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The Healthy Way to Detox

by: Valencia Porter, M.D., M.P.H.

Created date

April 8, 2014

It seems like everywhere I look these days people are on a juice cleanse or doing a detox diet. Spring is an optimal time to perform a detox, as we shift in the Northern Hemisphere from the heavy, sluggish, damp winter and move into a lighter season of renewal and rejuvenation. But it is important to know how to do a proper detox so that your system is actually cleansed of toxins rather than mobilizing toxins from fat storage to your bloodstream where they can cause significant problems.

A patient I saw several years ago is a common example of good intentions gone wrong. Marta was in her late thirties and had been overweight for much of her life. She had tried numerous diets in the past, temporarily losing weight only to gain it all back and then some. Inspired by a colleague who quickly lost ten pounds on an all-liquid “fat burning” diet, she enthusiastically dove into this latest weight-loss trend. Did Marta lose weight by eliminating all of her regular foods and drastically reducing her calories? Yes. But by week two she was also starting to have other problemsheadaches and body pains that were not going away and an itchy rash over her entire body that was making her miserable. What she didn’t realize was that her rapid weight loss released stored toxins into her body. To make matters worse, since the diet she was following didn’t have enough nutrients to help support her body’s detoxification system, she became more toxic rather than less.

So what should you be looking for in an optimal detox plan? Here are the elements that will make your detox revitalizing and healthy:

  • High quality protein sources. Why? Amino acids derived from protein are necessary components for enzymes and the liver detoxification pathway.
    Tip: Choose vegetarian sources such as beans, legumes, nuts and seedsor clean animal sources (e.g. organic poultry, eggs, wild-caught fish). Protein powders such as pea, hemp, and whey may also be helpful.
  • Adequate nutrients. Why? Detoxification is a complex process that utilizes a number of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
    Tip: Take a B-complex vitamin with methylcobalamin and methylfolate. Eat nutrient-dense foods such as fresh, deeply pigmented vegetables and fruits.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. Why? Vegetables in this family help support liver detoxification and estrogen metabolism.
    Tip: Consume broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, cabbage, greens, etc. While crucifers contain substances that may interfere with thyroid in people with iodine deficiency, cooking the vegetables reduces this effect.
  • Antioxidant-rich foods. Why? During the multistep detoxification process, your body can create some toxic metabolites that can cause damage if they are not buffered by protective nutrients.
    Tip: Supplement or include foods rich in vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, and phytonutrients such as those found in garlic, onions, fruits, and vegetables. Artichokes, turmeric, and coriander contain silymarin (the liver-supportive antioxidant found in milk thistle).
  • Plenty of pure water. Why? Part of the detoxification process eliminates toxins through urine and sweat, so you want to make sure things are flowing and avoid dehydration.
    Tip: Drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered or spring water daily. Try to avoid storing water in plastic bottles.

Things to Avoid on Your Detox

  • Alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, and non-prescribed medications.
  • Caffeine. Since caffeine is also metabolized by the liver, reducing its intake will help support your detox. If you are used to consuming caffeine regularly or in large amounts, taper down gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. If you resume coffee, choose organic regular (not-decaf) coffee and consume less.
  • Anything artificial. If it didn’t exist in nature 100 years ago, don’t eat it.
  • Processed, highly refined, and GMO foods. Beware of anything that comes in a package and doesn’t resemble the food’s original form.
  • Sugar and other sweeteners. Particularly artificial sweeteners are nasty, but even the natural sweeteners can put added stress on our liver due to high-fructose content.

Other Tips

  • Choose organic vegetables and fruits, if possible, to reduce pesticide exposure. (See EWG's Dirty Dozen List). If consuming animal products, also choose organic to avoid exposure to antibiotics and growth hormones and naturally raised for better nutrient profiles (i.e. free range poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish).
  • Make sure you are having at least one good bowel movement daily. If you are mobilizing these toxins, you want to make sure they are going out of your system and not being stored again.
  • Sweat daily. Perspiration is another route of exit of toxins, so either do light exercise or use a sauna.
  • Get adequate rest. Going through a major detoxification adds stress to your body, so be sure to be gentle with yourself. Avoid heavy workouts if you are not feeling well. Relax your mind as well as your body.
  • Many can feel headaches, body pains, fatigue, or digestive upset in the initial phase of a detox. If you are still not feeling well after three to seven days, seek the care of a qualified practitioner.
  • Certain people may have food sensitivities that are not anaphylactic allergies but which can still cause toxic and inflammatory reactions in the body. The most common culprits seem to be wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, corn, legumes, and grains. 
  • While you are physically detoxing, take time to evaluate what other areas of your life could use attention such as emotions, relationships, and commitment to daily self-care.

Patients who have taken these healthy detox steps have reported weight loss, reduced cravings, decreased inflammation and pain, and improved energy. Including these tips as part of your lifestyle and taking steps to reduce the accumulation of toxicity in all areas of your life will move you in the direction of wellness and increased vitality.

Experience a Week of Detoxification and Renewal
Each week, guests at the Chopra Center Perfect Health program are guided through a gentle detoxification process based on Ayurvedic principles. With the support of Dr. Valencia Porter or one of our other staff physicians, those looking for a deeper cleanse can utilize herbal and nutritional supplements, receive body treatments, and learn Ayurvedic lifestyle tools, including meditation and yoga.

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About the author

Valencia Porter, M.D., M.P.H.
May 1, 2013 - 3:51pm,

Dr. Valencia Porter is the Chopra Center's Integrative Medicine Director and a Vedic Master. Board-certified in both General Preventive Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine, she has an integrative approach that incorporates many areas of health and healing, including Ayurveda, medical acupuncture, biofield (energy) therapies, and functional medicine.

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