According to traditional Chinese medicine, living in tune with the seasons can prove important in ensuring our routes to wellness remain balanced throughout the year. Spring is the most opportune time to harness the transformative seasonal energy change to work in our favour.
From a functional medicine perspective, we can use this time effectively by adjusting environmental and lifestyle factors to optimise the biochemical processes of detoxification that may have become sluggish over the winter.
The benefits of doing so at this time of year can include:
• Increased energy
• Released attachments to toxic foods, stressors & emotions
• Improved digestion
• Improved immune system function
• Balanced hormones and moods
• Improved skin health
• Weight loss
Since WWII, more than 85,000 new synthetic chemicals have been released into our environment with less than 50% of these being tested for potential toxicity to humans. Having measures in place to assist us periodically throughout the year not only reduces the physical load but also helps with the additional stress and worry of an ever increasing toxic exposure.
In our strategic approach, we must first identify the source, nature and exposure period of accumulated toxins.
What is a toxin?
A toxin is defined as any substance that can cause structural damage or functional disturbance in an organism. They can be produced internally in the body, known as endotoxins, or can be ingested from our environment, known as exotoxins.
In our strategic approach, we must first identify the source, nature and exposure period of accumulating toxins.
Endogenous toxins are created internally by the body when the interwoven physiological processes are working less than efficiently; or when bacteria, fungi/yeasts, or viruses are present. When free radical activity exceeds antioxidant nutrients, cellular damage occurs.
Exogenous toxins refer to chemicals including pesticides, heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead, aluminium, arsenic), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We easily ingest these on a regular basis via our diet, plastic food storage, cosmetics, flame retardants, pharmaceutical drugs, plus in the home and workplace where chemicals, moulds, solvents and combustion byproducts such as dioxins may be present.
Xenobiotics is another name given to foreign (synthetic) hormone mimicking substances found in the body that are not derived from a normal diet or produced endogenously. For example Xenooestrogens from plastic bottles.
POPS (Persistent Organic Pollutants) are all highly toxic industrial compounds and chemical byproducts that persist in the environment for years or decades. They become airborne and travel long distances through the atmosphere and enter water supplies, create pathological detoxification and eventually end up bio accumulating in fatty tissue.
Common signs of accumulating toxic load
Although we can easily recognise symptoms of overindulgence, it is important to become aware of longer standing signs that occur on a regular basis. This may be indicative of our need to consciously reduce our toxic exposure and support the organs in question. In the early stages we can experience disruptions in blood sugar regulation, sleep, methylation processes and an upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Other symptoms may include:
Digestive – halitosis, bitter taste, bloating, fatty stools, constipation, diarrhoea, intolerance to fatty foods, tender swollen liver area and gallbladder issues.
Immune – frequent sneezing/wheezing, nasal drip, asthma, skin eruptions, water retention and puffiness, adverse reactions to foods and chemical products, chronic itching
Endocrine – stress, infertility, PMS, obesity, low mood/depression, irritability
Nervous system – Fatigue and sluggishness, headaches/migraines, insomnia, poor memory and concentration
Musculoskeletal – Joint pain and muscle stiffness, decreased ability to recover after exercise.
The detriment of suboptimal detoxification
For every toxin molecule metabolised in Phase I of the liver, one free radical molecule is generated. If toxins are not deactivated due to under functioning Phase 1 of the liver, and are not completely made water soluble in Phase 2, they are constantly recirculated in the blood. Unchanged toxins are stored away in tissues such as fat cells including in the brain and the nervous system. Some environmental toxins over-activate in Phase 1, and then exceed the capacity of an under functioning liver to complete the detoxification in Phase 2. If the rate of this outruns our intake of antioxidant nutrients our cellular fluids can become very acidic. Mitochondrial energy leakage is then exacerbated which hastens the demise of the host cell, leading to altered gene expression and the rate at which we age.
Research has found that a compromised ability to detoxify is a huge factor in the development of a many chronic endocrine, immune, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, auto-immune diseases, chronic fatigue (ME), and cancer.
