There’s a lot of confusion surrounding what exactly a detox is and when and how you might need to do it. So let’s break down how your body’s detoxification systems work, and what you can do to help them keep running at their best. (Spoiler: you don’t need to do a juice cleanse, but you may want to stock up on broccoli or go take a nap.)
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification is how your body heals and repairs itself. It’s the process, largely undertaken by your liver, of breaking down toxins and escorting them out of your body.
So, What’s a Toxin Then?
A toxin is anything that your body needs to process and dispose of to stay healthy.
There are two types:
- Endogenous toxins – these are substances made inside your body, for example, dead or damaged cells, hormones that need to be recycled or excreted, byproducts from your gut bacteria, and damage from infections, inflammation or stress.
- Exogenous toxins – toxins you eat, drink, breathe in or touch - for example, alcohol, pesticides, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals and preservatives.
Do You Need to Help Your Body Detox?
Detoxification is a process that happens naturally and continuously – but some bodies are more efficient at it than others, and some bodies need more support than others.
Some people find it harder to clear toxins from their systems due to genetic variations or health conditions that compromise the body’s natural detoxification systems.
You may also need to support your detoxification systems if you have a higher toxic load. This is especially true now when we’re exposed to more environmental toxins than at any other point in history. Your great-grandmother’s liver might have coped better with some Christmas excess because it wasn’t also busy processing air pollution, chemicals, processed food and medications.
When Your Liver Might Need a Helping Hand
So how can you tell if you need a little help on the detox front?
Almost everyone would benefit from the actions on our list below, but it’s especially important if you’re suffering from any of these symptoms of poor detoxification:
- Fatigue, brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Sinus issues, congestion or post-nasal drip
- Chronic headaches
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas or heartburn
- Rashes or skin problems – when the normal channels of detoxification are blocked up, your body may try to dispose of toxins through your skin
- PMS or painful periods – when your detox pathways aren’t working well, your body can’t clear out excess estrogen, leading to hormonal issues, PCOS and estrogen dominance.
Detoxing on Keto
On a Keto or low-carb diet, your body primarily burns fat for fuel. This can be a very effective way to lose weight, but if you’re planning to lose more than 10–15 pounds, you may want to give your detoxification system some extra support.
This is because fat cells are your body’s storage lockers, and it can use them to store more than just energy. Your body also uses fat cells to store fat-soluble toxins out of harm’s way – toxins that are then released back into your bloodstream as you lose weight.[*]
If you’ve recently lost some weight and are feeling fatigued or flu-like, or you’re suddenly experiencing symptoms like joint pain, skin breakouts, sinus problems, headaches or gut issues, you may need to give your detoxification pathways some extra support.
Keto-Friendly Ways to Help Your Body Detox
1. Get Regular
Your body’s detoxification system depends on getting toxins out of your body. Yep, we’re talking about poop.
Making sure you’re regular is absolutely crucial before beginning any protocol to boost detoxification. If you’re not pooping on the reg (at least once a day), your body can’t eliminate the toxins it’s worked so hard to process. With nowhere to go, the toxins can be reabsorbed back into your body – making you feel worse instead of better.
If you suffer from constipation, work on this before you do anything else. Start by drinking more water and increasing your fiber intake (try eating more non-starchy vegetables or taking a fiber supplement). Ginger, peppermint and licorice – either fresh or in tea form – can also help to get things moving, as can taking magnesium, probiotics or digestive enzymes.
2. Boost Key Nutrients
There are two phases of detoxification. Both phases must be functioning in balance for proper detoxification.
Phase 1 uses enzymes to break down toxins ready for phase 2. This phase relies on vitamin C, B vitamins, fatty acids, magnesium, iron, and antioxidants (for example, the flavonoids and polyphenols found in colorful fruits and veggies).
