A Gentle Summer Detox
Updated: Jun 28, 2019
Yes, I know that detox is one of those words that generates lots of eyerolling, and yes, I know that detoxing is a basic biological process that our body does every minute of every day - however, there are a couple of reasons why I think that summer is a good time to give our bodies the best possible conditions to carry out their detox duties.
Firstly, there’s so much social stuff going on in summer - often involving a few drinks, that it’s good to have a conscious break and a bit of a reset. Secondly, when it’s a bit warmer, it feels good to be drinking plenty of water and we tend to have access to lots of lovely fresh food.
You can’t talk about a detox without talking about the liver - the body’s key detox organ (with the kidneys coming second). At a seminar the other day, I heard a great analogy which is helpful when thinking about creating the best conditions for the liver. If you imagine drainpipes coming from a roof, the things that influence how well they work are the volume of rain falling onto the roof, and whether or not the drains are blocked or run nice and clear. In terms of our liver, we can influence the volume of compounds that need to be detoxified (e.g. alcohol, charred foods, over-the-counter medicines, stress hormones), and can aim to prevent blockages in the detox processes by making sure that we consume plenty of the nutrients that these require.
So here are a few ideas for a gentle summer detox:
1. Make sure your digestion is working. After processing, lots of the body’s waste leaves the liver in bile and flows into the digestive system. If you suffer from constipation, address this first because there’s no point in the liver working hard to get rid of compounds which then sit in the bowel and get reabsorbed. This is a common pattern with female hormones and constipation can contribute to hormone imbalances. Drinking plenty of water, eating ground flaxseeds, eating ripe kiwi-fruit and experimenting with gluten- or dairy-free periods may all help if constipation is a problem.
2. Reduce the liver’s workload. Alcohol is an obvious place to start if you drink alcohol, but you also want to think about things like charred foods, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and caffeine. Please don’t go cold-turkey on the caffeine though as this can lead to headaches, which can then lead to having to take over-the-counter painkillers which the liver then has to deal with. The general rule of thumb when cutting out caffeine is to reduce by 1 coffee per day each week. Tea contains about half of the caffeine of coffee so you should be able to reduce by 2 cups daily without any adverse effects.
3. Eat to support liver detoxification pathways. If you’re eating 7 portions of vegetables and fruit daily, and having good quality protein at every meal, you’re probably covering most of your bases, but there are a few specific foods that you might want to focus on to best support your liver. These include, onions, garlic, avocado, artichoke, beetroot, walnuts, lemons/limes, pomegranate and brassica vegetables. If you haven’t tried sprouting, broccoli seeds are an easy place to start and contain significant amounts of a substance called sulforaphane which can boost the action of key enzymes in the liver. I buy broccoli sprouts from amazon, and even though I’ve got a little sprouter, I often just end up using a spare sieve over a bowl in the kitchen. My top tip is to always soak the seeds in a jar of water overnight before draining them and starting the sprouting process. It’s also important to bear in mind that the liver needs proteins to function well, so I would avoid any ‘detox’ program that restricts these (e.g. juice ‘cleanses’) and instead would look to include organic meats, organic eggs, wild caught fish and seafood and even a good quality protein powder (e.g. Pulsin brand) in the diet.
4. Cool your jets. As I’ve mentioned, along with substances that we eat and drink, we also have to process and remove chemicals that are made in our bodies, including stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Hopefully, in summer it’s easier to get out into nature, perhaps by the sea, or for a walk in the woods which is a hugely effective way of switching away from the fight-or-flight side of the brain.
5. Drinks. The kidneys are our other main detox organ and drinking at least 2 litres of water/herbal tea is a good amount to aim for (more if you are exercising heavily). I know that juicing isn’t as trendy as it was a few years ago, but if you have a juicer and you mainly stick to vegetables, I think it’s a lovely way to hydrate and load up on nutrients. My favourite ‘blend’ is half a cucumber, a couple of sticks of celery, a carrot or small beetroot, a peeled lemon and a kiwi fruit. Organic where possible.
6. Getting a sweat on. Sweating isn’t really a significant way to eliminate unwanted chemicals from our body, but to me, it just feels great to get all of the pores working, and feeling great is the best motivation to keep going with a detox. So, if you can get out for a brisk walk or run, a kickabout with the kids, a dance with the girls or a sauna/steam room session, go for it!
With all that in mind, as with any changes to your way of eating and lifestyle, it’s all about finding options that you’ll enjoy, and not doing anything too mad or restrictive that’s impossible to sustain...