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For many, spring feels like the perfect time to do a yearly cleanse, or detox. Indeed, cleansing, or “detoxing,” has become a trendy way to lose weight through fasting or consuming juices, green smoothies, broths, or other concoctions. For most practitioners trained in naturopathic or integrative medicine, the words “detox” and “cleanse” are short for a detoxification protocol.
This kind of detox, some say, is scientifically sound and an effective protocol for enhancing the body’s natural detoxification process—a complex process that requires many essential nutrients. But there are precautions to consider, as we discuss in our posts “Cleanse Diets 101” and “Juice Cleanse: Health Boon or Dangerous Fad?”
We have learned a great deal about how toxins affect us and how to improve our body’s ability to detoxify. We are exposed to a more complex array of toxic compounds in our air, water, and food than ever before, and our ability to detoxify and excrete toxic substances is critically important for overall health.
Exposure to even low levels of toxins contributes to the development of a variety of health issues, including chronic fatigue, hormonal disruption, and many chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
For optimal health and well-being, it’s important to take practical steps to improve detoxification. While there are many ways to do this on a year-round basis, doing a spring detox can profoundly enhance your ability to detoxify.
The key is to engage in a safe and effective detoxification program that is based on the science of how the body detoxifies.
How it Works
Elimination of toxins depends on two detoxification phases that occur in the liver.
In Phase 1, specific enzymes metabolize toxins, either by converting them to water-soluble forms that can be excreted by the kidneys (via urine) or by converting them to their activated forms which then must go on to Phase 2 to be excreted.
In Phase 2, the activated toxins from Phase 1 are combined with water-soluble compounds, allowing them to be safely eliminated.
Both of these phases require specific nutrients. Phase 1 needs B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, antioxidants, and molybdenum to work. Phase 2 needs sulfur compounds, the amino acids glycine, taurine, and cysteine, and the antioxidant glutathione.
If either phase is deficient or imbalanced—which can easily happen because of diet, lifestyle, genetics, neurological dysfunction, and more—it can lead to chronic symptoms, reduced vitality, and increased risk of chronic disease. One of the primary ways to effectively support detoxification, therefore, is to make sure your body is getting ample amounts of all the nutrients needed for proper neutralization of toxins.
How to Support the Process
Certain foods and supplements provide the necessary nutrients for detoxification and elimination. Adequate protein and healthy fats are necessary, as are phytonutrient-dense foods such as onions and garlic, berries, broccoli and cauliflower, and green tea. Lots of pure water and fiber are important, too, for proper elimination through urine and feces.
For proper detoxification, it is important to follow a clean diet that includes these foods but excludes the most common food allergens as well as foods high in preservatives, pesticides, and other chemicals. Eating these foods can trigger inflammatory reactions, which not only add to your toxic burden, but further stress your detoxification systems and interfere with proper elimination of toxins. You can find one of my versions of such a diet here.
While fasting, juicing, and consuming green smoothies and detox broths certainly have benefits for some people in certain situations, and can be incorporated into healthy detoxification protocols, they can’t be relied upon to provide all the necessary nutrients needed for detoxification.
I have just started my own personal spring cleanse. It’s a type of diet I’ve never tried before but always wanted to, since I sometimes recommend it as a therapeutic diet for certain health conditions. I’m trying a lower-carb, Paleo-type diet that eliminates gluten, all grains, all legumes, and all concentrated sugars. My focus is on real, whole, foods, including eggs, fish, meat, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and some lower-glycemic fruits like berries and apples. I’m also taking some supplements to support detoxification and gut health.
I just started this protocol and my plan is to do it for two weeks, then see how I feel and perhaps continue it for another four weeks after that. Then I’ll try adding certain foods back in and seeing how I feel with each food I challenge. These kinds of dietary experiments are fun for me, plus I get to re-boot and detoxify. I can’t wait to feel the results!
Start Your Own Spring Detox Now
A good spring detox for you might look different than mine, but it would generally involve eating a diet for two weeks where you eliminate dairy, eggs, soy, corn, gluten-containing grains, sugar (including honey, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice), alcohol, and caffeine. In their place, you would eat adequate amounts of lean protein and as much as you desire of the detox foods like onions and garlic, berries, cruciferous vegetables, and fiber while drinking an abundance of pure water and some green tea.
You can’t avoid all the toxins you’re exposed to each day, but you can make sure your body is efficiently eliminating them, and a spring detox may be a great place to start.
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.