If you are looking to improve your fertility, one of the suggestions that you may have come across is to “do a detox”. This is kind of a vague term. Various people will mean different things when they refer to doing a detox. For some, it’s drinking a green smoothie every day, for others, it is cutting out all sugar, caffeine, alcohol and refined carbs and yet another group may be referring to taking a kit that contains liver herbs like milk thistle and dandelion, fiber supplements and laxative herbs. While these may be healthful things to do, they may not have a significant effect on your overall health, egg quality or fertility. Why? Because they do not have a major impact on the processes that break toxins down and prepare them for excretion.
What is liver detoxification?
Detoxification (detox) is the process whereby your liver breaks down toxins and body waste. This process prepares them for excretion either through your kidneys or through your bowel. There are two steps involved. These are known as phase I and phase II liver detoxification. Any kind of waste must pass completely through both steps in order to be excreted from your liver and subsequently removed from your body. The steps require certain nutrients so that they can be performed properly. Some of the necessary ingredients include vitamin B6, vitamin B12, active folic acid (5MTHF), indole-3-carbinol, glucarate, N-acetyl cysteine, and glutathione, among others.
An effective detox involves supplying the specific nutrients required for complete, efficient liver detoxification. You also need to ensure the proper functionality of your organs of elimination. These are your liver, colon, kidneys and skin.
Your liver performs the actual steps of breaking toxins down and preparing them for excretion. It produces bile to flush this waste out, and your gallbladder stores the bile. Your gallbladder empties bile into your small intestine when your stomach empties. There, bile is bound to soluble fiber from foods like fruit and vegetables and carried out in your stool. Alternatively, some waste is carried in the bloodstream to the kidneys where it is filtered out and passed through urine. Some toxins, including heavy metals, are excreted through your skin by sweating.
How Does Your Body Cope When It is Faced with Toxins?
The simple answer? Detoxification. One of the things your body is especially good at is sweeping out any toxic elements and chemicals that compromise your health. That’s a big part of what some of your organ systems are designed to do.
However, not all toxins are created equal and of course, there are many factors that affect how your body responds to them at any given time. Also, toxins don’t come from only one source. In fact, the definition of a ‘toxin’ is surprisingly simple and broad: anything that the body doesn’t find useful or that harms its integrity is toxic to the body. The fact is, we’re combating toxins all the time.
The most common types of toxins we all encounter regularly come from poor diets, poorly digested food, medications, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, environmental toxins like air and water pollution, smoke, pesticides, and herbicides. This toxic burden is an inescapable part of urban life. It sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it?
When subjected to all of these forms of toxins at once, as most of us are, it’s easy to see how our bodies become inundated with chemicals that need to be removed. It’s also easy to understand why, even though we might be doing everything we can to sustain a healthy lifestyle and keep our toxin-fighting organs in prime condition, our bodies sometimes need help in this respect.
What are the benefits of doing a detox?
Toxins build up in our bodies through eating the wrong foods, normal body processes, pesticides/herbicides sprayed on our food, exposure to pollution through our environment and living an unhealthy lifestyle. Sometimes our bodies need assistance in getting rid of these toxins and this is the purpose of a detox. The benefit of doing this is to remove toxins, chemicals, and waste that may have adverse effects on our bodies. Some chemicals are hormone disruptors, some may be cancer promoters, some affect fertility and some just make us feel sick, tired or sluggish.
What Conditions Does a Detox Help With?
- Allergies. If your body is overburdened with toxins or chemicals, your immune system can become hypersensitive
- Period Problems. Very heavy periods, very painful periods and clotty periods are all signs of estrogen excess. Improving liver efficiency at removing hormones or chemicals that are acting as hormones helps.
- Fertility. Chemicals, pollutants, herbicides, pesticides and hormone imbalances all adversely affect egg quality. Helping your liver remove these from your system helps your eggs.
- Brain fog. Toxic chemicals create inflammation that adversely affects brain function.
When is it a good time to do a detox?
Detoxes can be done at any time during the year if you want to address a certain condition. However, if you are looking to do a general cleanse, then the optimal times are spring and fall.
