October 20, 2015
I was searching through some research articles for the detox chapter of my book I’m currently writing. I stumbled across an article from the U.K. stating that the “scientists” at this particular organization assert that detoxification programs are completely unnecessary.
This made me upset. I got over it. But I resolved to tell you the truth about “detox”. In the light of these organizations and their “scientists” talking about what they obviously don’t understand, it’s got to be said.
Detox – or – detoxification – or – biotransformation all refer to the same thing in this article. I’m going to refer to it as biotransformtation because this is a more descriptive term for what’s actually happening.
You see, in one sense, they’re right. Some of those “detox” programs out there are junk. They can even be hurtful in some cases. So it’s important to know what you’re doing.
By the end of this post, you will understand the basics of biotransformation. You’ll be better equipped to ferret out the good, beneficial, and helpful programs or protocols. And you’ll be able to see when the “scientists” talk sh*%.
So let’s look at what detox is and what it is not.
Detox is NOT:
• The easiest way to lose weight
• A cure-all (in fact, it doesn’t cure anything)
• The same as fasting
• Going to give you diarrhea
• Dangerous in any way if done appropriately
• Help unwanted fat and water weight to melt off effortlessly as a side effect (more on this below)
• Help the body heal naturally from a variety of common ubiquitous health complaints such as:
-GI (tummy) pain of various types including IBS and even IBD
-a host of brain-related issues such as:
• Support your “bad” genes if you have any (again, more on this later)
• Decrease cravings for everything from alcohol to sugar to tobacco
• Normalize blood sugar levels
• Change your relationship with healthy food
• Change the way you look at unhealthy choices
• Make it easy to “resist” those tempting junks foods
• Super charge your body with energy
• Improve recovery times (if your an athlete)
• Improve your motivation (I know this sounds like a stretch but read below, I’m not kidding)
• Clear your skin right up
• Normalize your dietary habits
• Help you to find enjoyment in natural, healthful, whole foods
• Prevent all types of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and most of the other big killers (again, I’m not saying you can get cancer, do a detox, and be cured. But read below to see how detox really can be a powerful part of a health regimen that will prevent this chronic degenerative diseases claiming the lives or so many of your loved ones)
Now I’m going to expand on the bullets above one by one. First…
What Detox Isn’t
I don’t want to dwell too long on what detox is not. However, it’s worth going over a few points so if you decide to move forward you’re doing so in an informed fashion. Most importantly, detox is not a cure all. On one hand, a well designed detoxification program will support your bodies natural healing capacities on several levels (more on that in a moment). It’s important to draw the distinction between curing or treating an illness, disease process, or injury versus supporting your bodies metabolic demands for healing in a natural way. Here’s the easiest way to think about it. A treatment, or cure, is something done to you (a surgery, a pill, a procedure, or whatever) with the intent of actually reversing the problem. In fact, most prescription drugs aren’t designed to cure disease either. Most medical drugs and procedures are designed to manage a symptom or slow a degenerative process. Any functional medicine doctor worth their salt will tell you that a well-designed detox program will support natural processes that are already occurring in the body.
You see, you are already detoxing. (that’s why those scientists were saying detox programs aren’t necessary) As you read this, your liver, kidneys, lungs, bowels, and even your skin are working on eliminating toxins from your body. In fact, this is a good time to take a look at what a toxin actually is. These are my own definitions, which I find useful. You may find something slightly different if you ask Mr. Webster.
Detox Defined: The process of eliminating toxins (for our purposes, from the human body)
Toxin Defined: Any chemical substance in the body which takes energy to deal with it.
A Word About Toxins
When I say “deal with”, I mean if the body doesn’t do something with it, this substance will cause damage to the body in some way. Typically, either storing it in your fat (making it hard for you to then lose said fat) or eliminating it through the urinary, GI, respiratory, or integumentary systems. (By the way, I’m a word nerd. I figure what’s the fun of being a doctor if I can’t use some fun words once in awhile. Whenever I do that, I’ll always try to follow it up with words real people use. Integumentary = skin). There are many different types of toxins and most of them cause damage in their own special way. Some will compete for binding, lowering the efficacy of hormones or neurotransmitters. Others mimic the hormones themselves, activating cells (the smallest living unit of your body) and causing endocrine disruption (fancy words for trouble with your hormones). Some toxins damage the brain, paving the way for depression, anxiety, attention or memory issues. Other toxins cause autoimmune diseases, allergies, or malnutrition. Others trigger inflammation and speed the aging process, making you look older as much as 50% faster. This is why some people look 32 when they are 45 and others look 57 when they are 45.
