Detoxing is a natural process that occurs in our body, which is necessary for removing toxins.
If our bodies do not properly detox, our hormones can be affected and result in a plethora of unwanted symptoms.
Learn how your body processes toxins and what to expect from that.
Lauren Chambers is the Nutrition + Hormone Health Coach of So Fresh N So Green. She's on a mission to help you balance your hormones, boost your energy, and improve your mood through food so you can look and feel your best.
Why Detoxing Is Important
Our bodies are DESIGNED to naturally detox. In fact, we have a whole system of organs (both lymphatic and endocrine systems) that are programmed to rid our body of anything that might do it harm.
In most Western diets, our bodies get overloaded with toxins from:
- Processed foods, fats and sugar
- Prescription medications
- Bacteria and chemicals in the water we drink
- Toxic beauty products we slather on our skin
- Pollution in the air we breathe
- Chronic stress and
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
Exposure to these overtime can cause toxins to accumulate to unhealthy levels, which then tends to take a toll on our bodies in the form of hormonal imbalance, weight gain (or loss), infertility, gut issues, bloat, brain fog, PMS, mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and even chronic disease.
Thus, it’s important we routinely incorporate practices into our lives that support detoxification in order to maintain hormonal balance and optimal health.
How Detoxing Affects Hormones
You can think of the liver as the body’s filtration system. Everything we eat and drink — as well as many of the things we inhale and absorb through our skin — pass through the liver to be detoxified.
The liver filters the blood through two different phases, removing harmful substances, such as drugs, bacteria, toxins, and foreign proteins, where they are then further filtered through our kidneys and excreted via our bladder through urine output or through our intestines and eliminated via our bowels.
The liver also has the job of filtering through our hormones, primarily estrogen, which it breaks down into different metabolites, in order to be either actively used or safely excreted from the body.
The liver will always prioritize filtering through outside substances first (as they can cause more immediate harm) so if it gets overloaded with these, it cannot properly filter through our hormones, which typically leads to too much estrogen in our system and ultimately, an array of PMS symptoms.
The estrogen then has to go somewhere, so it’s stored in our fat cells (hi, weight gain). These fat cells then trigger the release of even more estrogen back into our systems! It’s a vicious cycle.
Estrogen dominance is the root cause of many symptoms and imbalances, including:
- Painful ovarian cysts or PCOS
- Uterine fibroids or Endometriosis
- PMS, irregular or painful periods
- Weight gain and the inability to lose weight, no matter how much you workout/eat well
- Hot flashes, perimenopause or menopause
- Mood swings
Signs Your Body Needs Support in Detoxification
- Fatigue and feeling like you need a nap in the afternoon
- Sensitivity to fragrances or caffeine
- Disrupted sleep, especially between 2-4 a.m. (this is a biggie — ever notice waking up around this time after one too many cocktails the night before?)
- Asthma or allergies
- Skin disorders, including acne and rosacea
- Unexplained weight gain, inability to lose weight, excessive abdominal fat
- Blood sugar disorders (since the liver plays a key role in blood sugar regulation)
- Nutrient malabsorption
- Indigestion and acid reflux, especially with fatty foods
- Chronic infections
- Mood swings, poor mental function, lowered stress tolerance
- PMS symptoms, decreased libido, and infertility
Side Effects You May Experience While Detoxing
It’s important to note that while ridding your body of built-up toxins can be very beneficial for your liver, hormones and overall health, it can also come with some short-term side effects.
A dull, prolonged headache is one of the most common detox side effects, which typically happens as a result of cutting out routine behaviors like drinking alcohol, caffeine, smoking, consuming sugar and processed foods, etc. Ditching these daily routines creates a withdrawal scenario in your body, which can then lead to a headache. You may also find you’ll need to urinate more frequently to expel built-up toxins, which can be dehydrating to the body and deplete electrolytes, leading to headaches. Thus, it’s important to drink plenty of water (minimum half your body weight in fluid ounces daily).
Fatigue + Disrupted Sleep Patterns
Stimulating the body to purge toxins requires a larger internal workload than the body is used to. This creates fatigue and can disrupt sleep.
Although sleep may be more challenging, it’s important to prioritize it as much as you can, as this time period is when your body is able to work efficiently at repairing and cleansing itself. It’s also crucial to cut out as much stress/workload as possible, especially when it comes to intense workouts, which place added stress on your body.
As mentioned above, urination and bowel movements are some ways the body eliminates toxins. It can be a shock to the digestive system to introduce herbs and nutrient-dense whole foods while eliminating processed foods and toxic habits, which stimulates more frequent digestion while the body works hard to eliminate toxins. Hydrate often and replenish with plenty of nutrient-rich foods like leafy greens and veggies, wild caught salmon, pasture-raised eggs, legumes, etc.
Eliminating habits like alcohol, coffee, processed foods, sugar, dairy, gluten, etc. creates a situation of temporary withdrawal in the body, triggering cravings associated with those changes. So, for example, if you drank coffee every morning, it makes sense that your body, being used to that substance, will desire it again. Gradually removing substances (vs. cutting them out cold turkey) may help reduce cravings.
Changes in diet and lifestyle, along with the introduction of nutrients, herbs (such as Ginger), etc. can lead to nausea. The best ways to combat nausea are hydration, rest, and regular consumption of meals. It should pass in a few days, but if it advances to a more serious symptom like vomiting, consult a licensed medical practitioner.
***Sometimes the body tries to expel toxins faster than they can be properly eliminated. When this happens, more serious symptoms like vomiting, tremors, muscle pain, heart palpitations, etc. may appear. These are warning signs via your body to slow down/change your approach. If at any point you experience symptoms out of the norm or simply feel like something is off, it’s a good idea to consult with a licensed medical practitioner.
How To Detox Safely + Effectively
There are really two ways to do this — one is to decrease your toxic load and the other is to support your liver through an optimal diet and lifestyle. Let’s go through how to do each safely + effectively.
1) Decrease Your Toxic Load
- Eat an organic, whole foods diet
- Eat antibiotic and hormone-free meats, fish and dairy
- Use a whole-house water filtration system
- Use a high quality air purifier in the home or office, and open windows as often as possible
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and drugs
- Avoid plastics — particularly plastic wrap, bottles and food containers
- Swap out chemical household cleaners, soaps, and antibacterial products for all-natural brands
- Use chemical-free beauty and skincare products — choose those without toxic preservatives and additives, such as parabens and artificial fragrances
2) Support Liver Through Optimal Diet and Lifestyle
- Decrease intake of refined carbohydrates to help prevent or repair fatty liver
- Eat liver-supportive foods, such as beets, citrus, avocados, and cruciferous vegetables
- Consume high-quality protein, such as eggs, fish, organ meats, and gelatin found in bone broth — the amino acids found in these foods support Phase 2 of liver detoxification
- Support the emptying of the GI tract by eating plenty of fiber
- Support and improve the health of the gut microbiome to improve the health of the estrobolome (collection of bacteria in the gut which is capable of metabolizing and modulating the body's circulating estrogen)
- Break a sweat regularly through exercise, saunas, and steam rooms
- Manage stress to decrease cortisol overproduction
- Use herbs that support the liver like chlorophyll, cilantro, turmeric, dandelion root, burdock root, milk thistle, licorice, and artichoke extract
- Take supplements that support liver function, including the B complex of vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, E, and N-acetyl cysteine which is a precursor to glutathione (the master antioxidant)