How to Avoid a Detox Health Emergency


Detox is a hot topic these days. Celebrity-endorsed juice fasts, elaborate detox kits, and countless cleansing products, books, and programs promise a fast track to optimal vitality, weight loss, and anti-aging benefits. At the same time, new research continues to highlight the dangers of environmental toxins and pollutants that seem to be just about everywhere today. Cancer, heart failure, autoimmunity, dementia, diabetes, autism, and more have been linked to toxin overload. Clearly, the research is in. We even know whether someone's innate detoxification capacities are impaired as a result of genetic expression—and how to remedy this disadvantage with the right nutrients and practices.

What's less known in the popular world of detoxification, however, are the safest and most effective ways to remove pollutants from the body—and prevent their re-accumulation.

For example, maybe you've heard of the dreaded "detox crisis." It occurs when aggressive methods like fasting or extreme "quick-fix" cleanse programs produce side effects like headaches, fatigue, flu symptoms, constipation, brain fog, aches, pains, and other uncomfortable reactions. Many people view it as a positive sign that a detox program is working. They'll insist that you have to feel worse before you can feel better.

What it really means, however, is that your body isn't equipped to deal with the sudden release of toxins from wherever they've been stored deep within. Worse, it means you're risking damage to critical organs and tissues because the body's detoxification systems are overburdened and can't keep up with the amount of pollutants that have been purged into the circulation. Suddenly, you have a significant burden of heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins in your blood stream and GI tract, where they can get reabsorbed and travel back to critical organs. This is when "detox crisis" symptoms can appear.

I like to use the metaphor of the kitchen drawers. If you empty all your kitchen drawers onto the floor at once, you have a huge mess that's difficult to clean up. What we need to do is go slowly and carefully, following a gentle, holistic approach that emphasizes long-term goals rather than abrasive quick fixes.

The Truth about Detox
In truth, more than 50 percent of our time is spent naturally detoxifying through the body's biorhythms. Our life is a continuous exchange between detoxification, nourishment, and transformation. The breath cycle is an excellent example: Every time we exhale, we detoxify and let go, releasing CO2 and toxins. When we inhale, we nourish ourselves with fresh air. In between the exhalation and inhalation is the opportunity to let go. This is where we can get in touch with our core being, an opening for growth and transformation on all levels. By harmonizing our cleansing programs with our own natural detox rhythms, we can experience more comfortable and complete detoxification for long-term healing and vitality.

Spring, summer, and fall are great seasons to start a gentle detox program, particularly because of the abundance of cleansing fresh vegetables and fruits available. Plus, warmer weather and longer days inspire us to be more active and give us an opportunity to break a sweat—a key route of detoxification.

Diet and Supplements
In my clinical practice, we always start detoxification by adopting a cleansing and nourishing diet rich in anti-inflammatory and alkalizing foods. We emphasize green vegetables and herbs like arugula, spinach, basil, cilantro, parsley; alkalizing foods like cucumber, avocado, and celery; cruciferous, sulfur-rich vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale; low sugar fruits like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, green apples, and Asian pears; sprouted legumes like mung beans and adzuki beans; and sea vegetables such as kelp and nori. Spices like turmeric, ginger, rosemary, thyme, oregano, curry powder, and coriander not only add flavor, but also lend powerful detoxifying support and antioxidant protection. Those detoxing avoid processed foods, sugars, trans-fats, excess salt, artificial ingredients, factory-farmed meats, and nonorganic produce. They limit or eliminate gluten, dairy, and red meat.

Supplementation begins with natural ingredients that cleanse the circulation and GI tract, such as medicinal mushrooms, modified citrus pectin, or MCP, and sodium alginates. When used in combination with a cleansing diet for one to three weeks, these clinically researched nutraceuticals help remove toxins from the blood stream and digestive tract, and in doing so, prepare the body for deeper toxin removal from organs and tissues, using targeted herbs and nutrients. This gradual, multiphase process helps prevent the all-too-common detox symptoms while supporting vital energy and antioxidant protection.

