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How to detox safely in January (and every other month)

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

January is here again and after a fun-filled festive season, many are looking to counterbalance the excessive drinking, eating and all-round overindulgence with the classic New Year ‘cleanse’. From juicing diets and fasting, to Beyonce’s lemon juice and cayenne pepper cleanse, there seems to be no end to the number of quick-fix detox diets promising to flush your liver and make you instantly shed that Christmas weight.

Unfortunately, the dangers and long-term consequences of embarking on these extreme yearly diets rarely make the press. The truth is that our bodies already have an intricate system set up for detoxification which requires a large amount of energy and nutrients to function properly. So, although a 14-day celery juice diet is bound to make you lose some initial weight, you are almost certain to put it all back on quickly once you return to eating normally again. There is in fact some evidence that extreme calorie restriction leads to a lowering of your basal metabolic rate, and therefore you might put more weight back on than you initially lost. In addition to this, depriving your body of the energy and nutrients it needs will lead to sub-optimal function of your body systems – including the detoxification system.

So, instead of looking at January as a time of restriction, It would be more beneficial to think of what you can add to your diet to enhance the body’s natural detoxification process and make sustainable changes to your overall health.

How does detoxification work?

Detoxification can be split into 3 phases:

Phase 1 (activation):

Here, various liver enzymes break down toxins into reactive intermediatory substances, ready to be conjugated in phase 2. These substances are considered even more reactive than the parent toxin.

Phase 2 (conjugation):

The intermediates must then be attached to water soluble compounds to make them less toxic as quickly as possible, to be safely excreted. This is done through a series of phase 2 enzyme reactions which are dependent on specific nutrients as co-factors.

Phase 3 (elimination):

Now that the toxin has been deactivated it must be transported out of the cell via transmembrane proteins and eliminated from the body. The main routes of elimination are via the kidneys into the urine, or via the bile and out through the bowels.

So, if phase 1 is working but phase 2 is sluggish, there will be highly reactive toxic compounds able to cause havoc in the body. Equally, if phase 2 is functioning well but the phase 3 routes of elimination are blocked, toxins can be deconjugated and allowed to recirculate. So, to detox safely, it is important to ensure that all 3 phases are functioning optimally.

What can we do to support this process?

If you want to support your body’s natural detoxification process, I always recommend working with a Nutritional Therapist to identify areas in need of support and to get personal recommendations to suit your unique needs. But here are a few strategies that you can easily implement yourself this January:

1. Increase variety of colourful vegetables and fruit.

Colourful plants, such as blueberries, dark leafy greens and carrots are rich in antioxidants like vitamins A and C, which help to neutralise reactive phase 1 metabolites. Cruciferous vegetables (especially broccoli) are high in sulforaphane - a compound which promotes phase 2 detoxification. Aim for at least 6 veg and 2 fruit per day, and be sure to eat the rainbow.

2. Stay hydrated.

Like all bodily processes, detoxification reactions use water. The kidneys also require sufficient water balance to eliminate toxins. Aim to drink 2-3 Litres of water throughout the day – avoiding drinking at mealtimes.

3. Aim for 30g fibre per day.

Sufficient fibre intake is crucial to promote optimal bowel clearance – you should be clearing your bowels daily to eliminate toxins efficiently. Focus on whole-food sources of fibre such as dark leafy greens, apples, oats, bran, and legumes. If you are constipated, psyllium husk and flaxseed may be especially useful.

4. Keep on moving.

Exercise is the best way to improve blood flow. This means better circulation to the liver, more nutrients to cells, and faster removal of waste products. You don’t have to embark on an intense January fitness regime to feel the benefits; Just 30 minutes of daily brisk walking is enough to get the blood pumping.

Have a happy and healthy New Year!


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