Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND
Now that the holidays are over and the New Year is upon us, detox is a popular topic. Comprehensive detoxification protocols, like the one I wrote about in my book, The Prediabetes Detox , can be an effective way to maintain good health, improve poor health, prevent disease, renew vitality, and reverse chronic conditions like prediabetes. However, these programs require a number of dietary and lifestyle changes for an extended period of time, and not everyone can make that kind of commitment. Fortunately, there are simple things we can do every day to enhance our body’s natural ability to eliminate environmental toxins. These five strategies are a good place to start.
Eliminate sweets and starches
The extent to which toxins accumulate inside our bodies depends in part on what we eat and drink. Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble and when we consume foods and beverages that raise blood sugar and insulin levels, they’re stored inside fat cells and remain trapped there as long as our bodies are burning sugar for energy. But when we eat a diet that keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low, our bodies release fat to be burned for energy instead and, at the same time, toxins are released back into circulation. Once they’re in the bloodstream, they can travel to the liver and undergo chemical reactions that turn them into compounds the body can easily excrete.
The foods and beverages that have the strongest effect on raising blood sugar and insulin levels are simple carbohydrates because they are quickly digested and rapidly absorbed. These include all sweeteners and sweetened foods, all grains (including rice, oatmeal, and corn), foods made with flour (including bread, pastries, crackers, breakfast cereals, and pasta), starchy fruits and vegetables (like bananas, potatoes, carrots, and winter squashes), processed fruit (like jam, dried fruit, and fruit juice), and soft drinks (including soda, flavored water, energy drinks, and sports drinks), milk, and alcohol (including beer and wine). It’s important to note that artificial sweeteners may not raise blood sugar levels but they do raise insulin levels,1 which has the same suppressive effect on detox.
Eat liver-supportive foodsThe liver is the largest organ inside the body and it has many important jobs. Among them, it produces bile, a fluid that helps digest fat and releases waste products into the gastrointestinal tract. It removes hormones, supplements, and medications from the bloodstream. And it detoxifies environmental toxins. Certain foods support these processes.
All green vegetables are particularly rich in chlorophyll, a compound that reduces the absorption of environmental chemicals and promotes their elimination from the body.2 Beets3 and artichokes4 contain compounds that facilitate the chemical reactions needed to detoxify the blood and protect the liver from harmful compounds.4 Cruciferous vegetables, which belong to the Brassicaceae family, are a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds that also facilitate chemical reactions in the liver5 and boost levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that plays an important role in detoxification.6 Cruciferous vegetables include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, Swiss chard, and watercress.
When we eat three regular meals each day and skip snacks, blood sugar and insulin levels remain low for extended periods of time, during which we burn fat for energy and mobilize toxins stored inside fat cells. It’s a good way to minimize the storage of toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis and an effective strategy for preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes. One study from Harvard University that followed almost thirty thousand people for sixteen years found that, regardless of body mass index and food quality, individuals who ate three regular meals each day and did not snack had a significantly lower risk of developing diabetes than those who ate more frequently.7
If you’re used to eating a lot of simple carbohydrates, your body is used to burning sugar for fuel, and it may take some time to adjust to burning fat for fuel instead. Once this process becomes efficient, hunger and food cravings will resolve and snacking shouldn’t be an issue because you won’t feel hungry. If you do feel hungry between meals, it’s a sign that your last meal didn’t contain enough protein, healthy fat, and/or fiber. These three macronutrients slow down the digestion and absorption of glucose, which minimizes elevations in blood sugar and insulin levels, reduces food cravings, keeps us satiated between meals, and sustains our energy levels throughout the day. If you’re so hungry between meals that you can’t wait for the next one, have a small snack that contains fiber (like vegetables), healthy fat, and protein, and be sure to adjust your future meals accordingly.
Drink plenty of filtered water
Drinking plenty of water supports the elimination of environmental toxins through the kidneys. Unfortunately, more than fifty million people in the United States drink polluted water.8 The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that researches health and the environment, found 315 pollutants in US drinking water. More than half of these chemicals were unregulated and not subject to any safety guidelines.8 Of the chemicals that were regulated, forty-nine were found to exceed existing guidelines.8 You can find out what’s in your water using EWG’s National Drinking Water Database and minimize your exposure to those toxins by using a water filter.
