I am a huge fan of detox. So much so in fact, that I do a detox on myself every season and have for years. Why? Put very simply, we live in an increasingly toxic world.
Of course, we have a built-in and robust internal machinery to deal with this burden — our liver, digestive system, kidneys, lungs, skin, lymphatics — but what happens when our detox mechanisms becomes overloaded?
There is a growing body of literature linking various diseases to toxin exposure (a simple Medscape search will provide you with an abundance of well-researched articles on this). Thus it only makes sense to me, as a Naturopathic Doctor, that regular support of our detoxification systems is a great way to promote health and prevent disease.
For many of my patients, the clinical results of cellular detox have been remarkable: improvements in sleep, mood and energy; a decrease in headaches, pain and joint inflammation; smoother hormone cycles; clearer skin; improved allergies and the list goes on.
But this spring I haven’t been recommending my usual detox programs. Why??
In a nutshell, I’m not sure a rigorous detox program is wise in the context of COVID-19.
Disclaimer: this is my opinion.
Clearly, I value detox and the benefits it can bring. But I take my Hippocratic Oath very seriously:
First, do no harm.
In the context of COVID-19, could a rigorous detox program cause harm? As a clinician I am not sure at this point. I’ve combed the medical literature, consulted various medical practitioners on the topic, but I don’t have a clear answer as of yet.
Here is why I am proceeding with caution this Spring:
- Detox is hard on the body.
Detoxification requires a very specific balance of nutrients to ensure safety and efficacy of detox (10). COVID-19 may make it challenging for some folks to get the nutrients required for optimal detoxification.
- Detox may create negative symptoms which could be confused for COVID symptoms
It is common during a detox to experience negative side effects in the early stages: fatigue, headaches, body aches and pains, congestion, skin breakouts or rashes, digestive disturbance and more.
Many of these symptoms are similar to COVID symptoms should one contract it. This could result in an increase of mental or emotional stress. Many people are already experiencing added stress at this time. Is it wise to add more?
- Could detox during COVID-19 negatively impact immune function?
In general, detox appears to support overall immune function. But we also know from medical research that stress can negatively impact the immune system (6). As our world reshuffles the deck due to COVID-19, we are under an incredible amount of stress. Could adding more stress through detox negatively impact our immune health?
The answer is unclear. From the research I’ve done, it seems that in some cases, perhaps “Yes”, while in other cases, “No”. There are numerous factors that may contribute to the impact detox could have on an individual at this time:
- Underlying chronic health conditions of the individual going into a detox
- Genetic variation
- Overall function of the individual’s detox organs prior to detox (digestive function, liver function, kidney health, lung health…)
Is there a way to detox safely during COVID-19?
Yes, I believe there is. I just think it requires doing things a little differently this round. Instead of the rigorous internal detox programs I often do for myself and recommend for my patients, my focus this spring is upon staunching the flow of external toxins coming in. I feel this is the safest way to proceed at this time. And so far, the results have been rewarding!
Recommendations for Detoxing Safely during
1. GET PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT
Work with a licensed Naturopathic Doctor or other healthcare practitioner extensively trained in detox programs to ensure safety and efficacy for yourself BEFORE you begin any detoxification program. Every body is different, has different responses to detox and has different needs during detox.
Here are a few key reasons I recommend getting professional support before you begin:
- Stimulating detoxification pathways may alter how your body processes medications you are on. This needs to be evaluated and monitored for safety.
- To be done safely and effectively, the detoxification organs need to be functioning first. If you suffer from digestive distress, liver or kidney dysfunction, please seek professional guidance to ensure a positive and healthful outcome.
- The symptoms and side effects of detoxification may be difficult to manage at times. Without proper support and guidance, it may be challenging to interpret what is happening and how to proceed without causing harm to yourself.
- Not all detoxification programs and products are safe. It is important to know exactly what is in the product you wish to take and whether it is healthful or harmful in your particular case.
2. DETOX YOUR DIET
Take stock of what you are consuming. Where can you decrease the refined, processed and preserved foods in your diet? A good place to start is with your snacks. What do you reach for? Does it come in a wrapper? Grab a whole food instead such as carrot sticks, cucumber, celery, pepper slices or a piece of fruit.
3. INCREASE YOUR FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Aim for 10 servings daily with the majority coming from vegetables (5). This may sound like a lot, especially if you don’t eat much produce to begin with. The first question for many people is how to get this many servings in? Second, why do we need so many?
Simply put, we need a diversity of micronutrients to effectively support detoxification and optimal health. Unfortunately, our current agricultural practices leave our foods with less nutrient density than they may have had in the past (we monocrop, our soils are often depleted of nutrients and microfloras, we pick food before it’s ripe in order to ship it across the world, we use chemical fertilizers, we genetically modify many foods… this is a BIG conversation!). As a result, it appears we need a greater diversity and abundance of fresh food to meet the increasing demands on the body (5).
- Pro Tip #1: A fun and easy way to increase diversity is to increase the different colours in your grocery cart. Go find a colour in the produce department that is not already represented in your basket. Google how to cook that particular food and you will end up in the spice aisle. Spices are dehydrated plant foods full of nutrients!
