digestive system going? What if you just can’t eat right all the time? What do you do if you don’t want to buy those clay powders? Well there are lots of options: Fiber capsules, Psyllium powder, etc. (Check out my blog on fiber)

The key however, is have a routine. Finding what works for you to make sure you are getting enough fiber and water to bind up the waste your liver is expelling. Eating enough liver happy foods to keep it churning out the toxins. I found things I liked and use them regularly. You can do the same.

For example, I created an easy alternative to those box kits. I call it my “get it going” drink. It is a simple recipe, then I drink two glasses of water right afterwards and again in the morning. I do nightly for 1-4 weeks intermittently and it keeps my system nice and happy.

Get it Going Cocktail

2 Tablespoons Flaxseed meal
2-4 oz Aloe Vera Juice
4 oz Kefir or Indian Lassi
Follow this with 2 glasses of good old fashion water at night and then again in the morning.

Keeping your body happy doesn’t need to be rocket science nor ridiculously expensive. A healthy diet kills multiple birds with one stone. Instead of running after the latest and greatest new “fad” just try good old fashion fruits and vegetables, learn about herbs that may supplement what you’re already doing, and most of all just be aware of what you’re putting into your body.

Have a great day,
Bon Appetit!

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