After eating and drinking way too much during the holidays, New Years’ resolutions usually consist of eating better, losing weight and being healthy. Many of us consider a detox or cleanse to kick-start these healthy changes, but do you know what goes on when you detox?

Detoxification is a large word for an equally complicated set of pathways that reduce your body’s exposure to toxins. Toxins can accumulate in the body and cause allergies, headaches, fatigue, chemical sensitivities, weight gain, joint and muscle pain, and skin conditions.

Firstly, a detox must involve reducing exposure and ingestion of toxins, including pesticides, heavy metals, and food additives. This requires eliminating all processed and refined foods, and foods that are allergenic, pro-inflammatory and difficult to digest.

Certain foods can also help with detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy, contain indoles, which can reduce the toxicity of carcinogenic substances. Citrus fruits contain limonene, a compound that supports detoxification in the liver (except grapefruit, which can inhibit the breakdown of medications).

Secondly, a detox program must also improve the efficacy of detoxification pathways in the liver, kidneys, intestines and skin, leading to the safe removal of toxins amassed in the body.

The liver is your major detoxifier, filtering toxins from the blood and transforming them into less harmful compounds before being eliminated. Toxins are processed in two-phases that require various B vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients, such as glutathione, your body’s major toxin scavenger. Milk thistle has been used for over 2000 years to protect the liver as it detoxifies and to prevent glutathione depletion.

The kidneys eliminate toxins via urine, which must be alkaline. If urine is too acidic, toxins, including heavy metals, can be reabsorbed into the body. Vegetables and fruits are very alkalinizing, as is lemon water. Grains, such as brown rice and wheat are acid-forming, whereas millet and quinoa are not. Likewise, choosing fish and lamb, instead of beef or chicken, can promote an alkaline environment.

No detox program should be commenced until bowel movements are regular. If you have less than 1-3 bowel movements a day, toxins can be reabsorbed from the stool. Fiber from ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and prunes are preferred over laxatives, which can cause habituation. Probiotics and natural digestive aids, such as apple cider vinegar promote effective digestion and elimination. Recent studies also point to probiotics increasing glutathione levels.

Lastly, toxins are also expelled from the body via sweat from exercise and infrared saunas. Blood and lymphatic circulation is required to carry mobilized toxins to organs for excretion and can be maintained with dry skin brushing and contrast showers.

We are often tempted to pick up the latest “detox kit” or master cleanse when embarking on a healthier new year. But because detoxification is much more complicated, speak with your healthcare provider about an individualized program before embarking on a New Year’s detox. Your body will thank you for it!

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