Phase 2 uses six different pathways to bind the toxins and escort them out of your body through your urine and feces. Phase 2 relies on amino acids like glycine, methionine, taurine and cysteine (found in protein foods), sulfur (found in cruciferous veggies, onions and garlic, meat and egg yolks), magnesium, molybdenum, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s “master antioxidant,” and is made from the amino acids above).
To make sure you’re getting enough of all the nutrients your body needs to run both phases of detoxification, focus on eating plenty of:
- Anti-inflammatory fats – omega-3s from oily fish or fish oil, as well as olive and avocado oils.
- Sulfur foods – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, onions, garlic, and eggs.
- Leafy greens (especially if they’re bitter) – including parsley, kale, watercress, dandelion, and mustard greens.
- Citrus fruit – lemons and limes (but not grapefruit, which slows down phase 1).
- Protein – from meat, fish, or eggs.
You may also want to consider:
- Taking an antioxidant supplement containing silymarin (also found in artichokes and milk thistle)[*], curcumin, quercetin or resveratrol.[*]
- Drinking green tea, which contains a polyphenol called EGCG that supports detoxification.[*]
3. Take a Load Off (Your Liver)
Another way to help your liver work better is to give it less to do.
Imagine you have a bucket that contains every toxin your body needs to process and excrete. There are two ways to make emptying the bucket easier – help your body better process and excrete the toxins, or put fewer things into the bucket in the first place. You’ll get the best results by doing both at once.
So what could you take out of your bucket? Here are some ideas – remember, you don’t have to do all of these, but each one leaves a little less in your bucket, making it easier for your body to cope with what’s left.
- Drink less alcohol. It’s common knowledge that excessive drinking can damage your liver, but all alcohol will also affect your detox pathways. Our bodies have no way to store alcohol, so your liver has to deal with it straight away – bumping all the other things in your bucket to the back of the queue.
- Cut down on sugar. Added sugar has been shown to double fat production in the liver, leading to what’s known as “fatty liver.”[*] When your liver is fatty, all of its many functions become compromised.
- Switch your cleaning and personal care products to natural or chemical-free alternatives. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database for ideas.
- Swap plastic water bottles and food containers for glass or stainless steel to decrease exposure to chemicals like BPA.
- Choose organic and non-GMO food when you can to reduce exposure to pesticides and agricultural chemicals. The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list can help you prioritize when to choose organic.
- Consider an air filter and water filter for your home.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Many of your body’s detoxification processes run while you’re sleeping, including the process that detoxes your brain. The glymphatic system is your brain’s waste removal system, and it works best when you’re in the deepest phases of sleep. Interestingly, this process may be most effective when you’re sleeping on your side.[*]
5. Move Your Body
One of the functions of your lymph system is to pick up waste from every tissue in your body and transport it to your bloodstream, where your liver and kidneys can process and dispose of it.
Unlike your blood, your lymph system doesn’t have a pump. Your lymph moves around your body as you move your body. Your lymph loves everything from sports and resistance training to walking to bouncing on a trampoline. Other, less strenuous ways that may help your lymph move include rolling on a foam roller, dry brushing or even getting a massage.
6. Try Intermittent Fasting
Autophagy (literally “self-eating”) might sound like a bad horror movie, but in detox terms, it’s a really good thing. Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out old or damaged cells. They’re then processed through the detoxification pathways to recycle whatever can be used again and ditch whatever can’t.
The best way to stimulate autophagy is by fasting.[*][*] Intermittent fasting is simply not eating for a defined period of time. Usually, a faster decides on an “eating window” (for example, 8 hours) and then fasts whenever they’re not in that window.
Intrigued? Read about the other benefits of intermittent fasting, and find out how to use Carb Manager’s intermittent fasting features.
The Bottom Line
Detoxification is a natural process that’s happening all the time. You don’t need to do a cleanse or follow any specific “detox” plan – but if you’re not feeling 100% after the holidays, or you’re struggling with symptoms of poor detoxification, consider giving your body a helping hand by integrating some of the ideas above into your daily routine. Your liver will thank you for it.
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