Activated carbon filters remove chlorine, lead, mercury, copper, pesticides, solvents, radon, parasites, some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and bad tastes and odors from tap water. In addition, reverse-osmosis filters remove fluoride, cadmium, asbestos, bacteria, arsenic, barium, nitrates, nitrites, and perchlorate. Reverse-osmosis filters use thin membranes and claim to remove 99.97 percent of contaminants 0.3 microns or larger while ultra-HEPA filters reportedly filter out 99.99 percent. Reverse-osmosis filter systems use more water and are more expensive up front, but they are less expensive in the long run. If you need help finding the filter right for you, use EWG’s Water Filter Buying Guide.
Take a sauna
Sauna therapy uses dry heat to warm the body, increase circulation, and stimulate the elimination of toxins through sweat. Traditional saunas heat the room, which heats the body indirectly. Far-infrared saunas heat the body directly using radiant heat and invisible light waves to penetrate tissues. Many people find them more comfortable than traditional saunas because the air temperatures are cooler. Far-infrared sauna therapy has been studied specifically in people with high blood sugar and researchers found that taking a twenty-minute far-infrared sauna three times per week for three months improved fatigue, depression, pain, and overall quality of life for people with type two diabetes.9
A study of rescue workers from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack demonstrated that sauna therapy significantly reduced levels of environmental toxins in the blood, including dioxins, which became undetectable, and PCBs, levels of which dropped sixty-five percent.10 The rescue workers followed the Hubbard protocol, a regimen that included two and a half hours inside a sauna every day. You may not have time for that, but taking a weekly sauna is still beneficial. Make sure the sauna you’re using is made of natural wood and nontoxic materials and increase your water intake to compensate for the water you lose through sweat. After every session, wash your body well to remove any toxins that were secreted from your skin and consume plenty of foods rich in electrolytes at your next meal to replace the ones you sweated out. Good choices include broccoli, artichokes, celery, mustard greens, spinach, sardines, haddock, and wild Alaskan salmon.
Traditional and infrared sauna therapy is usually safe and well tolerated for most people. It has been contraindicated for people with high blood pressure and/or heart disease, but studies show that individuals with these conditions actually benefit from sauna therapy.11 Women who are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding should avoid all saunas and detox programs throughout pregnancy and lactation.
Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.
- Liang Y, Maier V, Steinbach G, Lalić L, and Pfeiffer EF. The Effect of Artificial Sweetener on Insulin Secretion. II. Stimulation of Insulin Release from Isolated Rat Islets by Acesulfame K (In Vitro Experiments). Hormone and Metabolic Research. 1987;19(7):285–89.
- Morita K, Matsueda T, and Iida T. Effect of Green Vegetable on Digestive Tract Absorption of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-P-Dioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans in Rats. Article in Japanese. Fukuoka Igaku Zasshi. 1999;90(5):171–83.
- Nick GL. Detoxification Properties of Low-Dose Phytochemical Complexes Found within Select Vegetables. Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association 2002;5(4):34–44.
- Liska DJ and Bland JS. Emerging Clinical Science of Bifunctional Support for Detoxification. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. 2002;231:42–46.
- Fowke JH, Morrow JD, Motley S, Bostick RM, and Ness RM. Brassica Vegetable Consumption Reduces Urinary F2-Isoprostane Levels Independent of Micronutrient Intake. Carcinogenesis. 2006;27(10):2096–102.
- Lii CK, Liu KL, Cheng YP, Lin AH, Chen HW, and Tsai CW. Sulforaphane and Alpha-Lipoic Acid Upregulate the Expression of the Pi Class of Glutathione S-Transferase through C-Jun and Nrf2 Activation. Journal of Nutrition 2010;140(5):885–92.
- Mekary RA, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, van Dam RM, and Hu FB. Eating Patterns and Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Men: Breakfast Omission, Eating Frequency, and Snacking. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012;95(5):1182–89.
- Environmental Working Group. Over 300 Pollutants in US Tap Water. [Web page]. EWG website. http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/. Accessed January 9, 2016.
- Beever, R. The Effects of Repeated Thermal Therapy on Quality of Life in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2010;16(6):677–81.
- Dahlgren J, Cecchini M, Takhar H, and Paepke O. Persistent Organic Pollutants in 9/11 World Trade Center Rescue Workers: Reduction Following Detoxification. Chemosphere. 2007;69(8):1320–25.
- Crinnion WJ. Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicant-Induced and Other Chronic Health Problems. Alternative Medicine Review. 2011;16(3):215–25.