Read the sister post to this, Detox Phases 1, 2, and 3.
Want to do a “cleanse” but not sure how?
The ritual of a cleanse, purification, or fast, has been around a long time, spanning many cultures, and is now making a comeback. There are lots of cleanses out there you may have heard of, including:
- Green juices
- The old-school “master cleanse” (cayenne, maple syrup and lemon)
- Ultra cleanses with powders as meal replacements
- The liver / gallbladder flush
- Special elimination diets
And many more! What does cleanse actually mean? On a physical level, we tend to mean a temporary period of time when you do something intentional to “purify” your body, or release stored toxins. Many approaches can work to activate the mobilization and removal of toxins. From a Functional Medicine perspective, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. People are different, right? For example, liquid cleanses or fasts aren’t for everyone. Some people need food.
So to back up, what do we mean by toxins?
This is worth understanding. The words toxin and toxic get thrown around a lot, But what do they really mean?
The classic definition of toxin is a poisonous substance that’s made by a living organism (biotoxin). In your body, this is the toxic byproducts of microbes (bacteria, archaea, mold, fungi and yeast), known as endotoxins. This is mainly a problem if you have an overgrowth of harmful microbes in your gastrointestinal tract. These endotoxins are called LPS (lipopolysaccharide) endotoxins, and if present will pass through your intestinal lining and cause inflammation and pain in other parts of your body.
The colloquial use of this term cleanse encompasses environmental, or external toxins that you take in willingly or not, such as chemicals from pollution, heavy metals, alcohol, drugs, and medications. Our modern environment puts more and more stress on our detox systems, as the number of chemicals we are exposed to increases yearly. Some environmental toxins get packed away in various body tissues, including fat cells.
So in your body, endotoxins from microbes and external toxins from the planet and your local pharmacy and liquor store do wreak havoc, and it’s certainly worth making a project to clean them out. Your body DOES get rid of toxins on an ongoing basis. However, you can focus on detox as a project.
How does getting rid of toxins work?
first of all, get elimination in order
As we discussed here, if you don’t produce at least one #4 Bristol stool per day (or close to it), don’t go on a cleanse – yet. Why? You may create volatile, reactive, semi-processed chemicals that you will not be able to get rid of properly! This could mean reactive oxygen species (ROS or free radicals) will wreak havoc with your tissues, and toxins from your intestines can get reabsorbed.
If you’re not a good pooper, then you’re a candidate to check out dysbiosis, and address it first. You may also need to investigate food intolerance. Do these projects first before embarking on a focused cleanse.
lighten your load
This means reduce your exposure to things that cause an added burden for your liver to process. You can do it these ways:
- Don’t take unnecessary medications
- Avoid the “substance foods” such as all added sugar, alcohol, and caffeine
- Fast OR eat clean (more on these options below)
- Lighten the load on your mind as well –– go on a retreat, a staycation, or just put up drama boundaries and lie low
activate detox pathways
This is the fun stuff. You can design your own combination of foods and supplements to activate Phase 1 and 2 of liver detox. Or, you can use formulas that already exist, as most quality supplement and herb producers have good detox formulas. Also, fasting will activate detox pathways.
Don’t forget Phase 2! This is the phase that tends to be more sluggish and you do not want to activate Phase 1 without supporting Phase 2.
Choose Phase 1 and 2 activators from this sister post. Or, choose a formula. My favorite formula is ClearVite from Apex, alone or with HeaptoSynergy. ClearVite is a well-tolerated powder that contains Phase 1/2 nutrients. It comes by itself, or with pea or collagen protein.
the why, how, and who of fasting
Why? When you fast, even overnight, your body uses up your stored sugar (glycogen). This usually takes 8-10 hours. Afterwards, you dig into your fat cells for energy, which releases toxins. It also turns on autophagy (pronounced aw-toff-a-gee), which is when your cells clean out debris. The longer you fast, the more time you have for autophagy. For those with GI microbial overgrowth, you’ll get more waves of your migrating motor complex, a sweep-out cleanse of your small intestine.
How? There are so many approaches. My favorite approach is: fast each night for 16 hours, a form of intermittent fasting (IF). This gives you up to 8 hours after glycogen is used up for digging into fat stores, autophagy, and MMC action. You can also fast for a longer period of time as part of a cleanse, like 1 – 5 days. Get medical supervision for these longer fasts.
