Thinking of a January Detox
An incredible 75% of us start a new diet regime after Christmas. Every January it feels like the media bombard us with ideas for the New Year Detox. It’s understandable I suppose, after the excesses of the festive period, our body might naturally cry out for a little bit of cleansing or we feel the need to loose some extra pounds.
Detox regimes are often short sharp fasting programmes where you drop the calorie intake and drink plenty of water. We’ve all seen the celebrities who’ve lost several pounds in not too many days by existing on lemon water or something similar.
These types of diets do mean that the body can loose weight fast, the body starts to burn glycogen, an energy reserve stored in the liver, that affects the way the body absorbs fluid, but once normal eating patterns are resumed the weight is usually regained.
I’m often asked about detoxing and the potential benefits of cleanses involving fasting, extreme adjustments to diet, especially juicing, or only eating one type of food, essentially people depriving themselves food.
And while I’m all for people looking after their health, I get a little concerned when people deprive themselves of food and call it a detox. Our bodies are finely tuned machines, to run efficiently they need to be supported by ensuring they are getting the nutrients required for cellular detox and that cells damaged by an overload of toxins can be repaired.
How the Body Detoxification system works
Our liver is the main organ of detoxification and it detox’s through 2 main pathways:
Phase I is carried out by a series of enzymes that catalyse reactions to break things down into small elements, before sending on to phase 2.
Phase 2 detoxification is where these smaller elements, known as metabolites, ‘are packaged’ up for safe elimination through bile, urine and stools.
The resulting broken down metabolites created in phase 1 can often be more toxic to the body than the original substance and we require phase 2 to be supper efficient to remove these quickly.
Several nutrients are required for phase 1, including folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C and A, flavonoids (berries, herbs, kale) and cysteine (an amino acid). Phase 2 also needs B vitamins and vitamin C, but the most important requirements for phase 2 detoxification are the amino acids glutathione, methionine, taurine, glycine, glutamine and choline. Amino acids are components of protein and can only be obtained from protein rich foods.
Ever done a Juice Detox?
If you’ve ever done a ‘juice detox’, a couple of days in, you may have experienced headaches, nausea, fatigue and generally feeling a bit unwell. Juice’s made with fresh fruits and vegetables will provide plenty of the nutrients to perform phase 1 detox, however they won’t provide the amino acids required for phase 2. If the products of phase 2 can’t be safely packaged for removal they enter the blood stream causing the headaches, nausea etc.
A Different Approach
The concept of detoxing and cleansing is a fairly modern, Western concept to address the the imbalances created by poor diet and lifestyle choices. When we look at the ancient and holistic schools of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayureveda we can see they take a different approach.
The idea of detoxing and cleansing is not an idea that is central to Chinese Medicine, which is more focused on achieving balance and moderation in all aspects of life and assessing if a treatment is appropriate to each individual and if the time is right. It’s a similar story with Ayurveda, where the belief that a detox or cleanse done in the wrong season can push toxins deeper in to the system and create further imbalances within the body.
Both TCM and Ayurveda advocate the importance of working with the seasons and an individuals particular body type or constitution and always with the current state of wellbeing in mind.
Why I Don’t Agree With Extreme Detoxing Especially in January
And so this brings me to why strict detox regimes may not be ideal for everyone and why energetically January is not the best time of year for a serious detox that limits nutrient intake.
The truth is that due to our western lifestyle and diet choices many of us just don’t have a liver in the peak of condition, it’s not that we have ‘ill’ livers, just that due to all the junk (sugar, alcohol, processed foods) we normally through at it’s not ‘fit’ enough to work through a detox. You wouldn’t just wake up one morning without any training and think “right I’ll run a marathon today”, but that is exactly what you’re asking your liver to do when you suddenly embark on a detox regime.
There is little sunlight in the winter, it is cold and windy the body is tired, cold and needs to be warm, nurtured and rested. Detox’s and cleanses that advocate raw foods, juice fasts or one-type food diets offer little support to a body that is seeking nourishment, warmth and grounding from food and indeed the environment, the body is tired, cold and needs to be warm, nurtured and rested.
But I’m Not Suggesting You Do Nothing
Before you reach for the biscuit tin and stop any good work you were planning, I’m not suggesting you don’t bother and eat badly! Instead I’m advocating adopting a few healthy habits that will nurture you and restore you at this time of year, ones that you can hopefully integrate in to your daily life all year round. And if in the spring you feel the need for a more intensive cleanse your body will be in a better state of health to manage this and energetically the season will be more supportive.
