I recently returned home from the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Detox Advanced Practice Module. I’ve also finished listening to the Detox Summit with Dr. Deanna Minich. Exposure to toxins is inevitable, but there’s a lot we can do to minimize those exposures and use food to our benefit.
We live in a world where we are exposed to hundreds of toxins each day – in the form of pesticides, environmental chemicals, flame retardants, heavy metals, processed foods, stress and even some medications, to name a few.
Certain people are more vulnerable to toxins due to their unique genetic makeup and biochemistry. Children, especially, are vulnerable just based on their physiology alone. You can read more about the impact of toxic exposures in children here. Pregnancy and nursing are especially important times to limit toxic exposures. If you are planning a family, I’d encourage you to read my article The Importance of Preconception Detox.
Certain nutrients and phytonutrients impact the body’s ability to process toxins and lower the total body burden. My focus in this article is using whole foods and nutrition to support your body’s natural detoxification systems.
What is detoxification?
Detoxification refers to your body’s ability to get rid of waste. If that is impaired, or if we are bombarded with too many toxins, we get sick.
The liver is central to metabolic detoxification. It works through a series of enzymes, via pathways referred to as Phase I and Phase II detoxification. This system is dependent on adequate nutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and protein. The liver transforms chemicals, hormones and toxins into water-soluble metabolites that can then be excreted by the intestines, kidneys, and skin.
Healthy digestion is critical, since a healthy gut and regular bowel movements help excrete toxins. Leaky gut and constipation can make the problem worse. The kidneys also play a role, which is why good hydration with clean, filtered water is so important. Sweating is another way we detoxify, and some people even utilize infrared saunas. Just be sure to support your body first with good nutrition and adequate hydration.
What can we do?
Limiting toxic exposures is the first step. That means buying organic foods free of pesticides and GMOs. It also means limiting processed and packaged foods. You can read more in my article 10 Ways to Reduce Toxins in your Life.
You can improve your body’s ability to detoxify using key foods that help balance the Phase I and II pathways in the liver, and provide good fiber. As an added benefit, this can help with weight loss, since resistant weight loss is often related to toxicity.
As a basic rule, aim for 8-10 servings a week of organic, colorful, nonstarchy vegetables. Specifically, eat cruciferous vegetables and alliums, like onions and garlic, daily. The goal is not to eat kale everyday. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Rather, try to eat a phytonutrient-dense diet with a diversity of foods. Variety is key. Eat the rainbow.
While a plant heavy diet is important, high quality lean protein should not be neglected. Protein deficient diets impair detox pathways in the liver.
Food is Medicine.
By eating these 10 foods regularly, you will help support your body’s ability to detoxify. (Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re on blood thinners, like Coumadin, or multiple prescription medications).