We’ve compiled our favourite science-backed tips and anecdotal tricks to help you really detox – no snake oil or flat-tummy-tea in sight.
Once a Sunday hangover has subsided and reality begins to sink in, many of us may be tempted to redeem ourselves through juice regimes, cleansing tinctures or flat-tummy teas. The notion of the detox, promising to delete the damage caused by calorific and alcoholic festivities, is pervasive and enticing – but mostly misleading.
Even though scientists repeatedly emphasize that the human body is well equipped to rid itself of toxins (in fact, it is hard at work as you read this), the lucrative detox industry urges us to eliminate the toxins we have accumulated through our indulgent lifestyle choices, usually in exchange for pricey subscriptions.
Meet your internal (and external) detox heroes
- The immune system, a complex network of cells, which identifies foreign substances and eliminates them.
- The liver (arguably the most well-known detoxifying organ) which processes nutrients and neutralizes harmful metals.
- The kidneys, which filter out and eliminate toxins.
- The skin, whose main purpose is to block out harmful substances such as bacteria and chemical toxins (acting as a protective barrier rather than a detox-machine)
Overpriced supplements and quick-fix solutions aren’t worth your time, but you can optimize and maintain the sophisticated detoxification mechanisms that you already have. Keep reading for some easy ways to boost the body’s internal detox powerhouses – no snake oil remedies in sight.
Lay off the sauce
The desire to detox most commonly springs to mind after periods of indulgence, particularly heavy drinking. This comes as no surprise, since excessive alcohol consumption can overburden the liver’s enzymes and lead to liver damage.
Tip: To help the liver succeed at its detox magic, give it a break. Limiting alcohol, and the ensuing buildup of toxins, is one of the best ways to help your body’s internal detoxification system.
The kidneys need a sufficient amount of water to pass through in order to flush out toxins.
Tip: Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day. If water on its own is not appealing, squeeze in fresh lemon or try green tea (to protect against heart disease).
Eating foods rich in prebiotics helps keep your immune and detoxification systems healthy, and high-fiber foods can support gut and liver function by eliminating unwanted buildup. Sugary, processed foods are an obvious no-no, as they are known to hinder the body’s ability to detoxify itself effectively.
Tip: Look for foods containing antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and lycopene. Some of our favourites include:
- Green tea contains catechins, which boost liver enzyme levels and protect against oxidative stress.
- Full of compounds that boost the liver’s detox pathways and high in inulin, artichokes help stimulate components of the immune system.
- Grapefruit contains an antioxidant called naringenin which protects the liver by reducing inflammation and increasing its ability to metabolize alcohol.
- Blueberries are packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants which can help protect against liver damage and reduce the risk of fibrosis.
- Beetroot juice is high in betalains (a compound which has been shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent liver damage)
- Coffee can reduce the risk of cirrhosis (a condition wherein the liver is scarred) and protect against liver cancer.
Tip: Look out for these specific nutrients, available in supplement form:
- Silymarin is an extract of milk thistle which has proven to be effective in treating alcoholic liver disease and protecting the liver from alcohol-related damage. Best taken in supplement form.
- Burdock root has long been a staple in Chinese medicine as a liver tonic, with studies suggesting it can protect the liver from alcohol and acetaminophen-related damage.
- Betaine, a compound in beets, can help break down fatty acids in the liver and protect from inflammation and damage caused by chronic consumption of alcohol.
- Curcumin is hailed in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to protect against inflammation and free-radical damage.
Sleep truly is the best medicine, as your body recharges at night and uses the downtime to process and remove toxic waste buildup.
Tip: introduce a nightly routine. This has been proven to set the body up for a good night’s sleep, and reduce stress levels. Reading a few chapters and/or drinking herbal tea are two effective habits.
Any claims that saunas or hot yoga* help the body “detox” are not backed by science. Rather, see your skin as a detox-bodyguard, acting as a barrier between your internal organs and outside pollutants and dangers.
*Hot yoga is great for flexibility, cardiovascular health, and stress reduction.
Tip: wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful rays. Other ways to care for the skin? Dry-brushing offers a plethora of benefits, from boosting circulation to even promoting the growth of new cells.
Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells to make room for new cells, a self-preservation mechanism that simultaneously cleans and recycles. From the Greek auto (self) and phagy (eat), the literal translation is “self-eating”. Autophagy occurs when cells are under stress, and can be triggered through dietary changes.
Tip: The most effective way to trigger autophagy is through fasting. Skipping meals, though potentially unpleasant at first, can provide long-term benefits ranging from weight-loss to reduced risk of disease. There are a variety of methods, some of the most popular being the 5:2 (5 regular days of eating and 2 days of fasting per week) and the 16:8 method (fasting for 16 hours every day, and eating in an 8 hour timeframe).
Alternatively, following a diet very low in carbs and high in fat (the ketogenic diet) can induce the same effects: by reducing carbohydrates to only 5-10% of total caloric intake, the body undergoes positive stress and begins to produce ketone bodies, which have many protective effects.
The Bottom Line
Our suggestions? Steer away from quick fixes or extreme measures, and enjoy yourself in moderation. After periods of indulgence, don’t restrict yourself out of guilt, but rather incorporate some of the healthy habits listed above. Add, don’t subtract. Feelings of excessive guilt trigger the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) which can weaken your immune system, lower your libido, and impact insulin levels – no need to add insult to injury when we are already feeling physically down!