Most detox plans share common foundations: eat right, avoid chemicals, take supplements that support the liver and colon. But when it comes to choosing the plan that’s right for you, first consider your goal. Do you struggle with digestive distress, stubborn weight gain, or annoying breakouts?
“Everybody has a different expectation of what a detox is and what it can do,” says Tracey Beaulne, ND, who creates custom cleanses for her Toronto clients.
Whatever your goal, a targeted detox plan makes more sense than ever, given recent research linking toxins in the body with specific health conditions. To lessen your “body burden” and boost overall health, follow our basic detox plan; then choose supplements and tips as needed from the three mini-plans here. It’s a good idea to consult your health care practitioner before starting any new supplements or diet plan.
Basic detox plan
With about 85,000 industrial chemicals now in use, your liver, kidneys, lungs, colon, lymph system, and skin need support getting rid of contaminants, says Gerald Wootan, DO, authorof Detox Diets for Dummies (Wiley, 2010). Once a year, take stock and get back on track with these daily detox guidelines, he says. Start by drinking plenty of purified water—about 64 ounces, or a half-gallon, daily—and choosing a gentle cleansing supplement. Look for milk thistle, artichoke leaf, and turmeric for boosting liver function, wormwood and rhubarb for the colon.
Lean, mostly vegetable protein. Protein’s amino acids help the liver begin to break down fat-soluble contaminants such as pesticides. Good, complete protein sources include buckwheat, hemp seed, quinoa, soy, spirulina, legumes, organic chicken, and grass-fed beef. Eat protein with every meal.
Crucifers. Broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage contain sulforaphane, a compound that boosts production of glutathione, a key detoxifying liver enzyme. Eat at least two servings daily.
USDA Organic produce. Steer clear of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of conventionally grown, pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.
Citrus. Vitamin C in limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit promotes production of bile, which carries toxins out of the body. To supplement, start with 1,000 mg and increase by 500 mg increments to as high as 3,000–4,000 mg, says Wootan. Reduce dose if loose stools result.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In a recent test of products with HFCS as a top ingredient, nearly one-third contained mercury.
Farmed salmon. Due to contaminants in their feed, most farmed salmon contain more toxins than wild salmon. Search for “seafood selector” at edf.org for a list of the best and worst fish.
Animal fat. Pesticide residues, antibiotics, steroids, and hormones accumulate in the fatty tissue of conventionally raised cattle. Choose grass-fed or organic beef and dairy.
Alcohol. Limit to 2 to 3 ounces (the amount a healthy liver can break down in one hour) daily.
In a sluggish colon, undigested proteins, fats, and starches can become toxins; if the intestinal wall’s protective barrier of good bacteria is compromised and toxins enter the bloodstream, they tax the kidneys and other organs and can cause more serious conditions, says Brenda Watson, CNC, author of The Detox Strategy (Simon & Schuster, 2008).
Fiber. Include both soluble fiber (apples, beets, carrots, oats, legumes), which soaks up toxin-infused bile and ushers it out, and insoluble fiber (whole grains, flaxseed, fruit skins), which scours intestinal walls. Aim for 35–45 grams of fiber daily.
Omega-3s. These essential fatty acids help lubricate the colon and support beneficial gut bacteria. Get 2 grams daily or more from fatty fish, flaxseed, or supplements, says Watson.
Colon-cleansing herbs. Wormwood, rhubarb, cascara, and senna can aggravate chronic diarrhea.
Probiotics. To build up “friendly” bacteria weakened by long-term constipation or a round of antibiotics, choose a probiotic with ten or more strains, including about 40 percent lactobacillus and 60 percent bifidobacteria, recommends Watson.
Digestive enzymes. Look for a plant-based product with amylase, lipase, and at least 75,000 to 100,000 HUTs, indicating content of proteases, which break down proteins. Take one capsule with each meal until GI problems resolve.
Chew food well. Try 30 times before swallowing. “If food isn’t chewed thoroughly, saliva enzymes aren’t in contact with it long enough to begin the digestive process,” says Watson.
Initial research suggests a class of hormone-disrupting chemicals dubbed “obesogens” (such as bisphenol A [BPA] and phthalates) may trigger excess fat-cell production and storage. Environmental toxins like organophosphate pesticides and flame retardants also slow metabolism, says Walter Crinnion, ND, of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona.
Rice bran fiber. This mostly insoluble fiber binds to industrial contaminants in the bile. Load up on whole-grain brown rice, or mix 1–2 tablespoons rice bran fiber powder into a beverage with each meal.
Green tea. It helps the liver clear toxins from the blood and fat, and mildly accelerates weight loss. In a 2010 study, obese people who drank four 8-ounce cups of green tea daily for eight weeks lost 5 1/2 pounds more than the placebo group.
Some personal care products. Those with artificial fragrances may contain phthalates.
Food and beverages packaged in plastic. In particular, steer clear of #7 plastics, which often contain BPA. Store food and beverages in glass or stainless steel.
Chlorophyll. Found in green vegetables and algae, chlorophyll helps you excrete environmental pollutants. Take 2–4 grams Chlorella pyrenoidosa powder daily, and eat lots of organic spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, and cilantro.
Whey protein. This all-purpose supplement boosts the detoxifying liver enzyme glutathione, promotes satiety, and helps increase muscle mass and metabolism. Study subjects who drank 48 grams of whey 90 minutes before a meal ate less and felt full longer. Add 2 scoops of whey protein powder to a beverage before meals.
Take a 30-minute sauna at least once a week. Sweating helps mobilize toxins stored in fat.
Clear up skin
When “good” gut bacteria decline—whether from illness, stress, or taking antibiotics—toxic byproducts from undigested food and harmful bacteria can penetrate the intestinal lining, entering the bloodstream and turning on inflammatory cytokines that can promote acne, psoriasis, eczema, and wrinkling. Diet is critical because excess sugar and hormones in food disrupt the skin, says Alan Logan, ND, co-author of Your Skin, Younger (Sourcebooks, 2010).
Poached, steamed, and stewed foods. Cooking meats and fats at high heat with no moisture (grilling, baking, frying) creates compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that accelerate skin aging, says Logan.
Sugar. Refined carbs spike insulin production, which in turn boosts sebum (oil) production, aggravating acne. Acne patients who ate few processed grains for 12 weeks decreased their pimples twice as much as a control group.
Milk. Natural hormones in milk (not just milk from cows injected with artificial growth hormones such as rGBH) also boost sebum production. Two major Harvard School of Public Health studies found that the more milk teen boys and girls drank, the more likely they had acne.
Probiotics. These “good bugs” heal the gut lining and dampen the inflammatory response, says Beaulne. Significant research shows probiotics help limit acne. Aim for 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) daily.
EPA. A powerful anti-inflammatory and skin lubricant, this omega-3 fatty acid helps good bacteria adhere to the intestinal wall. It’s fine to take a combination EPA-DHA supplement; just be sure to get 1 gram of EPA itself.
Curcumin. The yellow pigment found in the spice turmeric promotes collagen production, slows skin cancer cell growth, and supports liver-detox enzyme production. Take 500 mg curcumin daily.