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Thursday
Mar262015

The Healthy Way to Detox - Part 1

Spring can feel like the perfect time to start fresh with health goals.

In fact, it's a common time to read about detox regimens that kickstart those efforts.

Not every detoxification regimen, however, is safe or effective. It’s important to not only understand the benefits of detoxification but the ways an individual detox plan can support (or hinder) your body’s own detoxification efforts.

In this three part article series, we'll examine these issues and offer a guide that can help you make the best choices for your detoxification goals.

In part one, I’ll cover the common sources of toxins in our everyday lives, the ways our bodies naturally detoxify themselves, and the challenges our bodies face when toxins overwhelm our natural defenses.

In part two of the series, I’ll discuss how inefficiencies in the body’s detoxification system can impact our overall health, body composition, and physical performance. Finally, in part three, I’ll highlight some popular detoxification plans and compare their approaches to Life Time’s own D.TOX program. I’ll also share the amazing results we found in participants who tested our D.TOX plan and tell you how you can get started with the program.

Our Modern Environment

Every day our bodies are exposed to a sea of chemical compounds - substances that often didn’t even exist just a generation ago. They reach us by way of the water we drink and food we eat, the personal products we use, and the air we breathe.

To put it into perspective, consider the compounds in lotions, shampoos, and cosmetics your body absorbs on a daily basis, the chemical aromas you inhale when you use cleaners and deodorizers at home or when you walk down the detergent aisles in the grocery store, and the additives and other chemical substances in the foods or beverages you choose to consume.

It’s impossible to avoid toxins altogether unless you live in a bubble (BPA-free of course), so it’s important that we support our body in removing them periodically throughout the year.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals in use today (plus an additional 1,000 added each year) with only a fraction ever tested for safety. [i] A collaborative study between Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Commonweal, and the Environmental Working Group detected more than 167 different chemicals in research participants with an average chemical load of 91 toxins per person. [ii]

So where are all these toxic chemicals coming from?  Here is a short list:

Food Supply – hormones, antibiotics, chlorinated pesticides, food additives/colors/dyes, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, fruit/vegetable waxes, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

Water Supply – heavy metals (arsenic, lead), disinfection by-products, nitrates, bromides, etc. [iii] 

Air Supply – Mothballs, room deodorizers, building materials, plastics, paints, gas heating/appliances, dry cleaning garments, furniture upholstery, household cleaners, office equipment (computers, fax machines, printers), molds/bacteria, storage of paints/herbicides/lawn care products, carpeting, and house dust.

A study performed by the EPA found indoor air samples contained as much as ten times the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than outdoor air samples. [iv] It’s always a good idea to crack the windows in your home and car to allow some “fresh” air in whenever weather allows.

Other Sources – plastics (bottles, storage containers, plastic food wraps), non-stick pans, personal care items (shampoo, lotion, deodorant, cosmetics), nail polish/acrylic nails, smoking/tobacco, alcohol, medications/drugs.

The Body's Own System

The body, of course, directs its own detoxification process. Our major organs of detoxification include the liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, and lymphatic system.

The liver is the primary organ of detoxification and works in two phases. Phase I uses over fifty enzymes to break down fat-soluble toxins. In phase II, the broken down toxins are bound to other substances, making them more water-soluble. This process makes it easier for us to remove them from our bodies through our daily urinary and bowel elimination.

If phase I is activated too fast or phase II is slowed down, more toxic substances than the original toxins are created in our bodies. Both of these processes can damage the body’s proteins - RNA and DNA - within the cell. This damage ultimately impacts our risk for disease. [v] 

The gastrointestinal tract is the second major site for detoxification and provides a physical barrier/bypass of sorts to chemical toxins.

When the barrier is intact, we can bind toxins with bile to remove them from our bodies. If our intestinal tract is inflamed, however, (some 50% of the population may unknowingly suffer from this inflammation) this barrier can easily leak chemicals into the bloodstream.

The skin, our largest organ, also provides some defense against toxins. Sweat glands remove water-soluble toxins (post phase II liver detoxification) from the body through the process of sweating. Additionally, the lungs contain many enzymes to assist detoxification along the way. Finally, the lymphatic system, which is known as the body’s “garbage disposal,” carries away waste from our cells.  Isn’t it amazing how our bodies are equipped to protect us from environmental insults? 

In today’s society, however, we overburden these natural defenses.

Although the body’s innate protections are both intricate and impressive, they can easily become overwhelmed by the high level and novel nature of our modern chemical exposures. When our bodies are unable to keep up with incoming chemicals, toxins begin to build up and can increasingly damage certain organ systems. These impairments ultimately impact our weight, our body composition (toxins are fat-soluble), our physical performance, and our overall health.

With time, the problems and risks imposed by our toxic “body burdens” grow. We can understand these risks, however, and learn how we can safely support our body’s detoxification efforts. Join me for Parts 2 and 3 (linked below) of our series for more on the benefits and best practices for detox. 

Part 2 of The Healthy Way to Detox

Part 3 of The Healthy Way to Detox

Do you have personalized questions or think you're ready to try a safe and effective detoxification program? Talk with one of our dietitians today. Thanks for reading.

In health, Cindi Lockhart - Sr. Program Manager of Health and Nutrition Coaching

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


[i] EPA Chemical Safety for Sustainability strategic research action plan 2012-2016; www.epa.gov/research.

[ii] Environmental Working Group Body Burden “Executive Summary: What We Found.” 2003.
 http://www.ewg.org/sites/bodyburden1/es.php

[iii] Environmental Working Group (EWG) tap water report. Dec 2009.

[iv] Wallace, LA, Pellizzari ED, Hartwell TD, et al.  Personal exposures, indoor-outdoor relationships, and breath levels of toxic air pollutants measured for 355 persons in New Jersey, EPA 0589.

[v] Vermeulen NPE. Role of metabolism in chemical toxicity. In: Ioannides C, ed. Cytochromes P450: Metabolic and Toxicological Aspects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Inc; 1996: 29-53.

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