You would be amazed at the amount of toxins that enters our bodies every day. We only have to open our windows to have exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke blacken our lungs.
Caffeine, saturated fats and all sorts of preservatives are almost unavoidable in our food these days. Furthermore, who knows what other types of chemicals we may be inhaling from normal household items or processes at our workplace.
You can't see these toxins working in your body, but they do cause harm, nonetheless. The build-up of such toxins can lead to sluggishness and fatigue, and make you fall ill easily, or have headaches, skin and digestive problems.
Detoxification of the body, or simply "detox", is a popular trend, especially among the health-conscious. There are many detox services and therapies being touted in the market, ranging from the basic to the extreme. But how do you know what works, and what is safe for your health?
In this article, I will discuss some safe detox strategies that you can do for yourself at home.
Falling ill due to toxins
Our body actually has a good mechanism for getting rid of wastes and toxins from the body. This function is controlled primarily by the kidneys and the liver.
The kidneys filter out extra fluid and waste from the blood, and pass them through to the bladder to be removed by urination.
The liver filters the blood coming from the digestive tract, as well as detoxifies chemicals and metabolises drugs.
However, imagine if you just keep pumping your body with toxins - you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, drink five cups of coffee or five cans of beer a day, eat mostly simple sugars, and do not get any antioxidants, vitamins or minerals.
Your liver and kidneys will have to work extra hard to remove all these toxins, but very soon, these organs will become worn out and function poorly. When these organs don't function properly, it will have an effect on your whole body and overall health.
This is when you start to feel yourself "declining" - you may not experience anything truly dramatic, but little things will start to plague you, like having no energy, a slow metabolism, or just feeling mentally drained. You may also notice more frequent headaches, digestive problems, aches and pains, or skin problems.
Just like a clogged drain or system, you need to get rid of the wastes from your body, and clean the "insides" every so often. Your body also needs to rest so that it is able to heal from the onslaught of chemicals and toxins that it has received.
Quite simply, that is what detox is about - cleansing your system and getting a fresh start so that your body's organs and systems can go back to doing what they do best.
A lot of people think that detoxification is about fasting or starving themselves. But food can be great detoxifiers as well, while giving you a boost of good nutrients and antioxidants. The important thing is choosing the right food for your detox.
You need plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, as these contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that boost your immune system. For example, the secret behind grapefruit is that it contains a powerful antioxidant called narigenin that helps reprogramme your liver to melt excess fat, instead of storing it.
Garlic is another cleansing food that helps boost the ability of your white blood cells to fight the effects of toxins in your body. You may notice a difference by just taking three cloves of fresh garlic per day. If you dislike the smell of garlic, you can get odourless aged garlic supplements at the health store.
You can also get fibre from brown rice and other wholegrain foods.
Another misconception is that protein, especially meat protein, is bad for detox. This is not true, and in fact, you need protein for energy, building muscles, and to stimulate the enzymes that break down toxins in the body.
However, make sure that you cut out the fat in your protein, so choose lean beef or lamb, skinless chicken, and plenty of fresh fish. Ideally, your food choices should be organic, so that you consume less pesticides and chemicals usually used in agriculture.
You should eat these foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Too often, people detox by eating only one food item a day, but that will not give them the nutrients they need. What you should do is have a variety of foods every day, but in small portions so that you do not overeat.
Water is absolutely key in a detox diet! Drink at least two litres of water every day so that you can flush out the wastes in your body.
You don't need to buy expensive mineral or spring water, or special detox drinks; just drink plain (boiled) tap water. Avoid coffee and sweetened drinks, as these introduce more toxins back into your body. Tea, especially green tea, drunk without sugar, is also good for your system.
Detox-ing your life
Detox-ing your life
There is little evidence that extreme detox programmes like fasting or colon cleansing with supplements or irrigation is safe. It worries me when people undergo these programmes without proper medical advice, choosing instead to trust friends or beauty centres who may not be fully aware of the possible risks of such procedures.
Instead, why not look at what you can detox in your daily life? By doing this, you are ensuring that you can stay toxin-free over the long term, rather than just a one-off effort.
You have to reduce the toxin load in your life - basically, cut down or get rid of alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, refined sugars and saturated fats. As much as possible, try to use natural household products, such as cleaners, cosmetics and personal healthcare products (such as your shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste).
Stress also creates toxins in your body, because when stress hormones are produced in large amounts over a protracted period, they produce toxic by-products and slow down the action of detoxification enzymes in the liver.
So slow down, take a serious look at what aspects of your life are stressing you out, and think of ways to change these. It can be done, even though many people think that they cannot escape stress.
Finally, you might not have thought this, but exercise is the best way to detox.
You just cannot escape it - taking detox supplements or doing any sort of detox diet without exercising will not work.
Certain types of exercise are believed to be especially beneficial for cleansing, such as yoga and qigong, because of the traditional breathing and meditative techniques that they employ.
Do you think that you will feel any difference after detoxing your diet and life? You certainly will, because you have been "unclogged", so to speak. Your body systems will work more efficiently and the nutrients from your food can nourish your organs, muscles and brain much faster.
All this will translate into more energy, better health, fewer illnesses, feeling more revitalised, refreshed and, yes, even fewer mood swings!
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care.