Who? The types who do well with fasting are those who are:
- Overweight or obese
- Diabetic (but consult your doctor!)
- Insulin resistant
- Robust body types
- People who are chill (generally not stressed)
Fasting does put you in a stressed state, but there’s evidence that you move beyond the stress after a certain number of hours. Hence, you need to be a person who can handle this. If you feel “hypoglycemic” – like you’re going to die if a meal is delayed, you actually could benefit from fasting for a metabolic reset, or it could be a bad idea. Consult your health care provider!
The who, why, and how of eating food
People are different. For some, it’s simply not a good idea to fast, or do liquids only. You will be better off doing a cleanse WITH food if you are:
- Have low fasting blood sugar
- Have low fasting blood sugar WITH high post-meal blood sugar
If you’re in this group, the stress from going without food is not good for you. Why? Because the above signs indicate a strong likelihood of HPA-D, formerly called adrenal fatigue. Fasting/juicing and HPA-D do not mix. For your cleanse, do it with food.
Why? You need a significant amount of amino acids in order for Phase 1 and 2 detox to work. Amino acids come from breaking down your body (which you don’t need), or from ingested protein. You also need fiber to bind with toxins and move them out through your colon for Phase 3 detox. Fiber is in whole vegetables and fruits, however it’s removed from juices. Lastly, you want to eat healthy fats to stabilize your blood sugar.
- Eat clean: Organic to avoid chemical pesticides, and whole foods to avoid additives, especially chemical additives.
- Include protein: Half your ideal body weight in pounds – this number is the number of protein grams to target, divided between “feedings.”
- Add anti-inflammatory fats: Omega-3 fats from clean seafood, monounsaturated olive and avocado oils, medium-chain triglycerides coconut and MCT oils.
- Eat lots and lots (5-7 servings) of organic fruits and vegetables per day for all the phyto (plant) nutrients and fiber.
- Hydrate with decaffeinated fluids, aim for 60-70 oz per day, or 2 liters.
- Add Phase 1 and 2 detox activators, such as ClearVite/HepatoSynergy or selections from this post.
- Add fiber, to bind with toxins. Ground flax or chia seeds, hemp hearts, acacia, and citrus pectins are examples.
one example: fasting intermittently
My favorite detox approach is to use the benefits of fasting WITH the benefits of food. A 3-week cleanse looks like:
First week: Clean eating during a 14 hour window, with a preparatory, ramp-up dose of detox supplements.
Second week: Clean eating during a 16 hour window, with a full dose of detox supplements.
Third week: Clean eating for 12-14 hours, with a wind-down dose of detox supplements.
The vegetables that provide supplies for Phase 1 and 2 detox pathways include:
- Crucifers (also called Brassica): Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and turnips
- Green leafies, like parsley, kale, watercress, chard, cilantro, beet greens, escarole, dandelion and mustard greens
- Citrus: oranges, lemons and limes (avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice, which slow Phase 1)
- Sulfur-rich foods: garlic, onions (and eggs)
- Artichoke, asparagus, beets, celery, dandelion greens, arugula greens, and dandelion-root tea
While doing a retreat or staycation is idyllic, in reality you can do a focused cleanse during regular life. Just pay attention to these lifestyle factors:
- We discussed getting chill during your detox. You don’t want to detox while jacking up your stress hormones. Remember HPA-D and detox do not mix. So get your stress in order. Use these tips.
- It’s also important to sleep well and enough. Eight hours per night is a minimum. Give your body time to rest, clean and repair.
- Move, move, move! Any movement is great, and sweating has an added bonus, as 1% of sweat is composed of toxic waste.
special considerations for special people
Dysbiosis. If you wonder if you have an imbalanced gut microbiome, or want to know, you can take a stool test prior. See what you have growing and what you don’t have that you need to increase. Tailor your detox to knock down bad microbes and build up good ones. Best tests: GI Map and MOAT.
Chemical toxins. Which toxins do you harbor? You can test for biotoxins, such as mold. You can also test for metals and various chemical exposures. Best bet: Great Plains for environmental toxins or myco (mold) toxins, Quicksilver for metals.
Detox capacity. What is the status of your body’s master antioxidant glutathione? Your levels of B vitamins? Your oxidative stress? Target your detox supplements and foods more accurately. Best bet: Organix or NutriVail.
Hopefully this gives you a bit more of an idea how a custom Functional Medicine detox works.
Please do ask questions or make comments below!