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A warm approach to detox

By Vera Martins PhD

Give your body the best possible chance to cleanse

While the word detox is often associated with cool juices, salads, and raw vegetables, there is a much “warmer” approach you can employ to give your body the best possible chance of detoxing. In the colder months, you instinctively cover your body with warm clothes, so it should only be natural to also keep warm from the inside out. Spring is also on the way and this is a good time to detox, in fact better for our bodies since they will start getting stronger and with more energy (as opposed to Winter time when our bodies are more depleted). However as the weather is still cold nurturing warm foods are still the best option for your detox.

 

Detox literally means giving the body a break from unhealthy foods and poor lifestyle habits while nourishing it to improve wellbeing. And there is no better way to nourish your body than by tuning into the seasonal rhythm and adjusting your choices accordingly. This is a concept very familiar to eastern forms of medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, which considers the energetic impact of food, particularly temperature, on the body. So, this winter let’s turn to mother nature’s warming foods for optimal digestion and consequently a better chance to support your body’s ability to detox.

The impact of cold foods on your digestion

During the winter months, cold, raw foods like salads can be very difficult to digest while warm foods are more easily digested. A specific temperature is required for digestive enzymes to work and break down food properly in the stomach. In the cold weather the body will require more energy to lead this process and the burden will be even greater if we feed ourselves raw cold foods. The result? Poorly digested foods with a consequent reduction in nutrient absorption and a higher chance of developing digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and upsetting the balance of good bacteria in the gut.

Good digestion, good detox

You may be asking yourself what digestion has to do with detox? Easy, good digestion gives the body the best chance to break down food and absorb nutrients, such as B vitamins, several minerals and amino acids, which are the foundation for optimal detoxification. Without the right nutrients our body’s most important detoxing systems, the liver and the gut (particularly the microbiota, the community of microorganism living in your gut), will not work properly.

Did you know that key detoxification steps taking place in the liver are dependent on several enzymes? Well, guess what, those enzymes do not work without the help of vital micronutrients including zinc and selenium. Another example is that liver function, as well as cellular growth and repair, will not take place if you are not breaking down protein from your diet and absorbing all those beneficial amino acids.

Detox improves hormone metabolism

Keeping the liver and gut healthy is central to maintaining hormone balance. The liver plays a crucial role in hormone metabolism and regulating their levels in the body. This is the case for both naturally produced hormones and those introduced via HRT/BHRT. Also, the gut, in particular the gut microbiota, is key in hormone balance, especially estrogen. In recent years, researchers have identified a set of genes present in the gut microbiota (this set of genes was named the “estrobolome”) which express enzymes that can metabolise estrogens. In this way, gut bacteria can regulate levels of circulating estrogen, supporting symptoms of menopause including weight gain, but also conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and even breast cancer. This is why keeping our liver and gut microbiota healthy by providing an adequate supply of nutrients should be the priority in any detox program. A happy liver and gut microbiota will be the best assistance in detoxification and hormone metabolism.

Dr Monica Lascar adds:

“Detoxification processes in the body and the enzymes and pathways involved are well researched and understood. The liver, kidneys, gut, lymphatic system and sweat glands all play a role and use different routes before eliminating toxins into the urine, stools or sweat. In the context of hormone therapy, I think about detox when the main symptom is fatigue; the other context is weight gain that does not abate with optimal hormone levels. Sometimes there’s too much ‘noise’ in the system for the hormones to bind to receptors powerfully and have the desired effect, and when I see patients on ever increasing hormone doses that do not achieve the intended benefit, a detox food plan may be a useful next step. Detoxification for hormone therapy requires support for both liver and gut and is best done slowly (crash detox can often worsen the symptoms) and I recommend to work with a practitioner that may guide you on temporarily eliminating certain foods together with introducing the right nutrient support.”