Do You Want To Age Quickly or Gracefully?
Let’s play a quick game. Lori and Tony will be our contestants. Both are 45. Lori eats a diet based of large amounts of vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. She works 36 hours a week as a restaurant reviewer, which she loves. She is a regular at her neighborhood book club on Tuesday evenings, which is the same evening she has her only glass of wine of the week. She lifts weights 3 times a week, meets her friends on Wednesday mornings for their regular track workout. It’s hard work but she likes the feeling she has as she’s leaving and hanging with her friends makes it so much easier to get up in the morning. She typically takes a couple bikes rides or enjoys a hike at a local park with her husband.
Now, let’s consider Tony. He works 50-60 hours per week at his high-pressure sales position. He doesn’t love it but he makes good money and he’s got his eye on a lake cabin for his retirement when he plans to relax. He used to play baseball in high school but since then hasn’t really had time for working out. Ever since his divorce, he has been eating on the go a lot. Breakfast of coffee. Lunch is fast food between appointments. Dinner is probably a frozen pizza or cocktails and whatever apps his clients are interested in. He doesn’t have time for hobbies either because he’s wiped out by the time he gets home. Ironically, he doesn’t sleep very well, which leaves him even more tired going into the next day.
You like games, right? Remember Tony and Lori are both 45. So who’s the person that regularly gets surprised by someone asking to see their ID when they order a drink? You know the answer. You know it’s Lori. No ever thinks Tony is potentially even close to underage. Lori probably doesn’t look 19, but she can definitely pass for 29 or 30. How did you know this?
Socializes with friends and family…check
Feeds herself with interests and hobbies… Check
Tony, although hard working and meaning well, is not doing any of the important health strategies.
The Good News For Tony (and You)
Tony is not alone. Sadly, you don’t have to look very far to find a Tony. In fact, your spouse may be a Tony. You may be a Tony. Or perhaps worst of all, your child is afflicted with early “Tony-hood”. I’m being silly here of course but only to add levity to a serious issue. More people in the U.S. are overweight than not. Almost every chronic degenerative disease associated with toxicity is on the rise, including cancer, diabetes, thyroid problems, heart disease, dementia, and so many more. Didn’t know these diseases are associated with too many toxins and poor clearance of toxins? Please read below and you’ll learn how.
Why Detox: Cliff Note Version
First, though, remember a few paragraphs back when I said you are already detoxing? That’s true. So why are there so many problems associated with toxicity in our world? And more to the point of this article, why would you choose to do a detox? To answer this completely, you’ll want to read the rest of what I have to say. But here’s the cliff note on that: a healthy, balanced detox program will emphasize and push healthy pathways in the liver to speed the process and at the same time should limit the things that make it hard for your body to do this natural process. In an individualized program, a functional medicine doctor will even go the extra step to personalize your nutrition and potentially your exercise to maximize the potential of your genes. Again, see below for more on this…
Detoxification is not the easiest way to lose weight or Is It?
Weight loss is probably the most common reason that people approach me about designing a healthy detox program for them. It’s my favorite way to help the most people lose weight. However, it is NOT the easiest way to lose weight. Actually, what I mean is it’s not the simplest way to lose weight. The simplest way to lose weight is to stop eating and drink lots of water. However, that is incredibly unhealthy, damaging to your body, and not fun at all! Come to think of it, detox probably is the easiest way for most people to lose weight and develop lifestyle strategies which will stick with you and you can carry with you throughout your life and continue to develop if you wish. I say probably because I’m a functional medicine doctor and I love personalized medicine and no one thing is ever the best or easiest thing for everyone. It’s going to depend on your unique physiology. Still, for the greatest number of people, for the biggest bang for your time and buck, detox is the easiest way to lose weight. There are many reasons for this which I will expand on below.
