DETOXIFICATION - Without the 'Detox Diet'!!

'Detox' - What does the word mean??

I think the word Detox throws up a lot of questions and fears in people's minds. They hear the word and their immediate thoughts are of going without certain foods, usually your favourites, and worst of all no alcohol! I had never been to a Naturopath before I started college and I feel it was for exactly this reason - I was scared of the word detox. I was half way through my first year of college when I went to see one of our lecturers, my preferred practitioner of choice, and my first experience with consulting a Naturopath - I looked at it as a 'science experiment' more than anything as I was curious as to whether all I was studying was indeed to be my Profession for the rest of my foreseeable future.


He did an Iridology assessment, which scared the crap out of me, as I have so many inherited pre-disposition signs in my eyes which you are born with and have no control over, and then proceeded to put me on a juice fast - which is called a 'Detox'!! I wasn't allowed to have anything but juice and minerals for the first few days then I could slowly introduce a few fruits and veges for a few days and then... I was mortified. I think I lasted about 24 hours before making the decision there and then, that if I indeed went on to become the practitioner that I envisaged, I would try to avoid Detox Diets at all cost.

I remember one funny incident, and this happens more often than you would probably think, where a woman who had been a patient for many years bought her husband in to see me for a consultation. Quite often women bring their husbands in, and you can see they have been bought in under sufferance, and I say to them 'you don't really want to be here do you?' to which they will often reply with an honest 'NO'. Upon further questioning I usually get to the crux of the matter and it is nearly always the same issue - they are worried I am going to stop them having a couple of beers at night!!

Because I love cooking with a glass of wine, and sometimes it makes it to the food, I would never dream of being a hipacrit. I don't know how many times I have heard of a Doctor who smokes telling his patients 'not to smoke' and when they catch him out, usually as the result of being at the same function somewhere together, they are most upset. My belief is if you want to drink alcohol or smoke for that matter, then take your liver herbs to protect your liver structure and function and until I am proven wrong, by personal experience, I will continue to endorse this belief.

Bowel link to toxicity

Bowel habits have become my favourite topic over the years, it is amazing how many people think they don't have a problem in this department, just because their bowels move every day. Just because your bowels go every day doesn't mean you are eliminating all the rubbish. The bowel is convoluted like a vacuum hose and if it was stretched out straight you would have something like sixty foot of bowel!! The liver has twenty-two functions, the most important of which is detoxification. Every day our liver works hard to gather together all the toxins in our body and these come from things like petrol fumes, air-conditioners, chemicals in our food, medications, make-up and hair colours. The liver sets about collecting all these toxins and then when it has dealt with them it then eliminates them out the bowel.

The detoxification pathway of the liver is called the Cytochrome P450 pathway and this pathway is also where a lot of your doctor medication passes through. If the bowel doesn't eliminate all the waste then you will get re-absorption of the toxins, and the liver gets over-worked because it is now trying to deal with these toxins plus today's toxins plus possibly the toxins from the day before that and it starts to struggle to perform it's job.

The liver is the largest functioning organ in the human body, it is the big powerhouse, if it is struggling then you can experience symptoms of nausea, headaches, hot flushes, itchy skin, bloating and wind associated with constipation and low energy.


In Chinese Medicine Liver is Fire, so it makes sense to experience symptoms relating to heat in the body. According to the Chinese Clock the liver is also trying to regenerate between 1 and 3 am so a person with a sluggish liver will often experience insomnia and/or heat symptoms between these hours. Because liver is fire a person will often be irritable and short.

Even though I may tell you that your liver is struggling, it is quite common to return a normal Liver Function Blood Test. It is only when the liver is under considerable stress that it will show in a blood test. A 'fatty' liver is often only detected on ultrasound and can return quite normal blood results.

Why don't I believe in Detox Diets??

I personally don't believe in Detox Diets, the liver is already struggling to perform all it's tasks so it doesn't make sense to me to put more stress on it. What a 'Detox Diet' will do is 'throw up' all the toxins that have been sitting around everywhere in the body and now you have got them into your circulatory system once again. Doing a Detox Diet isn't going to help the liver work any better - it is just going to make it work a lot harder!! By trying to eliminate the toxins all at once and in a big hurry the liver is now not only trying to deal with today's toxins but also the toxins that it wasn't able to deal with in the past that are now back in circulation again.


The liver is a regenerative organ so if you support it then it can heal itself. It makes more sense to me to give herbs to improve structure and function of the liver and then when it has regenerated it can properly perform the job of detoxification.

The liver also works together with your pancreas for fat metabolization. As we get older the pancreas makes less enzymes to breakdown your carbohydrates and fats so you will often see Cholesterol start to rise. The body makes cholesterol on purpose for hormones and mucous membranes and this cholesterol is referred to as our HDL or 'good' protective cholesterol. The cholesterol that is left over after it has been used for these functions is then stored as artery plaque and is referred to as LDL 'bad cholesterol' in our blood tests. You will often therefore see a rise in Cholesterol when the liver is struggling to perform it's tasks.

