|Dr. Jennifer Kessmann, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Detoxification Enhancement Expert
We hear so much about detoxing, cleansing, and detox diets in our society today, but what exactly are these toxins, and should we need to worry about them? Our world today includes more toxins and chemicals than ever before, and many of these toxins can have a profound effect on your health. So toxins are an important health topic you definitely want to learn about, understand the available options and the actions you can take that may help support and improve your health and well-being.
In this article, I will share when and why detox may be necessary, and how to naturally and safely detox your body.
Related post: Detox Diet.
Detoxification & Your Health
I believe that so much of what is troubling people with their health may be related to our environment, specifically the overload of toxins both from within the body (endotoxins) and those coming from outside the body (exotoxins). So you really want to pay attention to the toxins that are coming in and how your body is going to get rid of them.
For this reason, there are two main methods to detox your body that need to work in tandem in order to really make a difference. First, you have to prevent as much exposure to toxins as you can. Second, is the elimination of toxins you couldn’t avoid or are producing through normal metabolism. When done right, detoxing can create wellness by optimizing health and preventing disease.
But Aren’t Our Bodies Smart Enough To Eliminate Toxins Naturally?
The body is a remarkable machine, but it only works perfectly under perfect conditions and unfortunately, we are exposed to so many toxins that we can’t always rely on our body alone. Yes, the human body will detect and eliminate toxins to the best of its ability, but we live in a modern world where new chemicals and toxins are being introduced all the time. Then the combination of those chemicals is making new chemicals that we’ve never ever seen before. Our bodies do not always identify these new toxins correctly or know how to effectively get rid of them.
So the body is constantly trying to handle all these toxins which can cause a lot of immune system activity that create oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, in turn, can cause many health issues, cognitive dysfunction and subsequently accelerated cell death. Some people naturally have better detox systems and genetics than others, so they may be less sensitive. Issues due to lifetime accumulation of toxins however, can affect everyone, as our environment, where we live, what we do for a living, our lifestyle and many other factors can play a key role in how toxic we become, and how well how bodies can handle these toxins.
The Benefits & Pitfalls Of Detoxing
As a doctor, the benefits that most jump out to me are decreased oxidative stress, healthy immune activity and a more vibrant life in general. Patients report better quality skin & hair, less brain fog, increased restful sleep, more energy, and generally a better feeling of well-being.
Sometimes, however, I see people that take things too far, where detox becomes an obsession and that’s not really beneficial and can become counterproductive. Some people for example, take way too many supplements. Some of these supplements, all at the same time can end up being toxic, so now, your body has to detox them as well. There’s a happy medium to effective detoxing. It reminds me the famous Buddhist euphemism:
If you tighten the string too much it will break and if it is too loose, it won’t play.
So it’s all about finding that perfect balance, of how you’re living your life with the perfect amount of detox that supports you, but doesn’t become counterproductive or create other issues.
Encouraging Your Body’s Natural Toxin Filters
Think of your body like a swimming pool, toxins are the mud that’s trying to get into the pool. If you do nothing to stop it, the mud gets ahead of the filter’s ability to keep the water clean. So you have to try to prevent mud from entering the pool, but you also need to keep upgrading and supporting the filters so that they can effectively remove any mud that inevitably does get in.
Toxins can enter the body through air, skin, food and water. Your body naturally releases toxins through the sweat, urine and stool. There are ways to strengthen and support these natural filtration systems to optimize health:
- Liver converts toxic substances into harmless substances or makes sure they are released in the bowels so they can be eliminated throughout normal bowel movements. Certain nutrients such as essential fats, proteins, and amino acids can help the gallbladder to flow and are needed to support healthy liver function.
- Digestive System: fiber has the ability to bind and absorb certain fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides and petroleum and helps to carry them out of the body. Eating enough fiber from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables can help to activate your digestive system, support healthy bacteria in the gut and encourages healthy bowel movements, hence can aid in the elimination of toxins through the stool.
- Kidneys: water soluble toxins are going to be mostly secreted by the kidneys. You can support your urination and kidneys by making sure you stay hydrated.
- Lymphatic system can be encouraged by lymphatic drainage massage or gentle activity like walking, to help remove toxins from the interstitial fluid in between the cells.
As you can see, each of these filtration systems can play a key role in the body’s ability to detox and remove toxins from the body. For this reason, it is very important to make sure all these pathways work optimally first, before going into cellular detox. We’ll cover safe ways to do these next.
