Detox should leave you feeling better - not worse! [Photo: Bigstock]

Getting the most from your detox

12 April, 2013

In a bid to get healthy fast, too many people take a ‘cold turkey’ approach to detox and then within a week are feeling lousy, have a cold-like symptoms and blotchy skin.

All that seems a long way away from the healthy ‘new you’ they were looking to achieve. So where did they go wrong, or is this how it’s meant to be?

The aim of a detox is to give the body a rest from the daily pollutants we throw at it, and allow it to cleanse and eliminate thoroughly. Almost like giving the body a chance to wipe the slate clean.

Two of the therapists I work with put it this way:

“We can fast/detoxify/cleanse for many reasons; to clear symptoms, treat disease, to rest our overloaded organs, to be more productive, creative and for spiritual renewal – to feel more alive and awake. A cleansing program is ideal for helping us re-evaluate our lives, make changes, clear abuses and addictions. It really makes us think about what we put into our bodies which is always a valuable lesson.” says acupuncturist Emma Perris.

“Our body and minds are constantly exposed to toxins: excess drinking, processed foods, cakes, overuse of electronic devices, stress about work or relationships. When we cannot digest (physically or emotionally) we accumulate toxins which we call Ama in Ayurveda.” says Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher Anja BrierleyLange from Yoga Embodied.

A properly done detox should leave you looking and feeling better. Some people find that they lose weight, whilst others have improved digestion or more glowing skin.

When to detox

I have never been much of one for Winter detoxing, even before I trained as a practitioner and studied more about nutrition and health. Now it seems that my body and mind knew better than I did as it seems to be a general consensus in the nutrition and health fields that

Winter is not the best time for a detox. In fact it seems that it’s generally better at any other time of the year!

Winter is a time for nourishment, nurturing and resting. It’s cold and not much light out there, and our bodies find it hard to do anything else as they’re so busy keeping us warm and happy.

Spring is a time of renewal and growth, and as the days are longer and warmer it seems a perfect time to give ourselves a ‘spring clean’ ready for the summer.

Anja recommends “a gentle cleanse when the seasons change. Spring and autumn are the junctions between the main cold season and the warm season. And especially autumn is important as we have stored up all the heat and fire pitta from the summer so our liver might need a little support there.”

Emma finds that “The cleanse needs to be matched to the individual and the season. Typically we might cleanse in spring and in autumn. In spring it might be more appropriate to fast or to use the more cooling juices or raw foods, greens or astringent lemon in the detox and in the autumn we need warming broths and teas.”

What’s the best detox to do?

There are total fasts, fruit juice detoxing, live green detox, certain food eliminating detoxes – and the list goes on.  The health food stores and magazines are full of new wonder detox aiding products and foods too.  So where to start?

This would depend upon many things related to our body constitution, what we are doing the detox for and our general health. Also we would need to look into what time of the year it is and how strict we want to be with ourselves. Our lifestyles also play a huge role in this.

Ayurvedic detox would be to eliminate toxins from our daily life, improve digestion, use herbs to digest and eliminate Ama and to detox our mind by meditation.” says Anja.

Emma’s view from the Chinese medicine perspective is along a similar line.

“There are methods of cleansing through fasting which can be effective, we can fast for 5 or 6 days when done properly. However the Chinese Medicine point of view needs nourishment too and may see a water only fast as too cold and depleting. A fast/detox signifies a speed up of the cleansing and renewal process by slowing down the normal digestive routine. It purges toxins and residues accumulated by using too many building foods (proteins, sugars and fats)”,she says

“Matching the detox to the person we need to analyse their general health, energy levels and activities. It’s often wise to start with a basic diet and progress along the cleanse slowly so as not to shock the body and yourself into it! Similarly the way of coming out a detox should be made slowly, introducing foods back into the diet and seeing how they feel”, she adds.

“If the first step is to eat a non toxic, less congesting diet you’ll have less need for cleansing anyway. To do this you’d need to eat more veg, fruit, whole grain, nuts, legumes and less or no baked goods, sugar, refined food, fried ad fatty food.”

The 5:2 Diet

One current popular detox is the 5:2 diet, made famous by Dr. Michael J. Mosley, after he featured it in a BBC2 Horizon documentary called “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” in August 2012.

It is a way of eating where you eat normally for 5 days and then limit your calorie intake for 2 days of the week.  He tried it for 6 weeks and found that his blood tests showed improvements as well as him losing weight.  He was generally quite sceptical of this way of eating before trying it, but now is a spokesperson for it and has recently released a book all about it.

Dr Mosley has found that the science backs up this form of eating, which seems to show that some fasting intermingled with normal eating is actually better for us.

 Keeping well during dieting and detoxing

Often people find that they are more susceptible to colds and illnesses during or following a detox. This may be related to their own immune system, what kind of detox they did, the time of year or other health issues.

Erin McCann is a naturopathic nutritionist with Being Balanced. She says there are a number of factors which may compromise your immunity during your efforts to be healthier.

Moderate exercise has been found to improve immune health. However, starting a new workout routine or increasing intensity of workouts may compromise immune function and create greater susceptibility to illness. In addition, fat cells store pollutants and toxins. As you lose weight, these toxins are released into your blood stream which may also tax immune function.

Erin offers the following suggestions for improving immunity during dieting and detoxing include:

Ensure pathways of elimination are fully functioning

  • Drink 2 litres of water daily to improve toxin elimination. Adding lemon juice is helpful.
  • Increase fibre to ensure regular bowel movements. Quality sources include: apples, ground flaxseeds, oats and green leafy vegetables.

Eat foods rich in nutrients that support liver detoxification

  • Protein, from fish, eggs and legumes, provides amino acids, which are essential for detoxification.
  • B vitamins are also crucial when detoxing and dieting. Nutrient rich sources include eggs, fish, legumes, avocado, mushrooms, spelt and dark green vegetables.
  • Milk thistle supplements may also help.

Increase intake of antioxidant and immune supporting nutrients

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and immune supporting nutrient. Sources include berries, citrus fruit, and green vegetables.
  • Bee propolis, elderberry, olive leaf and beta glucans all have a proven history of benefits when it comes to strengthening immunity.
  • Bee Prepared Daily Defence Immune Support from Unbeelievable Health is a great natural supplement to take when detoxing and dieting which combines all of these nutrients. It contains high quality extracts of natural antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents which support the body’s natural defences against viral and bacterial infections while also aiding muscle recovery.

Erin’s unbeelievable green detox smoothie

Erin has also shared this delicious smoothie recipe:

Erin’s Unbeelievable Green Detox Smoothie

  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • 1 lemon, peeled and seeded
  • ½ cup organic apple juice
  • ½ cup filtered water
  • 2 cups spinach
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and crushed.
  • 1 tbl flax seeds
  • 1 capsule Bee Prepared Daily Defence (open capsule and add)
  • 1 tbl honey (manuka if possible)

To help sustain and support you during a detox it’s valuable to try a treatment like Manual Lymph Drainage just before and just after the detox. Others find having a bath with some Himalayan crystal salts is a good way to draw the toxins out of the skin.

Most of all, be kind to yourself during this time. Your body will be working very hard internally trying to remove all toxins.

You will probably find that you have days of total exhaustion or where you don’t look your best. As long as you keep yourself hydrated you should minimise too many negative problems. Ideally, don’t do a total starvation unless you’re under the supervision of a practitioner or GP. If this is new to you then start with a shorter detox where you eliminate only certain foods.