I was 19, ignorant, and trusting. A woman who lived near the college I was attending convinced me that I needed to go on a “seawater cleanse.” It lasted about 10 days. I don’t remember the particulars of the program, except that I fasted for many of those days and drank “seawater.” This created an internal tsunami that “cleansed” the bowels. Whew! I remember two things after the experience: how delicious steamed broccoli tasted after going without food and how baggy my jeans were.
Since then, I have learned that rather than being a singular event, detoxification is a continuous operation in the body. It is an ongoing process to deal with our continual exposure, incessant internal production, and stored accumulation of toxins. While lemonade fasts, tea-toxing, juice cleanses, and even seawater cleanses exist, these don’t adequately support this valuable, multi-step process. So here are some basic guidelines to support balanced detox.
Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins can lighten the body’s workload, allowing it to focus on house cleaning. Consuming foods least contaminated with pesticides and herbicides and preparing foods in a way that reduces the production of toxic substances (e.g., using low heat, water-based methods for protein-rich foods) are all helpful. You can also drink pure water, use natural cleaning products, and choose cosmetics formulated without toxins (e.g., lead-free lipstick).
Consider the study conducted in which five families intentionally removed all plastic from their lives for three short days, avoiding plastic containers, water bottles, plastic wrapped foods, etc. Fresh organic food was consumed for the three days. The researchers measured urinary levels of BPA, a plastic contaminant, before and after the short fast from plastic. As a result, the average urinary concentration of BPA fell 66 percent!1
There are some foods that the detox process is highly dependent on. Nutrients such as phytochemicals found in plant foods have specific effects on the expression and activity of the detox system, for example. Animal studies reveal that a surprising number of phytochemicals protect rodents against the effects of various types of carcinogens by supporting the process of detoxification.
Balanced detox requires balanced eating. Balanced eating not only means ensuring the diversity of nutrients needed throughout the day, but also includes consuming foods known to balance the detoxification process itself. Foods that have been found to balance phase I with phase II include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Berries, onions, and garlic fit in this category as well. Dietary fiber also enhances both phase I and phase II.
Fiber has the capacity to bind to heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and lead. It also can bind to excess estrogens, removing them from the body. Studies have found rice bran fiber binds to toxins such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other man-made chemicals.
Dietary fibers can greatly alter the environment of the gut, maintaining or restoring a healthy community of microbes. Unfortunately, environmental contaminants from various chemical families have been shown to alter the composition and/or metabolic activity of this microbial community. Researchers have observed that these changes can affect the function of other detoxification organs, such as the liver and kidneys, in addition to the gut.2
The gut microflora can also produce compounds that either induce or inhibit detox. Some strains of bacteria can actually add to our toxic load by producing toxins that enter the circulation through an inflamed gut. On the other hand, beneficial strains can aid in the disposal of the transformed toxins that result from the body’s detox efforts.
Ensure healthy elimination. This should be the first step in supporting detox. Constipation needs to be addressed. The intestines are the first pass for toxins that enter via food before being absorbed into the body and transported to the liver. A healthy gut is instrumental in decreasing the toxic load.
Minerals & Metals
Remember to ensure sufficient minerals in the diet or by taking a supplement as this is a critical step in ensuring effective detox, especially of heavy metals. The sad reality is that the majority of Americans don’t consume enough minerals, largely due to food processing. Insufficient levels of various essential minerals appear to facilitate absorption of toxic metals. Selenium supplementation has been shown to blunt the toxic effects of mercury in mammals, birds, and fish. In China, three months of selenium supplementation tripled the urinary excretion of mercury in individuals who had a history of long-term exposure.
Protein is commonly over or underemphasized. When it comes to detoxification, not only how much but the source of protein makes a big difference. Some research has found that moderately high-protein diets bring about upregulation of detoxification in a way “that may either increase or decrease susceptibility to pesticides and other xenobiotics, depending upon whether the protein is of animal or vegetable origin.”3 In other words, whether the protein source is animal based or plant-based affects the process of detoxification. Animal-based, high protein diets have been found to increase net dietary acid load and acidify the urine pH, hindering thorough detoxification.
I’m thankful I’m not 19 anymore, trying to navigate life with fewer resources than I have now. However, I’ve found that the process of maturing is something that requires addressing more than ignorance. Psychosocial toxins within, inaccurate environmental inputs, and poor coping skills are all still being faced. My self-generated efforts at growing up can be likened to my pursuit of improved health via seawater. Thankfully there is a better way. We have a faithful Purifier. Like a Gardener, He is addressing the weeds, removing them at the root while at the same time providing all things needful. Just as there are so many supportive components to detoxification, God wants us, as part of His body, to help each other in this process. Our maturation and cleansing would be experienced as we live “for the equipping of the saints… for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to… the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro… but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-15).
- “How to reduce BPA levels by 60 percent in 3 days,” Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, 3/31/11. https://saferchemicals.org/2011/03/31/how-to-reduce-bpa-levels-by-60-percent-in-3-days.
- D. Kieffer R. Martin, S. Adams, “Impact of Dietary Fibers on Nutrient Management and Detoxification Organs: Gut, Liver, and Kidneys,” Advances in Nutrition, Vol. 7, Issue 6, Nov 1, 2016, pp.1111-1121, https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/7/6/1111/4568672.
- M. Lyon, J. Bland, D. Jones, “Clinical Approaches to Detoxification and Biotransformation,” Textbook of Functional Medicine, p. 545.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.