Fasting Is Not A Balanced Approach To Detox
Fasting is the act of abstaining from food for a time being. There are different reasons to fast ranging from physical to spiritual. There are also different strategies for fasting. You can fast for days or even weeks at a time. You can fast for half a day repeatedly. The latter is referred to as intermittent fasting. You can consume only water and no calories. You can consume only juice. (Not sugary juice mind you, but fresh pressed vegetable juice). There are benefits to fasting if done correctly. I am specifically a fan of the intermittent fast at times. Since this is an article about detoxification suffice to say they are very different. A healthy, balanced detox will not put you into a fasting state. Detoxification, as you’ve already learned, is a natural process your body is constantly doing. In fact, you would die in about 5 minutes if your body stopped all detox related metabolism. However, detox is a very energy dependent process. That means it requires calories (energy) to continue. If you don’t take the calories in, in the form of food, you need to start catabolizing (eating your own tissues). At first glance, this can seem like a good thing because you might assume you’d eat your fat stores first and quickly lean down. An appetizing prospect for most people. (pun intended) However, the reality is most people will break down muscle just as quickly as fat if not faster. If you aren’t looking to be a body builder, you might think to yourself, no big whoop. THINK AGAIN!
“Muscle mass has been shown to be the #1 biomarker of healthy aging”
What’s that mean? It means that if you can keep muscle on your bones, you will retain your function well into your golden years. Not only that, you’ll burn more fat, all things being equal, when you have more muscle. So if you fast, or even severely restrict your caloric intake (amount of food and drink you consume) and you lose muscle mass, you are setting the perfect stage for the yo-yo weight loss. You’ll lose weight as you lost muscle and fat. Then you’ll go back to eating like you were before and you’ll pack on the fat you just lost, plus some more and you’ll have less muscle than you had before. Your muscles are your engines. (warning – car analogy coming up) If you have a V8 6.2 Hemi you’re going to burn through your fuel much more quickly than if you have a little 4 cylinder. If you want to be able to eat more food, you need to have a bigger engine to support that metabolism. Make sense?
Where does that leave us? When you’re doing a detox, you should be eating plenty of healthy vegetables (think vitamins, minerals, fiber), probably some fruits, and depending on your particular needs, some sort of protein and healthy fats. You want to limit all the garbage going in like sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, processed foods, trans fats, so on and so forth. You need enough calories to keep your body running well. A detox is NOT a fast.
No Diarrhea Please
I’ve heard it so many times… “Am I going to have to stay home and by the toilet the entire time I’m on this cleanse doc?” Many people fear losing control of their bowels during a detox. This is founded on the experience, either first-hand or second, of taking some weird fibrous supplement packed with gut-stimulating properties. These things sell because they often do lead to quick weight loss and that makes it seem like it’s doing something good so people suffer through the misery. The weight loss is mostly from the fact the body can’t hold onto fluid because it’s shooting through you so quickly. This is what everyone calls “water weight”. It’s also what’s going to get stacked right back on as soon as you stop taking that whacked pill and/or start eating sugar again. Look to my post about sugar to learn more about the horrible effects sugar has on the body.
The take home here is – You don’t worry about diarrhea when you’re on a properly supported detox program.
“But Is It Dangerous?”
If you’ve read up to this point, you’ll have your answer already but in case you’ve skipped to this point, here’s the summary.
Done appropriately, with proper guidance, a well-designed detoxification program can do wonders for your health in many ways and is NOT dangerous. In fact, it will support most systems in your body to the point you will likely feel good in ways you’ve forgotten about since you were a kid. It’s very common for my patients to report feeling invigorated in ways they haven’t since that were young. To the point that many of them have made it a regular part of their health routine to do a detox once or twice a year, often for 10 days. See the bottom of this article for some quick and dirty bullet points about what a great detox program will look like.
