Healthy Aging

Spring Equinox Detox

Does detoxing really help health?

Spring is almost here! The days are gradually getting brighter, the flowers are beginning to bloom, and the dawn chorus is sounding more cheerful. The challenging cold, dark days of winter are certainly behind us and longer, warmer days are on the horizon.

The Spring Equinox occurs on March 19th this year. The actual moment of the equinox provides us with equal hours of light and dark and occurs when the sun is at a right angle to the equator. But what does this have to do with our health?

Many classically trained practitioners recognize that the equinox coincides with a massive shift in subtle energies. Let’s face it – nearly all of us feel better and cheerier in the sun and with longer days. This makes the Spring Equinox an excellent time to shake off the low energy of the winter months and promote detoxification to “lighten the load” physically, mentally and emotionally: what you could call an ‘Equi-tox’, recharging the body for more active, healthier springtime living.

Detoxing – why bother?

Unfortunately, we are continuously exposed to toxic chemicals in our environment, which can accumulate in our bodies over time.[1],[2] Known as xenobiotics (substances that are foreign to the body), these include heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium, along with organic pollutants such as bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins.[3],[4],[5]

Even without a specific public health crisis (such as the Flint, Michigan water crisis in which the water supply was contaminated with lead), it is nearly impossible to avoid environmental toxins.[6],[7]

It’s becoming clear that such chemicals have detrimental effects on the body, even at low levels.[8],[9],[10] There is strong evidence that heavy metal exposure contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), for example.[11] BPA, which disrupts the body’s hormone systems,[12] may be even more harmful: it has been linked to breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, thyroid disruption, and infertility.[13],[14],[15],[16],[17]

Detoxification is a natural physiological process that can rid the body of unwanted chemicals. Toxins are normally transported to key organs such as the liver, where they can be neutralized and then excreted, which generally occurs either via the formation and excretion of bile into the intestines, or through the kidneys into the urine.[18],[19],[20]

Environmental toxins can place a heavy load on the human body’s detoxification systems, especially if there is liver or gut dysfunction.

As an intervention, however, detoxification can be controversial. Many scientists think that detoxification is only necessary in cases of acute toxic exposures. This perspective may be short-sighted, considering that environmental toxins are thought to be major drivers of the chronic disease epidemic.[21],[22],[23],[24],[25] Environmental toxins can place a heavy load on the human body’s detoxification systems, especially if there is liver or gut dysfunction.[3]

Nutritional support for detoxification

Evidence is gradually accumulating for the use of nutritional interventions to support detoxification.[26]

Detoxification regimens are often one to four weeks in length. The key is to implement the detoxification support at the right time for the individual. It’s important not to undergo any detoxification program if one is trying to get pregnant, is pregnant, or is breast-feeding because the fetus or infant will be exposed to toxins when they are liberated into the bloodstream. On the other hand, if embarking on a weight loss or exercise program, it may be a great time for detoxification support as toxins are released from the adipose tissue where they are often stored. It’s a good idea to consult with a trained professional before embarking on a detoxification plan.

For a spring detox, focus on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables which have been shown to boost detoxification.[27],[28],[29] Isothiocyanates, such as the sulforaphanes found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and bok choy, are strong inducers of enzymes that help metabolize toxins by conjugating them with glutathione.[30],[31],[32] Spinach, carrot, grape, and soy products also have been shown to help clear toxins from the body and repair tissue damage.[33],[34],[35],[36],[37]

Consider drinking a glass or two of fresh green juice daily. Juicing is a great way to boost antioxidant capacity, alkalize the body, and improve hydration. Ingredients such as spinach,[38] kale,[39] apples,[40] ginger,[41],[42] and kefir, which provides probiotic bacteria,[43],[44] make a delicious green smoothie. The color will remind you of the greening of the countryside in spring, providing an uplifting departure from the gray days of winter!

