Do You Really Need To Detox?

Can colonics cleanse your body to its purest form? Is juicing all it’s cracked up to be? Read on for our guide to hitting the reset button (or not)


If the body naturally detoxifies itself, do we really need to help it on its way? The experts weigh in. Photo / Getty Images

The world of wellbeing is a controversial one — now more than ever as social media can make anyone a so-called expert and charlatans tap into our curiousity around health and fitness with offers of quick fixes and unconventional methods to “renew mind, body and soul”.

Looking after our health is important and we know how much better we feel when we’re living a balanced lifestyle — eating healthy food and exercising regularly.

So will a detox or juice cleanse help? Is the hype around colonics, far-infrared saunas and intermittent fasting valid?

To answer all of our questions, Ashleigh Cometti enlisted the help of three wellness experts: Ben Warren, a leading clinical nutritionist and founder of scientific wellness company BePure; Buffy Ellen, a qualified naturopath, nutritionist and medical herbalist and founder of Be Good cooking school; and Nellie Pigot, a leading holistic nutritionist and qualified naturopath.

DETOX 101

“Detoxification is the body’s natural process of removing toxins, pollutants, and other harmful substances from the bloodstream and tissues,” says Buffy. “Our main detoxification pathway is through our liver; however, we can also detox through our skin, saliva and bowel motions.” The kidneys, lungs, blood and lymphatic system also act as elimination channels.

The main point to note here, is our body naturally detoxes. So why all the talk about cleansing and detox diets?

While ‘diet culture’ tells us detoxes help fast-track weight loss or recovery from a period of overindulgence, the experts disagree. They all strongly believe the most healthy, sustainable way to frame detoxing is to build it into your lifestyle in the form of a balanced diet.

“This means minimising the toxins we add to our bodies and ensuring we give it the nutrients it needs to support natural detoxification every day. By doing this, the better you will feel and the more energy you will have,” Ben says.

READ: The Test Drive: Detox Package At So Spa, Auckland 

Lifestyle factors including eating unhealthy foods, too much alcohol or caffeine consumption, lack of sleep, stress and exposure to foreign chemicals, can manifest as fatigue, weight gain, poor skin and hormonal imbalances.

“Historically, this hasn’t been an issue, but in a modern world our detoxification systems are more easily overwhelmed,” says Ben. While our bodies are constantly in a state of detoxification, he advises, there is a finite amount we can do to detox and at limited speeds.

According to Ben, a change in diet or detox “can be as simple as giving our body a break to do its work — such as fasting — or, the opposite, where we supply it with extra nutrients to stimulate metabolic pathways like our liver”.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN 

DO:

  • Seek professional assistance for the first few times you practice a detox
  • Plan your detox for a time when you can let your body rest to best process the toxins you’re eliminating
  • Ease into your detox for a few days beforehand by reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol and processed foods to lessen withdrawal effects
  • Reduce your exposure to toxins by switching conventional food to organic

DON’T:

It’s not a good idea to detox if:

  • You have a more stressful than usual week (e.g. important work deadlines)
  • You’re anticipating sleepless nights
  • You’re not happyto avoid strenuous exercise for the duration of the detox
  • You are underweight
  • You have blood sugar imbalances
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding

DOWNSIDES 

Depending on how you approach a detox, the symptoms associated will be different for everyone. As Nellie explains, some people may experience mild to moderate headaches, fatigue, cravings, nausea or diarrhoea. For this reason, she advises that detoxes longer than a couple of days should be supervised by a health practitioner.

READ: Why You Should Do A Digital Detox 

AT-HOME DETOX TIPS

Prioritise plants
Eating light meals of mostly vegetables is a simple way to not only detoxify, but to help alkalise the body too. “The liver and gallbladder love bitter greens for proper elimination — rocket, minna, watercress, endive, and radicchio,” Nellie says.

Drink more water
It sounds passé, but proper hydration is essential for detoxification. But how much should we be knocking back? Ben has a simple calculation to find out how many litres of water to consume daily: 0.033L x [body weight in kilograms]. For example, a 60kg person should consume 0.033L x 60 = 1.98L to clear out toxins, he says.

