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What are Toxins in my Body? Detox 101. Facts and Myths.

What are toxins, and how do they build up in my body? What are the facts? Educate yourself with Detox 101...

Detox! If you're like me, you hear quotes like these from many wellness-minded folks:

"I need to rid my body of toxins, time to detox."

"I'm starting a detox diet this week."

"Time for my annual detox juice fast!"


I'm Healthy, Why Do I Need to 'Detox'?
Many of us work hard to eat the right foods, practice wellness techniques and maintain our stress levels. But even the healthiest of folks tend to embrace 'detox practices'. Recently actress Gwyneth Paltrow discussed in her GOOP newsletter, how she just finished up the detox diet cleanse based on Dr. Junger's book "Clean." But why does wellness-devotee Gwyneth really need a 'detox cleanse'? Are body toxins real? Doesn't our body take care of toxins on our own? Find out...

What are TOXINS that build up in my body?

Answer:
"Toxins" although they almost sound like a urban myth, (wouldn't something "toxic" kill you?) are indeed real.

The Nemours Foundation describes body toxins as, "A toxin is a chemical or poison that is known to have harmful effects on the body. Toxins can come from food or water, from chemicals used to grow or prepare food, and even from the air that we breathe. Our bodies process those toxins through organs like the liver and kidneys and eliminate them in the form of sweat, urine, and feces."

So as stated above, you can break toxins down into four categories: toxins from the air, water, food and chemicals in our environments. Here is an example of each:

Air:
Pollution refers to the toxic gases and chemicals, such as methane and carbon monoxide, that are released into the atmosphere only to be mixed into the air we breath in and exhale out. Pollution toxins can come from vehicle and factory emissions as well as other sources. A notable air pollutant is also cigarettes. Inhaled tobacco products contain a number of highly toxic ingredients that can negatively effect your body. Tobacco product toxins effect more than the smokers. Second hand smoke can be inhaled in a wide variety of situations: bars, restaurants, casinos, at home from family members and roommates, sporting events, city sidewalks, outdoor cafes and other social gatherings. So even non-smokers should be aware of the toxic ingredients in tobacco smoke.

Water:
A number of toxins have been discovered in water. Everything from chlorine, bleach, ammonia and even OTC and prescription medications have been reported to be found in excess in drinking water. An extreme case of toxic water is depicted in the award winning movie Erin brockovich. The true-story tale depicts the legal case against Pacific Gas and Electric, regarding alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium(VI), in the southern California town of Hinkley. Pollutants and chemicals in drinking water have been said to cause everything from depression to illness and even cancer. Water supplies across the globe greatly vary in composition. Spring, mineral and artisan bottled waters have become all the rage in the past decade, although some critics believe that tap water is not as bad as the media depicts.

Food:
Side note: toxic foods do not refer to pesticides. That comes next in the 'chemicals' category. Toxic foods can refer to food additives, highly processed or genetically modified foods and even chemical ingredients in food recipes such as food dyes (RED 40) and chemical flavorings (MSG and aspartame). A few doctors believe that modern day American diets can actually be considered 'toxic' because of the high intake of processed, dead 'empty-calorie' food items like white flour and sugar. Dr. Robert Lustig, of the University of California San Francisco, says "today's processed food is loaded with sugars that alter the body's hormonal balance, creating a "toxic environment" and an "addiction" to food." -Natural Clinical Practice Scientific Journal. In regards to food additives, I recommend you check out my post: "Food Additives to Avoid (and one's to keep.)" It details a list of common food additives that are considered 'toxic' to the body, such as Food colorings: BLUE 1, BLUE 2, GREEN 3, RED 3, YELLOW 6. Another common food toxin is alcohol. Alcoholic beverages contain 'possibly toxic' sulfites, which some individuals are allergic to. More on wine sulfites here.

Chemicals:
Chemicals that are toxic may include small amounts of very toxic things, such as pesticide residue dusted onto our freshly-picked, non-washed, non-organic produce. (Always choose organic produce when possible.) High pesticide produce items include non-organic peaches, strawberries, apples, nectarines, bell peppers, celery, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes and pears. Over the counter, prescription and even recreational drugs are all referred to as chemical toxins that can build up in your body over time. Another recent toxic-topic of discussion refers to the amount of mercury in the foods that we eat. High levels of mercury in the body can cause illness and even death. You may recall actor Jeremy Piven who had to leave his run in a Broadway show early due to the 'mercury poisoning' diagnosed by his doctor. Jeremy attributed his condition to the incredibly high amounts of fish and sushi he had been eating.