MCP in particular is the subject of numerous published and ongoing studies, not just for safe detoxification of heavy metals, pesticides, and radioactive particles, but also for its powerful anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immune-supporting benefits.

After an initial detox phase using a cleansing diet and gentle agents like modified citrus pectin, we can advance to more thorough detoxification of organs and tissues. For this phase, we add herbs like milk thistle, cilantro, goldenrod, Oregon grape root, Chinese similax, and dandelion leaf, along with nutrients like NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), MCP, and lipoic acid. Together, these natural detox ingredients target and remove toxins from deep within, working with the body's natural rhythms to support innate detoxification pathways and successfully eliminate toxins without side effects. In addition, these advanced detoxifiers also boost vital energy and provide critical antioxidant support to combat oxidative stress caused during toxin removal.


Avoiding the Detox Pitfalls
Even the most well-planned seasonal detox can be derailed by common pitfalls. Here are the top three to look out for:

1. Dehydration. Dehydration during detox is very common, even when you think you've had plenty to drink. Symptoms include constipation, headaches, lethargy, and general malaise. Drink up to three quarts a day of filtered water, herbal teas, and low-sodium vegetable broths.

2. Nutrient deprivation. Many people advocate fasting and extreme diets for successful detox, but in truth, the body needs high-quality nutrition and vital energy support during this time. Instead of cutting calories, emphasize nutrient-dense foods like sprouted legumes and grains, lots of vegetables, healthy fats like avocado, chia seeds, coconut, and flax; organic lean protein, raw nuts and seeds, and superfoods like spirulina, raw cacao, and açaí berry, to name a few.

3. Cravings. Just when we think we've beaten the sugar habit, our sweet tooth flares up with a vengeance—especially when we're tired or under stress. To avoid giving in to addictions during a cleanse—or at any time of year—it's helpful to have nutrients and compounds on hand that can help temper cravings for unhealthy foods. Try supplementing with ingredients like chromium, L-glutamine, and herbs like gymnema leaf and cinnamon, which help balance blood sugar and can reduce cravings for sugars and carbs. Also, drink plenty of water.

The Role of Exercise and Stress Relief
Detox is about movement—we're moving toxins out of our bodies. So physical activity is a vital component of a cleanse, since it promotes circulation and helps clear our lymphatic system, another anchor of our innate detoxification and immune defenses. Regular exercise ensures cells get the nutrients they need and that waste products are efficiently removed. It also supports overall health and provides anti-aging benefits through a number of mechanisms.

Likewise, healthy stress relief has a great impact on detoxification. If we're holding on to negative emotions, anxiety, frustrations, and such, we are also holding toxins, so to speak. The inflammation and other harmful biochemical reactions produced by chronic, ongoing stress can impair our innate immunity and detox systems and prevent us from achieving optimal vitality. I particularly recommend the well-researched stress relief benefits of regular meditation practice, as well as yoga, tai chi, time in nature, social networking, pet therapy, and enjoying art and music.

Detox DNA
The body has very sophisticated mechanisms and organ systems to identify, disarm, and remove harmful pollutants, normal metabolic wastes, and other accumulated junk. But these systems can be overburdened due to illness, inflammation, and countless environmental assaults. Furthermore, some people demonstrate impaired detox abilities because of certain genetic "methylation defects." Though this discussion is beyond the scope of this article, it's important to note that detox functions depend on biochemical methylation processes in the body to metabolize and remove toxins; methylation defects can also contribute to other health conditions, from heart problems to thyroid imbalances and more. Specific gene tests can help identify methylation defects, so ask your doctor if you think you may be a candidate.  Supplements like folate, active B6, methyl B12, and B complex vitamins, along with healthy diet and lifestyle interventions, can help maximize methylation capacity to support optimal detoxification and overall health.

Timeless Rejuvenation
Detox and cleansing practices have been a part of traditional healing systems for thousands of years—and today, we need them more than ever. But we need to do it right. Detox is a vital function of our body's innate ability to rejuvenate itself. Support these abilities with gentle, holistic methods and promote long-term health and vitality in the process.