- Pro Tip #2: Make pestos, dips, smoothies and baked goods with an abundance of vegetables and greens to increase their nutrient content.
4. REDUCE ALCOHOL & CAFFEINE INTAKE
How much coffee and alcohol do you consume daily? (In and of themselves, these substances may actually have some benefit. Give me a call and we can discuss this!) The detriment of these substances is often in HOW we’re using them: are they a tool for energy or a means to relax? What could we be doing instead? What is their use compensating for? (Poor sleep, too much stress, lack of exercise…) How do we drink these beverages? (Full of sugar, cream or sodas…)
- Pro tip #1: When drinking coffee, actually take a COFFEE BREAK. Take 15 minutes and do nothing else but enjoy your coffee. And if you can, drink it black!
- Pro tip #2: When consuming alcohol, use carbonated water or soda as a mix and add fresh herbs and produce such as mint, ginger, cilantro, lime or cucumber.
5. DECREASE YOUR SUGAR INTAKE
There is an increasing body of research emerging on the negative health effects of too much sugar. Not only does sugar negatively impact our immune function, it increases inflammation which may contribute to various disease states (3,8).
6. DETOX YOUR THOUGHTS
Where do you entertain toxic thoughts on a regular basis? Are you a friend or a foe to yourself? Many of us have a really loud inner critic. How do you speak to yourself when the going gets tough? This has an impact.
- Pro Tip: Consider a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness and meditation is a great way to shift our inner critic (1). But it can be hard to get into a mindfulness practice. Thankfully there are a number of great programs and aps out there that don’t require a huge commitment. My faves currently are Simple Habit (available from the Ap store; 12+ hours of free content) and the Practicing Human podcast by Cory Muscara.
7. DETOX YOUR HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS
A big source of our toxic burden are the chemicals many of us use to clean our homes. Obviously, during COVID-19, we’re anxious to ensure our cleaning products are effective against this virus.
Are natural cleansing agents up to the task?
Common ‘green cleansers’ include vinegar and baking soda. Apparently, these are not effective when used alone in disinfecting against the corona virus (7).
Green disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19 are soap and water (if using vigorous friction), rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. The Canadian Government has created a list of common household cleaners and their effectiveness for COVID-19 (7).
For years, I have used a variety of natural cleaning products in my home including baking soda, vinegar, castille soap and Four Thieves essential oil. Recently, I have incorporated hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol to my product list, but it is really important that you keep these 2 products separate from vinegar to avoid creating unstable chemical bi-products.
8. DRINK PLENTY OF FRESH, CLEAN WATER
For our body to excrete toxins, the river needs water to flow. Typically speaking, the average adult needs at least 2L of filtered water. I would recommend closer to 3L during a detox.
9. GET PLENTY OF REST
Sleep is essential to optimal health. In our typically busy society, we often wear sleep deprivation as a badge, stating that “we only need ‘X’ number of hours to get by” (I typically hear 5-6 as being standard for many folks).
The human body needs an abundance of sleep for optimum health. This is when the body does its work of rebalancing and healing. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep nightly (2,4,9).
- Pro Tip: Get to bed early (before 10 if possible) and sleep in a dark room. Our sleep is most restorative if we practice a regular sleep routine as it supports the optimal functioning of our circadian rhythm.
10. EXERCISE REGULARLY
We are built to move! Regular exercise is key for optimal health and studies suggest a regular exercise practice supports mood, immune function, pain reduction and optimal well-being. On the detox front, it helps move the lymphatic system, a key component of detoxification.
Remember, there is only 1 wonderful YOU on the planet. Work closely with a healthcare practitioner experienced in detox to design a program that is perfect for you this spring.
- Black DS et al. 2016. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1373(1):13-24. Accessed online April 2020.
- CDC Newsroom. 2016. 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html. Accessed online May 2020.
- Crouch, W. 2020. Added sugars negatively impact immune system. https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com/blogs/added-sugar-intake/. Accessed online May 2020.
- Crouch, W. 2020. Four ways to support immune health. https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com/blogs/immune-health-support/. Accessed online April 2020.
- Dagfunn, A. et al. 2017. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(3): 1029-56. Accessed online May 2020.
- Dhabhar FS. 2014. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Journal of Immunology Research, 58(2-3):193-210. Accessed online April 2020.
- Government of Canada. 2020. Hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers (COVID-19): List of disinfectants. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/disinfectants/covid-19/list.html. Accessed online May 2020.
- Hanson, NW. et al. 2017. The endothelial border to health: Mechanistic evidence of the hyperglycemic culprit of inflammatory disease acceleration. IUBMB Life, 69(3): 148-61. Accessed online May 2020.
- Kecklund G et al. 2016. Health consequences of shift work and insufficient sleep. BMJ,355:5210. Accessed online May 2020.
- Metagenics Institute. 2018. The role of detoxification in the maintenance of health: research review. www.metgenicsinstitute.com. PDF accessed online April 2020.
Hungry for more?! Please call the clinic if you would like further articles / resources on the topic of detox and immune health. We are happy to provide you more!