Ditch caffeine, alcohol and processed foods
Take a break from foods that put pressure on your liver: meat, caffeine, dairy, alcohol, sugar and highly processed foods contain trans fats and other artificial substances the body can’t recognise.

Try intermittent fasting*
Fasting (time-restricted eating) involves not consuming any calories for a periodof time to allow the body’s detoxification system to catch up — meaning it’s not constantly in a state of digestion. Start by fasting for 12 hours per day, then progress to a 14- or 16-hour fast when ready.

Say yes to supplements**
Herbs like globe artichoke, milk thistle, dandelion, fennel, peppermint, calendula, green tea, liquorice, turmeric, ginger, burdock and aloe vera are favoured by naturopaths to stimulate bowel function so that elimination is optimum.

As far as popping pills go, a high-quality multivitamin like BePure One is a good place to start, Ben says. Sulforaphane is his go-to for supporting the second phase of detoxification in the liver, which can be found in BePure EstroClear and BePure One.

THE DURATION

With professional guidance, Ben recommends sticking with a health reset for seven to 14 days. (This does not include juice cleanses. See below .) “This amount of time best prepares us to get through the Herxheimer reaction — the time it takes for the dying off of harmful bacteria which can result in symptoms including headache, joint and muscle pain. After that initial period, we start feeling rejuvenated and refreshed,” he says.

FRIEND OR FAD: Juice Cleanses

Juice cleanses are not always the holy grail of vitality they appear to be, but when adhered to for a short time — one day — a juice fast can give the digestive system and immune system a much-needed break.

“Juice cleanses are a great way of supplying a good source of highly available nutrition to the body,” Nellie says. “It also increases enzyme activity, may relieve inflammation, increases energy and sets you up for making healthier choices ongoing.”

Our experts agree to limityour cleanse to a maximum of one day, as juices lack the fibre the body needs to support a healthy gut microbiome.

Ben advises juicing low-sugar fruits like watermelon, kiwifruit and lemon alongside vegetables to avoid consuming too many simple sugars. And, if you’re feeling light-headed at all throughout the day, Buffy suggests incorporating a light salad or raw vegetables to keep blood sugar levels stable.

FRIEND OR FAD: Colonics

A sluggish elimination system is one of the biggest signals that your body may be in need of a detox. Enter colonics. Fecal matter caught in the colon can cause autointoxication, which may impact digestive and immune health, Nellie says.

“Often a solution of vitamins, minerals, probiotics and herbs are added to the colonic, which can have a high absorption rate and be very beneficial,” Nellie explains. “I would always stress the importance of seeing a licensed and certified colonic practitioner and having a thorough consultation prior to the treatment.”

Ben says some of his biggest breakthroughs with clients have been after a series of colonics, but heeds that they’re not for everyone due to the way in which they can disrupt the gut microbiome.

FRIEND OR FAD: Far Infra-Red Saunas

Ben believes there’s solid evidence to back up far infra-red saunas’ efficacy. He’s closely followed the work of Dr Rhonda Patrick, an American biochemist, who equates time spent in a sauna to heart health benefits similar to regular exercise.

“Heart rate can increase up to 100 beats per minute during moderate sauna bathing sessions, and up to 150 beats per minute during more intense warm sauna use. And 150 beats per minute corresponds to moderate-intensity physical exercise, which, as we already know, has a positive effect on cardiovascular health,” she told Outside Online.

Nellie adds that the gentle sweating far infra-red saunas encourage better elimination of environmental toxins from the body. “They help to mobilise toxins from fat stores and encourage better circulation,” she says.

* Supplements, tonics and tinctures should always be taken under the guidance of your health practitioner.

** If you have a history of disordered eating this may not be the right approach for you.

*** This modality isn’t suitable for those with cardiovascular or other underlying health conditions, pregnant or breastfeeding women.

This story was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Five.

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