January is one of the key times of the year when the infamous word ‘detox’ rears its ugly head. From juice fasts to colon cleanses, detox diets and purges are all the rage for those looking to lose weight or kick-start a healthy lifestyle.
The concept of ‘detox’ can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans who would sit in sweat baths, mainly for relaxation and social reasons, though they were also benefiting from sweating, which does help the body to remove toxins.
The ancient Egyptians would do what I would say is a purer ‘detox’ process, through the use of colonic irrigation as they believed that the cause of fever was due to a build-up of toxins in the intestines.
I’ve worked with a couple of clients over the years who suffered from extreme constipation, meaning they couldn’t go to the bathroom without laxatives, who would 2-3 times a year do a colonic. It would give them great relief for a few weeks or sometimes even months before the system clogged up again until the next colonic.
Here’s the irony of doing a ‘detox’. You create toxins by going on a ‘detox’ this is why there is little science to back it up and why it is considered a pseudo-medical theory and more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. Now I think that there are positives to doing a ‘detox’ because it inspires a healthier lifestyle. Though what I want to share with you having spent 20+ years working in the health and wellbeing industry, is that you can do it without the torture of these so-called ‘detoxes’.
Now it would have been rude of me not to have done a ‘detox’ at some point to know what it felt like, so in my early 20’s me and a friend decided after what was a heavy new year’s celebration, to commit to 7 days of drinking nothing but a water concoction consisting of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
The festive period hadn’t been particularly hectic, just a couple of office parties, though there wasn’t much of a break from Christmas Eve until January 1st in terms of eating and drinking, so a good solid 7 days of overindulgence to burden my body with.
The Maple Syrup diet, Master Cleanse or The Lemon Detox as it’s also known was created over 30 years ago by Naturopath Stanley Burroughs, and consists of adding 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup with 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper to half a pint of hot or cold water. It’s recommended you drink as much as you like, but ideally six to nine glasses daily.
So we would make a 2-litre bottle worth of this mixture each morning and then consume that and nothing else for the day. The first day or two for me felt good. To be honest, my body needed a break from everything I had bombarded it with. My friend’s journey, unfortunately, didn’t start as smoothly and he experienced diarrhoea for the first 4 days. After having to call in sick on day 3 and 4 he was ready to cave in. Only through me pestering him did he reluctantly carry on.
A ‘detox’ is often known for producing symptoms such as headaches, nausea, body aches, constipation, diarrhoea, skin rashes, or even full-blown flu-like symptoms. If the truth be known, even just going cold turkey for a few days from things like drinking coffee or eating refined sugar can trigger the same symptoms.
By day 4 I was starving hungry and being around people who were eating when you’re not, only makes you want to eat more, so it became more about willpower to finish the 7 days rather than the effects on my body. I was feeling good because I had given my body a break from digestion, so appreciated that aspect of it. Mentally a ‘detox’ can really hit you and we both experienced low moods for the last few days. Going from over consuming to consuming next to nothing, in theory, this sounds great, though the reality is that it can create more stress than not doing it. To be fair, I have had clients and friends do various ‘detoxes’ over the years with mixed results, so I appreciate why people want to do it.
Something that I really only got to understand and appreciate until a couple of years later is that the body is a well-developed system that has its own built-in mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste, that is doing this in the background naturally through various organs, such as kidneys (urine), colon (feces), skin (sweat) and lungs (carbon dioxide).
The main detoxification organ and one that most people think about cleansing when they do a ‘detox’ is the liver. Within the liver cells, there are sophisticated mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years to break down toxins for removal from the body.
See, many of the toxic chemicals that we either consume directly in our foods and drinks, from products we put directly onto our skin, or from the environment around us are fat-soluble, which means they dissolve only in fatty or oily solutions and not in water. This makes them difficult for the body to excrete.
So there are two pathways that are involved in detoxification within the liver. In the phase one pathway, the liver uses enzymes to convert the toxic chemical into a less harmful chemical. In the phase two pathway, the liver then uses other substances to convert this chemical into a water-soluble one so that it can then be excreted from the body via watery fluids such as bile or urine.
If the phase one and two detoxification pathways become overloaded, there will be a build-up of toxins in the body. Furthermore, studies have shown that the liver requires certain nutrients to support the detoxification pathways.
In phase one nutrients such as the B-Vitamins, Vitamin A, C and E are needed and in phase two certain essential oils and proteins are required.
So here is my strategy for the January ‘detox’
Start by simply removing the obstacles that keep the body from detoxing well, which will include the things that you’ve probably been consuming too much of like alcohol and refined sugars.
Next, give the body what it needs to support the cleansing process, so eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, organic meat and fish, and healthy fats like butter, ghee, and olive oil. This also includes drinking plenty of water, exercise, good sleep and downtime, whether through meditation, reading, journaling or just spending time with friends and family.
Finally, there are some simple things that you can add that stimulate the detoxification process, such as dry body brushing, which has been used in Europe for centuries. Epsom salt baths, cold showers and saunas to stimulate circulation. Consuming natural clays such as Bentonite Clay, which can be taken internally or put onto the body and face to draw impurities to the surface to be removed are a great addition.
January doesn’t have to be a time to punish yourself by taking magical concoctions that cost an arm and leg because you over did it during December. It should be a time to honour your body from celebrating the year before with friends and family and setting a standard that you want to live by for the whole year.