How Toxic Am I? Finding The Starting Point
When working with a new patient, I like to get a very in-depth history, as people are not always aware or connect the things they are exposed to with toxins. In my clinic, we start with a questionnaire that was developed by The Institute of Functional Medicine to help identify past and current toxins exposure. For example, people don’t always identify things they expose themselves to in their homes on a regular basis as being toxic, such as; bleach, cleaners, perfumes and other chemicals. The questionnaire can help identify these.
I also like to run a NutrEval comprehensive blood and urine test to detect signs of toxicity, heavy metals, potential imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.
The NutrEval test looks at many factors that can help point out to the type of toxicity and dysfunction that is going on in the body. Whether there is a lot of gut dysbiosis and bad bacteria, high immune system activity, high levels of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and others important factors. These findings help us to know much more about the toxins you may be exposed to, how your body responds to them, and the best treatment approach.
Building A Detox Timeline
With the testing and questionnaire completed we can start to build the Detox Timeline. A little-known fact about toxins; there is often a delay between exposure and signs of sickness.
This is one of the reasons it’s so hard for people to realize their illnesses and symptoms are related to toxins. You can have your home sprayed for termites and after three years of breathing in the air in your home laced with pesticides, you start to become ill. Now, you might not even remember that you got the house sprayed three years ago, and that’s why the detox timeline is so important.
We look at the combination of events that unfold over a patient’s lifetime and then you start to see how being exposed to mold, doing a home renovation, using chemicals, experiencing trauma and other life events can lead to an overbearing toxic load on the body. Overtime, these toxins can cause an ongoing immune system response, inflammation in the gut, cognitive distress and many health issues.
The detox timeline, test results, and questionnaire, can help both my patients and I see how factors in their environment, home or workplace have contributed to their total toxic load. We can then start to look for toxins that can be eliminated from their daily lives to lessen the exposure, as well as strengthening the body’s natural filtration systems to better get rid of these toxins.
Other Factors That Can Affect Detoxification
How Stress Impacts Your Body’s Natural Detox Efforts
If you are constantly under stress, it can affect your body’s ability to properly rest, heal and detox. Stress activates your fight or flight response and that means your sympathetic nervous system is working in full drive. At this state, your body is designed to focus on survival, rather than on healing or reversing toxicity. This state also makes it hard to digest your food. A lot of research is done on the gut and the impact it may have on our health. When stress hurts digestion, it can lead to additional health issues, that can cause more inflammation and immune response.
Unfortunately, a lot of us are involved in high-stress lifestyles that can delay natural healing and effective detoxing. We look at highly driven people as being more successful, so we work towards that goal even if it means sacrificing our health. Over time a buildup of toxins can occur and if you aren’t able to de-stress and relax you may end up seriously ill. Sometimes a vacation is more than just fun and sun, but a chance to recharge and let your body heal physically.
About Mold Toxicity & Detox
When people hear the word detox in relation to health, they usually think about toxic heavy metals. While heavy metals can cause many issues, don’t forget about other common sources of toxins you may be exposed to as well. Mold exposure for example, can lead to serious medical conditions. The best thing you can do with mold is to become aware and limit your exposure. Many people have mold in their homes and don’t realize it. Sometimes a renovation project will kick it up; the prolonged exposure can lead to problems months or even years later. So pay attention to heavy metals but don’t discount the other forms of toxins that surround you.
Detox Reaction & Side Effects
As I mentioned earlier, your body naturally releases toxins through the sweat, urine and stool. Each of these pathways can play a key role in the body’s ability to detox and remove toxins from the body. For this reason, it is very important to optimize these macro level detox pathways first, before going into cellular detox.
If you go into cellular detox, and these pathways are not working properly, the released toxins may re-absorbed, recirculate back to the liver and get back in your bloodstream. These toxins then can activate your immune system and may cause you to feel sick.
You also want to detox slow at a pace your body can handle. You may often hear about detox reaction, bacteria die off or Herx reaction. If during your detox, you kill bacteria in the gut too quickly, the toxic bacterial breakdown byproducts can trigger an immune system response, so you may feel sick. For example, you start taking probiotics to support your gut health, but you feel sick. This can be a die off reaction, and a sign for you to slow things down and reduce or stop taking the probiotics, allowing your body to catch up.
I hope you find this total-wellness approach to a natural and healthy detoxification helpful. I wish you the very best success in your journey to a better health.
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