Now The Good Stuff
What CAN a Detox Program Do For You
A good detox is an interesting journey for most people. If you’re like most, you are so used to living in a state of forgotten health, you wouldn’t know good health if it jumped out and bite you. What’s forgotten health? Forgotten health is what I call the state you are in when you don’t even realize you don’t feel good. You, sadly, have forgotten what it is to feel young. To get up in the morning and desire to curiously explore your world. You don’t remember how to listen to your body or that now small voice that you’ve been shoving down for years or decades now. Remember when you used to run around and climb trees and laugh just because you could and it felt good and right? I mean it… Can you even remember? Forgotten health is the gray drudgery that you are living out, day in and day out. What’s the point of life? Can you recall a time when you didn’t need to ask that question? Spoiler Alert: The point of life IS life! Read on to discover how to leave behind Forgotten Health and find your Vibrant Potential.
Shed Unwanted Fat Effortlessly
Detoxifying your body of toxins can be one of the most rewarding ways to lose fat and improve your body composition.
But how can I claim that fat will melt off your body effortlessly? Those are big words. Especially in a society that has two overweight people for every “healthy” weighted person? First of all, stop and think about this for a moment. Most people can lose weight fairly simply if they want to. Just stop eating. The majority of people will lose weight if they don’t eat. Simple, but that’s not easy, right? That’s not healthy, is it? Correct on both accounts. Plus, there’s another important factor at play here. Do you want to lose weight? Or do you actually want to look and feel better in your body? Do you actually want to think better? How about improving your focus? When you start asking slightly more sophisticated questions such as, “How can I lose fat and extra water weight while sparring my muscle mass in a way that I won’t rebound with weight gain and end up more overweight than I was before I started this roller coaster, while simultaneously promoting healthy brain and organ function?” you start to get better answers.
“If you just want to lose weight then stop putting food in your mouth.” Period.
If you want to shed fat, keep your muscle (remember, muscle is the top indicator that you’re aging well), improve your mood and your memory, skyrocket your energy levels, gain confidence, focus, and motivation you haven’t had since you-can’t-remember-when, then detoxification is a tree you want to consider barking up.
There is more than one reason why a good detox will work wonders for people, including shedding unwanted pounds. One important thing to understand here is toxins are stored in adipose tissue (fat)
So What’s a Good Detox Program Look Like?
There are several aspects of your healthy personalized detoxification program that can vary based on your genetics, circumstances, and health goals. There are components that should be in any good detox program. Here’s what to look for.
• Guidance – #1 reason for unmet goals is not knowing what and how to do it. I’ve found many patients come into the clinic knowing a lot of stuff. Putting it together in an effective, safe health protocol is something you can use help with even if you know a lot. – Find a good functional medicine doctor is my advice.
• Take out the offending foods
• Replace old crappy foods with new beneficial super foods
• Targeted nutritional supplements (The right supplements go a long way in speeding the detox process)
• Customizable (a good functional medicine doctor will walk you through designing a program based on your individual needs by looking at factors such as your genes, current stress levels, and personal health goals)
What do you need to know about the detox process
To understand what your body is going through as it detoxify’s, you need to know about the 3 phases of detoxification. I’m going to use an analogy of a sending a gift to your Mom. (As I’m writing this chapter it’s close to Mother’s Day) You’re going to need to package the gift (that’s phase I), label it so the delivery guy or gal knows where to bring it (phase II), and then you’re going to have to ship it (phase III). Let’s look at each one separately.
Phase I – Package It
Phase I detoxification happens primarily in the liver. This is the “package it” phase. “Cytochrome P450s support the oxidative, peroxidative and reductive metabolism of such endogenous and xenobiotic substrates as environmental pollutants, agrochemicals, plant allelochemicals, steroids, prostaglandins and fatty acids.” There are two important pieces of information to look at in that quote. First, is “oxidative, peroxidative, and reductive metabolism”. What this means in a nutshell, is that
Phase II – Label It
Phase III – Ship It
Okay – shameless plug time. I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful and hopeful. Helpful, meaning you were able to not only learn something but also apply it. Hopeful, meaning as you read, you were able to see that regardless of your situation, and regardless of how many doctors have said you can’t be helped, there is hope. Detox may be a part of it for you. Follow this link to learn about how our program, Detox With The Docs, may be a great fit for you right now.
I can’t end this chapter without stating that detoxing is going to be different for every person. If you want to prepare yourself ahead of time for what to expect, if you want to optimize your detox program for yourself, then read my chapter on genomics.