Our main routes of detoxification to consider are:
• Skin – excretes toxins via sweating
• Lymphatics – cannot deliver toxins to skin effectively if congested with pollutants
• Liver – the main detoxification organ delivers deactivated toxins to the colon
• Colon – healthy frequent bowel movements prevent toxins from being reabsorbed
• Kidneys – filters the blood and excretes toxins in urine
• Lungs – vaporous toxins are expelled through respiration, coughing and sneezing
Ways to detox
The following methods will increase your ability to detoxify and can easily be incorporated throughout the months of spring:
– Drink 1-2 litres of filtered water daily and regular green vegetable juices.
This is essential in providing a medium for toxins to be carried out of the body. The lower the water content of the body, the greater the proportion of toxins being reabsorbed.
Choosing alkaline-forming foods and keeping acidic foods such as pickles, vinegar wine and fruit juice to a minimum can improve the pH balance efficiency of detoxification processes.
Seasonal local, organic produce where possible optimises antioxidant status and reduces pesticide consumption.
Plenty of fibre from raw vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds to help carry toxins out of the body by promoting regular bowel movements.
Protein & sulphur-rich foods including garlic, onions, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli contain amino acids (methionine, cysteine and taurine) that are particularly important for the liver’s detoxification pathways.
In order to detoxify xenobiotics and free radicals that cause cellular damage, the body needs enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.
- Glutathione – the most important agent in neutralising free radicals in liver cells.
- Alpha-Lipoic-Acid chelates mycotoxins from fungi, increases liver CYP450 enzymes, promotes kidney health and helps reduces mercury and carbon tetrachloride
- Vitamins C and E reduce cellular damage and increase the rate of toxin excretion.
- Silymarin (Milk Thistle) prevents depletion of glutathione and protects against alcohol and chemicals.
It is important to replenish essential minerals as these too can be bound and removed from the body as part of the detoxification process. This can be done by adding an ionic liquid supplement to water.
– Far-Infrared Saunas are an excellent way of inducing sweating, increasing metabolic rate and dilating blood vessels and tissues to release toxins. They are best used on a regular basis and can now be found in gyms & health clubs.
– Optimise gut health by taking a recommended probiotic. Supplements such as L-Glutamine and slippery elm can reduce inflammation, while psyllium husks expand to sweep the colon and increase transit time.
– Enemas can safely be used at home to empty pockets of waste build-up. Alternatively find a registered colon hydrotherapist.
– Exercise helps to move fluids around the body, aiding detoxification. Increase regular exercise for 20 minutes or more daily at least three times a week. Rebounding is an excellent way to improve detoxification via lymphatic stimulation.
– Bodywork Massage is a great way to promote relaxation and release of toxins through manual pressure.
– Cosmetics: We should never put anything on our skin that we would not put in our mouth as it goes directly into the bloodstream without passing the liver or kidneys. Try to seek out petrochemical and paraben free makeup, toiletries and skin care products. Skin brushing is also very effective at moving the lymph and unblocking pores.
– Household cleaning products can contribute significantly to unnecessary exposure of toxic chemicals. There is now a wide variety of eco-friendly versions to be found in supermarkets. House plants such as the ‘Spider Plant’ are incredibly efficient at neutralising airborne toxins.
– Relaxation techniques are important to help resolve repressed emotions. Anger and irritability are emotions linked to an overloaded liver, so they also need to be detoxed and eliminated. Making time for yourself, bathing in epsom salts, walking in nature, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can all help.
– Sleep: The bodies natural time for rest and rejuvenation is during the night. Detoxification is most effective under REM sleep. Since melatonin begins to be released around 11pm, it is important to keep our circadian rhythms in check by aiming to be asleep at this time.
In order to prepare the body and safely monitor the rate of toxins released into the bloodstream, testing and detoxification is best overseen by an expert, so for more information and to find out how our individualised functional approach can guide you to optimum health, please get in touch.
J, Gamble (2014) CNM: Nutrigenomics & Metabolic Detoxification
S, McGarrigle (2014) CNM: Detoxification & Gastrointestinal Health
S. Langley (2003). The Naturopathy Workbook. London: College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Nicolle, L and Bailey, C. (2013). ‘Supporting detoxification’. The Functional Nutrition Cookbook. 1st edn. London, Singing Dragon, pp. 56‒76.
Holford P. (2008). Detox and Reduce Inflammation’. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy. 1st edn. London, Piatkus Books, pp. 82‒91.