Detoxing: The Why, How & When

‘Doing a detox’ is a phrase many of us hear at various times throughout the year; the new year’s resolution, pre-holiday panic, or when we’re guilt-tripped into feeling as though we’ve over-indulged…. Detoxing is indeed a word we hear a lot, without necessarily knowing exactly what it means, or what it involves. Because of this, most of the time when we do try to detoxify ourselves, the results aren’t always optimal. Improper detoxing can result in headaches and nausea, skin breakouts, cravings, and can ultimately leave us feeling worse than we did before starting, so knowing how to do it if you choose is really important. 

Why Detox?

The world we live in today isn’t the one our bodies have evolved to cope with. We are constantly barraged by pollution, environmental toxins from off-gassing furniture and tap water, toxic cleaning products and skincare, artificial ingredients and so much more, not to mention the toxins we choose to imbibe, such as alcohol and various medicines. ‘Toxins’ are also things that aren’t physical, but emotional – like toxic relationships, and we’re also affected by toxins such as noise pollution and EMFs. 

As I mentioned, our bodies haven’t evolved to live with this burden of toxins upon us; Although humans have dealt with infections and disease since settling in communities and developing agriculture around 12,000 years ago, the pollution from vehicles and industries is a relatively recent phenomenon. Since the industrial revolution in the 1700-1800s, levels of environmental toxins have climbed higher and higher, and in 2012, global pollution exposure peaked. Reports suggest that if that level of pollution had been sustained, life expectancy would decrease by on average 2.6 years. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm, and so as the planet becomes sicker, so do we. 

There’s already so much in the public domain about saving the planet and reducing external pollution, but there’s not much guidance when it comes to saving ourselves and reducing the pollution inside of us. Statistics show that even chemicals in tap water have probable links to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension, whilst common ingredients in skincare products like PUFAs, heavy metals, microplastics, and hormone disruptors like parabens have all been linked to types of cancer, fertility issues and problems that arise with elevated estrogen levels in both men and women. It’s important to remember that what goes on our skin is absorbed in to the bloodstream, which is why we’ll cover both the safest and most un-safe ingredients in skincare later in this blog series too. 

But Can We Actually ‘Detox’?

Yes. But it’s not quite that simple. The body is ‘detoxifying’ itself all the time – pathogens, bacteria and environmental toxins that get into the body are broken down and removed via the digestive system, liver, and kidneys, lungs and pathways of elimination. When we talk about ‘detoxing’ the liver, it’s not necessarily that we actually need to detoxify the liver specifically, but that certain foods, herbs and lifestyle practices can help aid the liver in breaking down toxins, and remove them from the body quicker. Herbs like coriander for example, can bind to toxic heavy metals like mercury and lead through a process known as chelation, and help remove these toxins from the body, reducing heavy metal toxicity, which can result in chronic illness and long-term issues. It’s also important to eat foods and herbs that support liver function, so that the liver can perform over 500 of its vital functions optimally, and prevent damaging the liver through excess alcohol consumption. 

Prevention Beats Cure

So, we know it’s important to detox, but jumping head-first into a green juice diet or purchasing a pack of (often completely ineffective) detoxing pills and powders isn’t the best place to start. If you already have a lot of toxins within you, trying to get rid of them all at once is likely to result in severe detox symptoms like nausea, headaches, skin breakouts and digestive issues. As with most things, prevention is much better than cure, so let’s look at how we can prevent accumulating more toxins and reduce the amount we’re exposed to, starting right now! 

We have several ‘detox pathways’ in the body that help remove toxins efficiently, so supporting these pathways can go a long way to supporting the body’s natural detox abilities. Remember, the body is always trying to detox itself, all we have to do is clear the way. 

  1. Sweat: Sweat can help rid the body of toxins, but not all of them. Engage in activities like sauna and exercise that helps you sweat, and be sure to re-hydrate with electrolytes afterwards. Whilst sweating is very important, many skincare products and anti-perspirants block pores and prevent sweating. Swap to a natural non-toxic deodorant without anti-perspirant (I’ve found that Native Unearthed or Nuud works best!) and definitely don’t buy any deodorants with aluminium, which has strong links to breast cancer. 
  2. Clean up your skincare: What we put on our skin is directly absorbed into the bloodstream. Even though we may not think of the skin as an organ, it is infact the largest organ we have, and is one of the ways toxins can become absorbed into the body. There are so many toxins in conventional skincare products, and many of these are highly damaging to the body. Even anti-ageing skincare products that contain PUFAs are linked to studies showing that they can actually increase the appearance of ageing when the skin is exposed to sunlight, because these chemical ingredients are completely alien to the body. For thousands of years, people have used natural ingredients like milk, honey, crushed berries and oils to moisturise the skin, without the need for synthetic chemicals. A natural oil like coconut oil is a perfect body moisturiser, whilst there are more and more chemical-free skincare products available today. Urban Veda are free from parabens, as well as being cruelty free and vegan too. 
  3. Eliminate Regularly: Constipation isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s preventing the body from ridding itself of unwanted wastes. If you feel you ‘go’ less than you should, add more healthy fats and oils and fibre to your diet to support elimination. Drinking enough water is also absolutely vital, as the kidneys play a role in ridding the body of toxins and sending them out via urine. 
  4. Breathe Well: One of the primary ways we either prevent or absorb toxins is with the way we breathe. The nose is perfectly designed to be on the front line of defence against pathogens and pollution; the tiny hairs trap pathogens, whilst the mucus that covers the nasal passage carries toxins down into the stomach, where acid breaks them down and sends them to be eliminated. Breathing through your nose also has a huge number of other benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing cardiovascular health and so much more. Aim to breathe through your nose as much as you can, and build up to nasal breathing when exercising slowly and gradually. 
  5. Eat ‘Clean’: We’ll cover the ingredients to avoid and the most important foods to buy organic, but for now, think about reducing ultra-processed foods, additives, artificial colours and artificial ingredients – these are all chemicals that place a huge burden on the body and stop us from feeling our best. 

Check back soon for the skincare and food ingredients to avoid, the best foods to buy organic, how to set up a healthy home, how to support liver health and much more on how to detox! Let me know how you support your body’s detox pathways, or how I can help you get started.

Published by emmanewlynyoga

Musician, music lover, yoga teacher, yoga student, massage therapist.

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