Your Liver Works on a Daily Schedule
Your body runs on an internal clock or circadian rhythm that is dictated by daylight and darkness. A wide variety of processes throughout your entire digestive tract and notably your liver are under circadian control. These functions that are affected by the time of day include nutrient uptake, processing, and detoxification. Organ function is intended to cycle with nutrient supply and demand. Genetic or environmental disruption of the circadian clock causes or contributes to metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver time is from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Similarly, research shows that certain liver detoxification enzymes have peak activity at about midnight. Throwing off your body’s daily cycle by working shift work, working late or otherwise disrupting your sleep-wake cycle, disrupts liver function.
What detox is right for me?
There are many different detox options available. Although many of the health food store variety don’t really do very much. They may provide an illusion of doing something because they cause frequent bowel movements through laxative herbs and fiber supplements. For the reasons mentioned above in terms of actually doing something, I do not recommend these nor do I find them particularly beneficial.
What kind of detox to do also depends on your specific goals.
Do you want to:
- Detoxify your liver? Do you want to help your body rid itself of toxins, chemicals, pollution, pesticides, herbicides, body waste, excess hormones that may be adversely affecting your health, fertility or egg quality?
- Clean unwanted pathogens like Candida, Klebsiella or Campylobacter from your gut through a digestive cleanse? This helps with irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO, and fixing your microbiome which influences many aspects of your health and metabolism.
- Do a heavy metal detox? This is engineered to help your body clear heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and aluminum that damage your nervous system and harm various endocrine glands.
How Do I Know if I’m Overloaded with Toxins?
As we said before: your body is constantly detoxifying – day in, day out, all day and all night! Our organs are designed to do just that to keep us healthy. But we don’t live in a perfect world and who hasn’t been super stressed out and resorted to a poor diet or more frequent glasses of wine? Who hasn’t experienced an illness that compromised their health to the point where they just don’t seem to fully recover? These are just some instances when a body that is overburdened with toxins contributes to ill health. Sometimes toxins that we experience daily become a combined, overwhelming force while at other times we experience a mix of toxins in particularly high doses. Ongoing situations like this lead to chronic toxin overexposure and inadequate elimination.
Do you need to do a detox? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have persistent brain-fog, lack of focus, mental clarity, or migraines?
- Do you have ongoing fatigue, muscle aches or pains, general lack of motivation or feelings of depression that just won’t go away?
- Are you experiencing skin reactions or acne in ways you haven’t before?
- Have you recently become newly sensitive to chemicals, fragrances, or scents?
- Have you developed new allergies of any kind?
- Are your periods excessively heavy or painful?
- Have you noticed an increase in body odor, foul fecal odor, pungent or bad breath?
These are just some of the common symptoms that you might notice. They’re some of the ways your body is trying to tell you that it’s overwhelmed with toxins.
What are the side effects of detoxing?
Everyone responds differently to detoxing. Some people who are more sensitive and/or have a lot of toxicity may experience symptoms, but most do not. Detoxification side effects may include headaches, low energy, and moodiness. If your detox includes laxative herbs (not recommended by me), then you may find you need to stay close to a washroom. Typical side effect symptoms usually clear up within the first week or ten days.
What’s involved in a detox?
My advice on doing a detox usually involves making some necessary dietary modifications along with 1 or 2 nutritional and/or herbal supplements. The program itself usually lasts about 3-6 weeks.
Do Detox Diets Work?
A handful of clinical studies show that commercial detox diets enhance liver detoxification and eliminate persistent organic pollutants from your body. Better quality studies still need to be done, but from my own clinical experience, I’ve seen numerous patients improve by assisting their bodies with toxin removal. Organic pollutants are implicated in the development of inflammatory conditions, obesity, and diabetes.
You may read that detoxing is unnecessary. I would disagree because I’ve seen it help hundreds of people. That’s because I’m approaching it from a scientific, physiology standpoint, not drinking green drinks and taking laxatives.