Supplement with key nutrients

Many environmental toxins cause oxidative stress, which depletes glutathione (the master antioxidant within cells), which in turn limits the body’s ability to clear toxins.[45],[46] Thus antioxidant support is also a priority for detox programs.[47],[48],[49],[50] An easy way to boost antioxidant intake is to consume an organic greens supplement made from superfoods such as the aforementioned spinach,[51] acerola cherry,[52] spirulina and/or chlorella,[53],[54] and grape seed extract.[55],[56]

In addition to dietary sources of antioxidants, supplementation with individual antioxidants such as curcumin, quercetin, melatonin, and alpha lipoic acid has been recognized to aid in the recovery from toxic exposures.[57],[58],[59],[60] These antioxidants not only quench free radicals, but also chelate (bind) toxic metals, facilitating their removal.[57],[61],[62]

Supplementation with individual antioxidants such as curcumin, quercetin, melatonin, and alpha lipoic acid has been recognized to aid in the recovery from toxic exposures.

Curcumin, prepared from turmeric (Curcuma longa), is noteworthy as an excellent chelating agent shown to reduce heavy metal toxicity in animal studies.[63],[64],[65],[66] It binds lead, cadmium, and mercury to form complexes that can be eliminated from the body.[67],[68],[69] Curcumin additionally binds aluminum, an environmental toxin that has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.[70] Curcumin also has been shown to ameliorate organ damage due to organic pollutants, BPA, carbon tetrachloride, or benzo[a]pyrene.[71],[72],[73],[74],[75]

Quercetin, a flavonoid that is included in many anti-allergy protocols, is found in many fruits and vegetables, including kale, broccoli, onions, berries, apples, red grapes, cherries, and red wine.[76] It appears to help shield the body from a wide range of toxins, including BPA and heavy metals, according to laboratory and animal studies.[77],[78],[79],[80],[81],[82] One reviewer concludes, “Our results indicate that consumption of quercetin-rich foods may protect mercury-exposed humans against the adverse health effects of the metal.”[82]

Among the vitamins and minerals that support detoxification pathways are vitamins C, E, and B vitamins (particularly folate), along with magnesium, zinc, and selenium.[26],[83],[84],[85] To support a broad range of micronutrient needs during your detox program, consider multivitamin and mineral supplementation.[33],[86],[87],[88],[89],[90]

Don’t forget your gut

A healthy gut, including a well-balanced microbiota and strong intestinal barrier, helps keep out toxins and facilitate their removal. By contrast, a leaky gut, which is often associated with dysbiosis, allows toxins to be re-absorbed, rather than eliminated. If constipation exists, toxic substances that are expelled from the liver via the bile remain in the colon longer, which increases the chance that they will be reabsorbed and go back into the bloodstream.

Modified citrus pectin was shown to increase heavy metal excretion, even in subjects with a ‘normal’ body burden.

Fiber-rich foods, including beans, freshly ground flax seeds or chia seeds, nuts, and whole grains, help boost the growth of beneficial bacteria as well as preventing constipation. Moreover, the intake of dietary and supplemental fibers may help reduce levels of heavy metals in the brain and other organs.[91],[92],[93] A relatively new fiber supplement known as modified citrus pectin (MCP), prepared from the peel and pulp of citrus fruits, has been getting high marks. It not only binds heavy metals in the gastrointestinal tract,[94] but also promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria.[95],[96],[97] In clinical studies, MCP consumption was shown to increase heavy metal excretion, even in subjects with a ‘normal’ body burden.[98],[99],[100],[101]

In addition to the benefits of kefir, mentioned above, supplemental probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species can improve leaky gut and facilitate the elimination of toxins.[102],[103],[104],[105],[106] In a pre-clinical study, the amount of BPA excreted in the feces more than doubled in animals supplemented with probiotics, compared to those who were not supplemented.[105] Similarly, in animals exposed to cadmium, the administration of probiotics increased the fecal excretion of the heavy metal and alleviated its toxic effects on the liver and kidneys.[107]

Notably, when it comes to detoxification, the evidence suggests that it may help to combine probiotics with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as they all act via distinct but complementary mechanisms.[108],[109]

Put a spring in your step!

A diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables is an excellent way to initiate a Spring Equinox Detox program and put a spring in your step. Consider juicing or organic greens supplements to boost flavonoid intake. Supplementation with additional nutrients that support detoxification (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), as well as gut-friendly substances such as modified citrus pectin and probiotics, are all wonderful ways to support the natural eliminatory mechanisms of the body.

Other ways to support detoxification include sitting in a sauna, dry skin brushing, and mindful exercise, such as yoga or hiking.[110],[111] Sweating with exercise or in a sauna may be beneficial because toxic metals are excreted in sweat,[112],[113] but be sure to stay hydrated with clean, filtered water!

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