Drinking alcohol and certain medications are probably the biggest 'toxins' to the liver. Once the liver has dealt with them it then has to eliminate them out the bowel. So, if you don't eliminate these toxins ie. if you are constipated, then you are going to get reabsorption of the toxins and experience symptoms of nausea, headache and symptoms of generally feeling unwell and this is the major reason why I don't like Detox Diets, because if you don't eliminate fast enough and enough quantity when your bowels move then you will experience these Detox symptoms and trust me, people generally don't want to feel worse before they feel better.

Stay Hydrated

If you're dehydrated, it then means that your body and intestines water content is also too low, and you need to increase your fluid intake to help turn things around. Being out in hot weather or exercise (especially a combination of the two) can lead to increased water loss.  The volume of water required depends on your age.  The amount increases if we're unwell (vomiting or diarrhoea), physically active or out in the heat.Try these handy ideas to encourage your water intake throughout the day as a lot of people don't like drinking water :

  • Bring a water bottle with you - especially when exercising, travelling or if you plan to be indoors
  • Add a squeeze and slice of lemon or lime to spice up your water
  • Add frozen or fresh fruit (watermelon, orange, peach, pineapple) to your water for a flavour burst
  • Keep a jug of water in the fridge
  • Create fruit or fruit juice ice-cubes to add to your water

My idea of a Detox

My idea of a 'detox' therefore, is to support the liver and the herb of choice is often the much publicised St Mary's Thistle which has had many clinical trials showing it improves structure and function of the liver. I have patients with Hep C that have perfectly normal liver function tests since being on St Mary's Thistle. The other thing that is absolutely imperative is to make sure the bowel is eliminating enough quantity. The bowel contains water and the job of the water is to make fibre swell so when you have fibre such as psyllium and bread it will 'suck' the bowel water in to it in order to make it swell up into the convolutions of the bowel and clean it out.


The bowel has a peristaltic action that then moves this fibre mass through the bowel. In some people this peristaltic action is quite slow and or if you consume too much dry fibre then the bowel can become quite dry and impacted. I find the best fibre source to be linseeds as they will still swell in the bowel but because they contain oil they will lubricate the bowel and save it from drying out. It is also very important to follow any type of fibre with a big glass of water in order to help stop the bowel drying out too much. A glass of pear juice a day is what the hospitals use but beware of it if you are intolerant to fructose.

When a person is stressed or has hot food or drink, it increases the peristaltic action of the bowel, therefore, in a person who tends toward constipation, it is often beneficial to have a hot drink of a morning, hot water with lemon rind being a good one.

Our bowels also move when we are placed in a stressful situation and for me that would be before going to the dentist!! ! High doses of Magnesium and Vitamin C will also cause diarrhoea but I wouldn't recommend taking either in big doses just for the laxative effect. Back in my grandmother's day they used to use an enema for bringing down a high temperature because as I said liver is Fire in Chinese Medicine so by getting the bowel moving it will remove the heat in the liver and therefore the temperature will come down. I also find the same to be said for Menopausal Hot flushes.

In ninety percent of women that I see for hot flushes I can get them under control purely by working on their liver and bowel thus taking the heat out of their liver and system.

Skin problems, including allergy, skin rashes and generally itchy skin all come back to liver and lack of bowel function. If you aren't eliminating those toxins that your liver has dealt with fast enough then there is only one other place they can come out and that is the skin!! This is where Naturopathy shines. As yet the Medical Profession doesn't have an answer for improving liver function and even though they know itchy skin often comes back to liver, especially in the case of the elderly on many medications, they don't have an answer for how to improve liver function. I have actually had a couple of doctors with itchy skin as patients.


The main herbs used for supporting the liver are St Mary's Thistle, Globe Artichoke, Dandelion root, Schizandra, Turmeric, Bupleurum & Fringe tree and whilst it is well known that these herbs all work on the liver, they all have different action, so it is recommended to leave it to your Naturopath to decide which ones are best for you, bearing in mind that the liver has twenty-two functions. Certain amino acids such as Methionine, in combination with the B group Vitamins Inositol and Choline are particularly good for supporting the function of the Cytochrome P450 or Detox Pathway of the liver and they are also particularly effective for getting fat out of storage and putting it back into circulation as an Energy source. Fat is our biggest energy source but if there is sugar available it will go for the sugar first, so if we can avoid the sugar and use these supplements to get the fat out of storage, particularly before a gym workout, then we will find we will burn more adipose body fat in the gym.

Date posted: 2013-10-29 | posted by: debras

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