Now that we've answered the question of "WHAT" lets answer the question of "WHY" and "HOW".

Why Should I actively 'detox' the toxins in my body?

Answer:
The basic idea behind a 'detox diet or regimen' is that the modern world puts so much stress on our bodies as we are exposed to a large number of toxins on a daily basis, and the natural detoxification mechanisms in place in our bodies cannot keep up the the detox demands. Therefore, 'active detox' is a good idea. "Detoxing" refers to taking extra measures to ensure that your body detoxes properly-to deter any negative effects of toxin-build-up in your body.

How Does my Body Detox Naturally when I'm not paying attention?

Answer:
Our bodies are smart. They have built in mechanisms to detox 'toxins'. Detox organs include: liver, kidneys, skin and lungs. Our bodies' digestive, lymphatic and circulatory systems all play a major role in the process of detox.

"Assisted Detox", What does that Refer to?

Answer: Detox Diets, Fasts and Cleanse diets can refer to a few things: ultra high intake of 'colon-cleansing' fiber, meant to literally brush and sweep out the built up toxins in your colon. Another detox method is 'fasting'. A fast is an ultra low-calorie diet (sometimes in all-liquid form) meant to take the stress off your digestive system for a few hours, days or weeks in order to pump up the natural detoxing abilities of your body. Plus, you are usually exposed to less daily toxins during a fast, and therefore slowing the process of 'toxic build-up'. Other detox diets may include certain foods and supplements that are said to have "Purifying Properties".

Skin Detox. Another form of detox assistance can come through the skin: saunas and 'hot yoga' provide high-sweat environments meant to speed up detox through the largest organ in your body-skin. Epsom salts and 'skin brushing' are wellness practices that have also been known to speed up the detoxification of skin-bound toxins.

Dark Side. The dark side of detox is that there are indeed many false-claim products and dangerous/risky practices out there to choose from. And in fact, many 'fasts' and 'detox diets' can be harmful to certain individuals. "Serious Fasting" is something that should be undertaken only under the watch of a doctor or dietitian. A gentler organic juice-raw food 'fast or diet' may be a beneficial way for healthy folks to assist the detox process. But again, any 'fast' is not to be taken lightly.

More of the OTC detox dark side: Certain supplements, herbal laxatives and over-the-counter herbal diet aids are not regulated by the FDA, and have been shown to cause harm in some individuals. That is why it is crucial to discuss your personal 'detox' method with your doctor. In my experience, anything in pill-form said to assist in detox, is not worth the price. Why take a pill and risk your health when you can detox naturally with healthy foods and wellness techniques?

Luxury Detox. On the pricier end of detox you'll find spas and retreats offering 'detox services' including colonic irrigation, body wraps, facials and even long-term fasts including detox-menus and prescribed exercise regimens.

How do I Detox Naturally and Healthfully?

Answer:
Later today, I'll be posting a list of 'detox foods and ingredients and diet regimens'. Some of them are highly effective and others have little 'proof' behind them, but may be worth trying-every one's body is different.

One natural, highly effective and safe form of 'detox enhancement' is exercise! Exercise speeds up your circulatory and respiratory systems and promotes natural sweating-all natural detox methods used by the body (lungs, skin and blood/digestive system).

Another very important part of natural detox is your hydration level! Your body will detox itself much easier if you are fully hydrated. Water, fresh fruit juices, herbal tea, kombucha and coconut water are fabulous beverages to stay hydrated.

And lastly, massage aka physical stimulation is a natural way to speed up detox. By massaging your body muscles and skin, you are loosening the toxins that are stored or 'building up' in your cells. Pro athletes often partake in routine massages to loosen their muscles and one theory is to loosen the lactic acid build up brought on by exercise-possibly the cause of sore muscles. (Though modern theories say that sore muscles may simply be brought on by torn muscle fibers from over-exertion. As well as stored chemicals that are released in the body during high-intensity activities.) Another topic entirely, but still fascinating piece of the 'detox puzzle'. Overall, massages are one method that may help you naturally detox. And bonus, a massage feels awesome!...

Later today I'll post my Top Ten Purifying Foods List. And my Raw Purifying Snacks Review. You don't want to miss it...


*photo caption: photographed by me.One of the many NYC street posters plastered along construction walls. This one is of a screaming face.

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