With the start of the new year, many of us have set a resolution to be healthier and detoxing is often included in this plan. Detoxifying the body can help eliminate toxins, hormones, microbes, and metabolic waste that create inflammation and interfere with optimal functioning. However, in Functional Medicine (FM), “detox” has a very specific definition. Unlike juice cleanses or quick-fixes, Functional Medicine detox focuses on removing the underlying causes of metabolic and biochemical imbalances. On this week’s blog, we will go over what “detoxing” means and how FM Physicians may look for possible toxins.
WHAT “DETOXING” MEANS IN FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
The goal of a functional medicine approach to detoxification is to restore metabolism and functions so that the body can naturally remove toxins. This type of detox focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of metabolic imbalances such as poor nutrition, gut dysbiosis, inflammation, stress, and impaired elimination pathways. Why do we need to detox? Let’s go over what toxins are and how they function in our body.
Toxins refer to any substance that has a negative impact on our health. These substances can be
- environmental pollutants
- endocrine disruptors
- metabolic byproducts of the body’s own processes
- and more!
Environmental pollutants refer to toxins we are exposed to in our environment through air, water and even food. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the delicate balance of hormones in our bodies and can lead to a wide range of health issues. Finally, metabolic byproducts are substances created as a result of our body’s own processes that when present at high levels can be toxic.
Toxins are stored in our fat cells, liver, intestine and other tissues and organs where they affect metabolism by producing inflammation and oxidative stress. This influences our hormones, digestion, absorption of nutrients and detox pathways. As a result, our body can become overloaded with toxins, leading to a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, skin breakouts and more.
TYPES OF DETOX
In Functional Medicine, there are several forms of detoxification therapies. Functional Medicine detoxification protocols are designed to support the body’s natural elimination process and restore optimal function. This is done by focusing on the diet, lifestyle, microbiome, and environment. These can range from dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, and supplements to promote optimal function of the body’s natural detox pathways. Let’s go over a few.
DETOX TO ELIMINATE FOOD SENSITIVITES
A Functional Medicine Provider may recommend an elimination diet to identify any food sensitivities that could be triggering reactions such as headaches or skin rashes. This type of detox focuses on removing all potential allergens from your diet and then, over time, reintroducing them one by one. This can help to identify foods that may be causing inflammation or other issues in the body. [i]
DETOX TO SUPPORT GUT HEALTH
The gut microbiome plays an important role in digestion, absorption of nutrients, and elimination of toxins. When there is dysbiosis or an imbalance in the gut, it can cause digestive symptoms such as bloating and constipation. A Functional Medicine detox approach to gut health may include dietary changes such as adding fermented foods and probiotics to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It may also include lifestyle modifications to reduce stress which can have a significant impact on the microbiome. [ii][iii][iv]
Gersen Therapy is a type of detox that uses saunas and sweat baths to help the body eliminate toxins. This form of detox may help support the organs responsible for toxin elimination such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and skin. It may also reduce inflammation throughout the body and improve overall health.
Intermittent fasting is another form of a detox that has become popular in recent years. This type of detox involves periods of fasting and eating to allow the body time to rest, repair and recover from any metabolic imbalances. Fasting stimulates adaptive cellular responses by upregulating certain detox pathways and promoting healthy mitochondrial function[v]. Fasting helps to reset the body’s metabolism and improves the body’s ability to process and eliminate toxins. It also decreases oxidative stress, which can lead to an improved sense of well-being. Fasting is an evidence-based form of detoxification and has been used for centuries to support physical and mental health.
WHY COMMON METHODS DO NOT WORK
As you embark on the new year, you will be overloaded with many types of “detoxes” and “cleanses”. These type of programs usually focus on the elimination of toxins through diets or quick fixes. While these methods might produce short-term effects, they do not address the underlying metabolic and biochemical imbalances that cause long-term health issues. These programs can also fail to take into account individual needs such as food intolerances, allergies or other conditions. Additionally, many of these commercially sold cleanses are full of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients which can further disturb metabolic balance.
Functional Medicine detoxification is a comprehensive approach that takes into account the individual’s metabolic biochemistry, gut microbiome, genetics, lifestyle habits and environmental exposures. By addressing these factors holistically, FM Providers are able to identify toxins, evaluate the body’s ability to detoxify and recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that support the body’s natural detoxification processes. By combining an individualized approach with evidence-based strategies, Functional Medicine Providers are able to accurately diagnose underlying issues that may be contributing to ill health.
[ii] Chong, P. P., Chin, V. K., Looi, C. Y., Wong, W. F., Madhavan, P., & Yong, V. C. (2019). The Microbiome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome–A Review on the Pathophysiology, Current Research and Future Therapy. Frontiers in microbiology, 10, 1136. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6579922/
[iii] Schippa, S., & Conte, M. P. (2014). Dysbiotic events in gut microbiota: impact on human health. Nutrients, 6(12), 5786-5805. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25514560/ PDF Download: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_url?url=https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/12/5786/pdf&hl=en&sa=T&oi=gsb-gga&ct=res&cd=0&d=6322789030348841533&ei=M9CqXu-AAoGzmAGyv6DwCw&scisig=AAGBfm3t_f1GDhpsoLN3GDh9frIB2MCEhg
[iv] Chan, Y. K., Estaki, M., & Gibson, D. L. (2013). Clinical consequences of diet-induced dysbiosis. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 63(Suppl. 2), 28-40. Full text: https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/354902
[v] Patikorn C, Roubal K, Veettil SK, et al. Intermittent Fasting and Obesity-Related Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2139558. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.39558