Top warming detox foods and tips

Opt for a warm breakfast

  • Start the day with a glass of warm water, and for extra digestive and liver support add freshly squeezed lemon and fresh ginger. Avoid cold or iced water in general.
  • Opt for a warm breakfast such as oats with warm unsweetened almond milk, raw cocoa powder, berries, cinnamon, cardamom, and sprinkled with brazil nuts. Brazil nuts boost selenium and glutathione levels, both essential in liver detox. Another good option is poached organic free-range eggs with kale and wholemeal *sourdough bread. This breakfast is packed with protein, minerals and antioxidants to support liver detox.*For a good sourdough bread ask your baker for the list of ingredients. A real sourdough bread should not have more than three ingredients: organic flour, water and salt, fermented by naturally-occurring yeast and bacteria present in the flour.

Warming Carbs

  • Because nature knows best, many of the foods that are grown in autumn and winter have warming qualities such as carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, pumpkins. These nutritious options make delicious soups, stews (see our delicious dhal recipe) and roasts.
  • If you are craving a salad why not trying a salad with roasted vegetables? Slow-roasted fennel and beetroot sprinkled with fresh dill and seeds makes a super nourishing and refreshing salad.

The role of sulphur

  • Cruciferous vegetables contain liver detox properties due to their sulphur and I3C (indole-3-carbinol) content (remember to always eat these cooked to avoid them suppressing your thyroid – read about thyroid suppressing foods here).

Try these examples, steamed or roasted with fresh rosemary:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Kale

 

  • Garlic and onions are great additions to soups, stews and roasts as they too are rich in sulphur, an important element in the liver detoxification pathways.

Stewed Fruits

Choose cooked fruits whenever possible – check out my delicious recipe of fragrant stewed cinnamon apples, a great warm and gut-friendly snack or dessert option.

Fibre is key

Fibre helps with the elimination of toxins and hormone metabolites through the gut, preventing their reabsorption into the body.

Alternate these fibre-rich foods daily for a healthy gut:

  • rolled oats
  • ground flaxseeds
  • chia seeds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • grains
  • almonds
  • artichoke hearts

Spice things up

The following spices and herbs will support the liver and body with detoxification processes:

  • Spice up your meals with warming spices such as cinnamon, fresh and ground turmeric, fresh ginger, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cloves, and cardamom. These spices can also be used to make teas and nourishing warm drinks.
  • Dandelion root, burdock root and red clover make powerful herbal liver detox teas. Always buy high quality loose tea from reputable sellers for optimal results.

Avoid

To give your body its best chance of detoxing you should avoid the below foods, as they will add to the toxic burden:

  • Refined sugar
  • White refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries, white pasta, sugary cereals, and biscuits.
  • Trans-fats such as ready-made meals and sauces, margarine, fried fast-food, and crisps.

Give your body a head start

Supplementing with the following can be a great aid during a detox program. Taking all of these separately can be difficult, so find a supplement that includes as many of them as possible.

  • B vitamins
  • N-acetyl-cysteine
  • Glutathione
  • Milk thistle extract
  • Artichoke leaf extract
  • Turmeric extract (read more about turmeric here)
  • Slippery elm
  • Apple pectin
  • Burdock root extract
  • Antioxidants such as resveratrol and green tea extract

How long should a detox be?

A healthy detox program based on these principles can be performed for a minimum of 1 month up to 3 months, depending on the individual and presenting symptoms. It is worth noting though that the healthy food suggestions and foods to avoids can be continued. It is only the detox supplements/teas that you may want to take only for a limited period of time.

Eat mindfully

And finally, for an all-around detox in sync with your body and environment, always remember to chew your food very well and eat mindfully and with gratitude. A positive and calm emotional state at meal times is the best treat to support good digestion and a healthy body detox.

References

Chen, K. L., & Madak-Erdogan, Z. (2016). Estrogen and Microbiota Crosstalk: Should We Pay Attention? Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Kwa, M., Plottel, C. S., Blaser, M. J., & Adams, S. (2016). The intestinal microbiome and estrogen receptor-positive female breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Thomas, M. P., & Potter, B. V. L. (2013). The structural biology of oestrogen metabolism. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

 

 

 

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