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Ditch the Detox Supplements and Try This Instead...

When you've been in the health and wellness field for a while, you start to notice seasonal patterns...

Every January, without fail, I get a flurry of calls from clients suffering from the cumulative effects of the holiday season (unhealthy diet, overindulgence in alcohol, lack of exercise and disruption of other self-care routines, sleep deprivation, stressful family interactions and financial burdens, etc.), and wanting to hit the reset button.  Many of them have already been to the health food store, where a well-meaning employee, picking up on their eagerness to find a “quick fix”, has sold them a 7-day cleanse kit or, worse yet, a supplement that claims to magically detoxify the body without requiring them to change their behaviour in any way, and they have ended up either not feeling any better or, more often, even worse.

I get it.  It’s human nature to look for the path of least resistance, and there will always be practitioners and products that are only too eager to capitalize on that.  But as understandable as this impulse is, the bottom line is that it doesn’t work. 

The body thrives on balance. 

Swinging to either end of the spectrum (extreme indulgence at one end, and extreme deprivation at the other) is unhealthy, unsustainable, and inevitably sets us up for failure.  Just as science has now established that yo-yo dieting has the opposite effect than what we are striving for, by (often permanently) messing with our metabolism, trying to recalibrate your system by going on a crash detox program (like the radical Master Cleanse, that advocates drinking nothing but a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne - often for weeks on end) is destined not only to fail, but can actually do more harm than good.  

The reality, as it turns out, is actually much simpler (but not necessarily easier).  We have, programmed in our very DNA, the impulse towards optimal health and wholeness.  We have evolved an extraordinarily sophisticated mechanism for maintaining biological balance (the technical term for which is “homeostasis”), and for regaining that balance when we have strayed off course.  All we have to do to recruit our innate healing capacity is to: 1) eliminate the nutritional factors that undermine it (like sugar, alcohol, caffeine and trans fats) and 2) maximize the nutritional factors that support it.  This generally looks like a clean (ideally organic) whole-food plant-based diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices), lots of filtered water (to dilute water-soluble toxins and carry them out of the body) and enough fibre, prebiotic and fermented foods to encourage regular bowel movements (which sequester and eliminate fat-soluble toxins).  

There are all kinds of self-care activities that can be added to enhance this process, such as: a minimum of 30 minutes of gentle cardiovascular exercise daily (deep breathing and skeletal muscle contraction, which stimulates blood circulation, both accelerate detoxification), sufficient, high-quality restorative sleep (ideally at the same time, and for the same duration, every night including weekends), massages, dry brushing and contrast showers alternating cold and hot water exposure (to optimize lymphatic drainage), and infrared saunas to encourage sweating (the skin is one of the body’s most important channels of toxin elimination),

If you want to up-level your detox game even further, you can also provide direct support to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the master conductor that harmonizes the efforts of all of the organs that work together to bring you back into balance.  Nutritionally, the most important ingredient, and often the only one I recommend supplementing with when on a detox regimen, is omega-3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks that the body uses to make its own endocannabinoids (called anandamide and 2-AG), ideally from a concentrated plant source like algae.  Lifestyle-wise, in addition to the activities mentioned above (sleep, exercise, therapeutic touch, cold water exposure), you can optimize your ECS function with whichever stress-reduction techniques work best for you (experiment with proven strategies like yoga, mindfulness meditation, time in nature, journaling, creative expression, volunteering, cuddling, and petting your favorite cat or dog).  

There are also certain plants that contain compounds that mimic our endocannabinoids, and we can use them to support our ECS when our internal stores may have become depleted due to an extended period of imbalance (*cough* holiday season *cough*).  The best known of these is the cannabis plant, but many of us either can’t, or prefer not to, use cannabis-derived products. Fortunately, there are plants that contain compounds with even broader and more powerful ECS activity, including common spices like clove, Szechuan pepper and ginger.  Others options aren’t culinary herbs (echinacea flower, white peony root, and magnolia bark), so they may have to be taken in supplement form. A company called Emerald Health Bioceuticals makes a line of supplements containing PhytoCann Complex, a proprietary combination of these six herbs in the quantities and ratios that have been demonstrated to be most effective.  Each of their products also contains additional botanical ingredients to address whichever symptom of imbalance tends to be most troublesome to you, be it inflammation, sleep disturbance, low mood, anxiety or brain fog. If this resonates for you, click here to learn more.

Whichever course of action you choose, I recommend sticking with it for a minimum of three weeks to feel the effects, and create sustainable change.  Not-so-coincidentally, this is also the length of time that behavioural research has established is necessary to form a new habit, and if you are like most of my clients, you will be feeling so much better by then that you will want to keep it up.  At least until the holidays roll around again! Wishing you a healthy, happy, balanced new year.

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