Detox Pearls: The Basics
The best detox on a daily basis is to support your body’s systems of elimination. Some basics for the healthy ongoing elimination of toxins:
- Stay hydrated. Water intake helps your body flush waste out through your kidneys.
- Increase your fiber intake. Consuming lots of vegetables and legumes and moderate amounts of fruit help your body to excrete toxins. Fibrous foods like these bind to toxin-carrying bile and induce regular bowel movements.
- Lemon water. Squeezing the juice of half a lemon in a glass of water and drinking it first thing in the morning helps to get bile moving. This carries waste out of your liver and ultimately out of your body, assuming that you are eating enough fiber.
- Eat a healthy, whole foods diet. Include organic foods as much as possible to reduce your intake of herbicides and pesticides. Supporting organic farmers increases the demand for organic products. Over time this increased demand helps to lower the cost of organic produce. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables provide nutrients that help your liver.
Advanced liver detox techniques
Healthy liver detoxification requires specific vitamins and minerals to allow for efficient function of phase I and phase II liver detoxification. These include indole-3-carbinol, vitamin B6, B12, magnesium, L-5MHTF, and calcium-d-glucarate. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts help supply these nutrients. While it would be nice to just eat these foods and have efficient liver function, there are a few reasons why this isn’t always the case:
- Stress depletes the levels of key vitamins and minerals that are involved in liver function.
- The soil is depleted in magnesium. This means that even if you are eating plant foods that should contain magnesium, the plants aren’t getting it from the soil, so you aren’t getting it from the plants. Healthy magnesium levels are key to healthy liver function.
- Genetic mutations. Certain gene mutations like an MTHFR mutation interfere with the normal production of active folic acid (L-5MTHF). This is needed for a step called methylation, an important step in liver detoxification.
As a naturopathic doctor, I provide expert advice about dosing for these and other natural supplements for doing the best detox cleanse.
Accessory nutrients that are also necessary for healthy liver detoxification include alpha-lipoic acid, n-acetylcysteine, Vitamins A, C and E, glutathione, selenium, glycine, taurine and glutamine.
What About Those Detox Kits?
I would not recommend a detox kit to support healthy liver detoxification. Why not? These kits mainly contain fiber supplements, laxative herbs and small doses of herbs like milk thistle and dandelion. Fiber supplements and laxative herbs will make you poop more. But, frequent bowel movements do not mean more efficient liver function. Milk thistle is useful for regenerating liver cells when your liver has been injured or damaged. Think of conditions like cirrhosis or hepatitis. Rebuilding your liver won’t hurt, and may help. But, as a low dose ingredient in these kits, it’s not enough to achieve much. Dandelion helps your liver make more bile and empty that bile out of your gallbladder into your small intestine. This helps to carry waste out of your liver. But, in order for there to be fully processed waste to carry out, your liver has to break the toxins down completely and package them up for excretion. That is where I prefer to support your liver in phase I and phase II liver detoxification. This way you can carry waste out through bile. If you have regular bowel movements, you are making and excreting bile. Bile is a bit irritating to your digestive tract. As a result, your body tries to move it out. This is part of the process that helps to keep your bowels regular.
Looking for the best detox diet?
You can download a free 7-day meal plan that I made for you by clicking here.
When you’re experiencing symptoms that may be related to toxins, it’s the right time to visit my clinic for help. I help reactivate your body’s detoxification mechanisms so that you can experience optimal health every day. Sometimes, our organs need extra help in their work combating toxins and ensuring that your organs are happy, healthy, and strong.
Call or email me at 416-481-0222 or PFrankND@ForcesofNature.ca and I’ll be happy to have a detailed consultation with you to find the right pathway to your optimal health and fertility.
Authored by Naturopath Dr Pamela Frank
Dr. Pamela has been in practice as a naturopathic doctor in Toronto since 1999. She has been the recipient of numerous “Best Naturopath in Toronto” awards. She is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Pamela Frank uses a natural treatment approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, diet, vitamins, supplements, and other natural remedies to restore balance and provide long-term resolution of almost any health problem.
Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Dec;28(6):675-86. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12286. Epub 2014 Dec 18.