If the idea of a ‘spring-clean’ detox conjures memories of splitting headaches brought on by super strict diet regimes and jettisoning caffeine, it is time to think again. A contemporary spring clean is not about surviving on salad for several weeks and eliminating all coffee and tea. Rather, it involves simultaneously supporting our detox organs while reducing the toxins’ we both put in, on, and expose our bodies to.
Step 1: Supporting the Health of Vital Detox Organs
Our liver, kidneys, colon, and skin make up four vital elements of our bodies detoxing defences. Keeping each as healthy as possible, is a good place to start a spring clean process.
Among its many roles, our liver processes blood, keeping the valuable elements it carries such vitamins and minerals, while making safe and then off-loading toxins, which are eliminated via urine or in our stools. What we eat may help to support these crucial functions.
Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and watercress for example, all provide plant nutrients needed to make the vital detoxing enzyme called glutathione. Glutathione attaches itself to toxins like pesticides and heavy metals, which can then be removed from our bodies in our urine and stools.
Garlic, meanwhile, contains sulphur-based compounds, which also appear to increase the level of detox enzymes in our liver. Extracts of milk thistle, which contain silymarin have a similar effect. Pineapple, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries as well as fennel extracts all give us ellagic acid, a plant-compound with strong antioxidant properties that scientists believe help to protect liver cells against damage from the toxins, it is working to eliminate.
Our kidneys also filter out toxins, which rather than being expelled from our bodies via our stools, are lost instead, in our urine.
Raised blood pressure, known as hypertension, can compromise the ability of these two small organs to work optimally. Maintaining a sensible body weight, eating plenty of potassium-rich vegetables and fruits and lowering salt in our diet all help to lower raised and maintain, a healthy blood pressure.
It is also worth considering protein sources and consciously moving from a typical Western diet, which contains a lot of animal protein towards a plant-based diet. This and keeping well hydrated can help to reduce the risk of forming kidney stones and support the kidneys in their detoxing role.
Dandelion and gingko biloba extracts are believed by medical herbalists to support kidney health too, while cranberry products have in general, been shown to reduce the risk of recurring infections in the urinary tracts by about a third.
One of the roles of our colon is to remove toxins delivered from our liver along with unwanted debris from our diet, via our stools. Eating a diet rich in fibre helps this process.
While the fibre in wholegrain bread, pitta and pasta gives us ‘insoluble’ fibre, that helps to bulk up our stools and keep it moving swiftly through the colon, those containing soluble fibre like oats, psyllium, apple, and pears have an additional role in detoxing, as the soluble fibre binds with toxins and excess cholesterol and again, then remove them from our bodies in the stools.
Similarly, alfalfa sprouts are rich in super nutrients known as saponins which lock onto cholesterol and toxins in our digestive systems and carry them from our body in our stools. Including garlic in our diets may also support gut health, by its plant compounds helping to fight bacteria and parasites.
Dry skin brushing helps to rid our skin of dry, dead cells so that we can perspire effectively. It also improves circulation of both the blood and lymph, which affects delivery of toxins to our liver. It is worth us trying long, upward sweeping movements, beginning at our feet and working up our legs followed by gentle circle movements over our stomach clockwise and then long sweeps down our arms to our fingers for an effective skin brushing session.
Step 2: Reducing Toxins
In addition to supporting the health of our detox organs, there are many steps we can take to reduce our exposure to toxins and pollutants in our everyday life.
Alcohol is an obvious place to start. The ethanol in alcoholic drinks is toxic to our bodies and must be made safe in our liver, which it can do so at a pace of one unit per hour. Remember that half a pint of four per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) lager, beer, or cider; 125m of an eight per cent ABV wine and one 25ml shot of spirits, all provide one unit. We are advised to drink no more than 14 units per week. Keeping our intake to no more than this and less if we can, will help the health of our liver.
The most consumed drug in the world, caffeine stimulates our central nervous systems and while a few caffeine containing drinks a day is unlikely to do any harm, if you drink a significant number more, it may disrupt sleep. A good nights’ sleep can help our bodies general detoxing and healing. If we cut back, we need to do so gradually, to avoid withdrawal headaches.
Although there are strict limits on the levels of pesticide residues allowed on standard fruits and vegetables in the UK, to consume the fewest possible, then opting for organic food will help. Washing all fruit and vegetables before eating will help to lower residues on standard versions.
Dioxins and Methylmercury
Dioxins are environmental pollutants are present in pesticides, paints, varnishes, electrical equipment, and flame retardants, which seep into our water systems and soil and can end up in the food we eat. They are found in highest quantities in fat rich foods and can interfere with hormones and possibly even trigger cancers. Choosing low fat dairy products and extra lean cuts of meat can lower dioxin intake as can keeping oily fish to once a week and trimming off and discarding all visible fatty parts and brown flesh of these fish.
Methylmercury is produced when we burn coal and oil as fuel. It is also a by-product of paper processing, mining, and the burning of domestic rubbish. Again, methylmercury seeps into the soil, streams, lakes, and oceans and can up in seafood and can damage our nerves. The bigger and older the fish, the more methylmercury tends to build up in the flesh. Swordfish, shark, marlin, and white Albacore canned tuna have the highest levels while haddock, trout, plaice, and scallops tend to be low in methylmercury.
Switching to organic skincare products can help to lower the toxic load we deliver to our bodies each day.
Household Cleaning Products
Consider swapping chemical-based household cleaners for old-fashioned methods. Try boiling water with washing soda and bicarbonate of soda for cleaning sinks for instance, vinegar instead of window cleaning solutions and olive oil as a furniture polish.
Cutting Down on Air Pollution
We can reduce the traffic pollution we gulp down by avoiding highly polluted areas in cities. Investing in household plants like palms, chrysanthemums and ferns help to reduce levels of chemicals in the atmosphere.
In the Kitchen
Storing food in glass containers, using greaseproof paper instead of plastic wraps and stainless-steel saucepans rather than aluminium and copper are all steps that can all reduce our toxin load.
3. You Can Also Try
Finding time to practice deep, rhythmic breathing increases oxygen flow to every cell in our body, helping the physical detoxing process. It is also relaxing, helping to relieve stress. Try sitting or lying down quietly and putting your hands on your stomach with your fingertips touching. Close your eyes and breath in through your nose slowly, counting to four. Hold your breath for another count of four and as you slowly breathe out for a count of eight, push your tummy up and out. Repeating this pattern 10 times each morning and evening will help to leave you feeling energised but relaxed.
Back to Basics Eating
For your spring clean, try to eat only minimally processed foods. These include fruits and vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates like wholemeal bread and wholegrain pasta, chapatti, rice, wraps and pitta. Plant based proteins such as pulses, unprocessed nuts and seeds, lean meat and low-fat dairy plus eggs are nutritious choices. To these foods, add extra virgin olive oil and herbal teas. Avoiding processed foods will reduce additives you consume and is likely to naturally lower energy intake while helping to keep you feeling satisfied and in turn lead to gradual weight loss.
Registered Nutritionist AFN
PG Dip Dietetics,
Associateship King's College (AKC)