These are my top tips for healthy habits to incorporate at this time of year and beyond:
1. Nourish the Body
Eat plenty of warm nourishing foods to ensure your body is receiving all the nutrients it requires. Think root vegetables in hearty casseroles and soups, or roasted and sprinkled with nutrient dense nuts and seeds. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre that all support the liver detoxification pathways, aim for at least 8 a day (2 fruit, 6 veg).
Fibre is essential to keep food moving through the digestive tract, a lack of fibre contributes to constipation and stools sitting in the colon for too long, allowing toxins to be reabsorbed back into the body. Fibre also feeds the friendly gut bacteria, helping it thrive, healthy balanced microbiota plays a huge role in the body detox ability.
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and kale contain phytochemical and sulphur rich compounds that not only assist detoxification but have potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
Ensure you’re getting some quality protein to support phase 2 detoxification and eat nourishing wholegrains. Season with ginger, garlic, chilli and cinnamon to support the immune system, aid digestion and provide phase 1 nutrients.
2. Be Mindful Of What You Eat
Cut down on saturated fat and salt, which increase toxic load , inflammation and oxidative stress, try to eat as much fresh homemade food as possible. Investing in a slow cooker is a great idea at this time of year, you can through lots of veg, a little chicken, beans etc in to the pot in the morning, add some garlic, spices and herbs and come home to a delicious warming meal.
Reduce or remove sugar and alcohol. Alcohol taxes the liver, affecting its ability to detox and sugar promotes inflammation, exhausts the adrenals which perform a variety of functions including, regulating metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and prevent fatigue.
3. Drink Water
Water doesn’t just quench our thirst. Water lubricates our joints, improves our energy, reduces our hunger sensations and yes, is required for optimal detoxification, especially via our kidneys, skin and bowels. Adequate hydration is associated with lower risks of many diseases.
Aim to drink at least half your body weight in fluid ounces eg if you weigh 160lbs (10st), you should be drinking 80 fluid ounces, which is 4 pints or 2.2 litres.
4. Sip Some Green Tea
The polyphenol’s in green tea, GTE and EGCG, have been shown to induce detox pathways in the liver as well as protect the liver from damage when it’s exposed to toxins created during the detoxification process.
5. Catch up on Sleep
This is the time our body repairs, heals and restores itself, helping us prepare for the next day. Give your body the time it needs to preform the myriad of activities it does at this time. When stress, anxiety and the business of life hits, sleep often takes a hit too. Unfortunately, that is when we need it the most. This is especially important in the brain, because deep sleep triggers the brain's waste removal system, the glymphatic drainage system, (the brains version of the lymphatic system) to clear away toxins that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases.
6. Minimise Environmental Toxic Exposure
Plastics, heavy metals, pesticides, personal care products and household cleaners can all contribute to our toxic load. Many of these chemicals are known as xenoestrogens and endocrine disruptors, interfering with normal metabolism and weight management. Reducing exposure to these types of toxins puts less stress on our detoxification pathways so our systems are not overwhelmed.
Using organic personal products like Laurel Skin and Weleda ensure we avoid exposure to pesticides and other endocrine disruptors. Using natural cleaning products reduce our and our families exposure to unwanted chemicals, reducing our toxic load further. My favourites include Kinn-Living and Colt and Willow, mean that we
7. Keep Moving
Regular exercise improves circulation, encourages lymphatic drainage and enables the body to eliminate toxins through sweat. Strenuous exercise maybe too much for the body at this time of year, restorative yoga, stretching, walks in nature, something that builds up a little sweat to help release toxins are very beneficial.
8. Practice Some Self Care and Meditation
Stress limits the body's ability to detoxify efficiently. Meditation, deep breathing, massage and regular sauna use have all been shown to help combat the effects of stress massage is another good way to promote the removal of toxins from the body, it supports the immune system, can help lower blood pressure and provide an escape from a busy mind.
The short days of winter provide the perfect opportunity to tune in to your mind and body, take the opportunity to listen to what you need. Mindfulness and reflection can greatly aid general wellbeing.
Use this time to nourish yourself from the inside out to support all aspects of your physical and emotional health.