Posted by Dr. Ian Bier on Sep 28, 2020 12:41:20 PM
Detox is perhaps the most frequently misused word in integrative and holistic medicine. The misuse of the term GI detox is just as common. So, today we’ll learn what a GI detox is by better understanding what GI detox isn’t.
These days, it’s become quite popular to do body cleanses or detox protocols once or twice per year, or seasonally. While a well-designed period of focusing on nutrient-dense foods and cutting out the junk is undoubtedly beneficial to health, it’s a falsity that these types of programs are detoxifying. Giving your system a break from toxic chemicals rampant in modern-day society is essential, but that in itself will not repair previous damage done by toxins or detoxify; thus, it is not by definition a ‘detox.’
Before loosely using the term, GI detox, be sure you’re not misled about what’s truly functional and effective in supporting gut function and truly improving detoxification pathways.
Detoxification is a set of reactions in the body run by the liver, involving the kidneys, skin, lungs, and colon, all working together to allow the body to process and prepare to expel chemical toxins and harmful heavy metals. An accumulation of toxins over time burden the liver and is likely a contributor to a myriad of health problems.
In modern-day society, toxins are pervasive and come in food, water, air, toiletries, cleaning products, containers, receipts, medicines, and more. These toxins can damage your tissues, burden your liver, and even cause weight management challenges.
We tend to think that “doing” a detox will repair the damage done from years of toxic accumulation, or somehow magically press the reset button on how our organs and body systems function and communicate. In reality, the body comes perfectly designed to process and excrete toxins through the organs of elimination: the colon (large intestine), liver, kidneys, skin, and lungs.
While the gut is necessary to support detox, the idea of a GI detox is somewhat of a misnomer. Detoxing the gut could come in the form of addressing a parasitic infestation, gut infection, or food poisoning, but in general, detox does not start in the gut.
However, the gut is essential for escorting toxins out of the body, so you must address gut health first and foremost before considering other detoxification efforts.
The gut (or gastrointestinal/GI tract) is around 22-25 feet long and filled with trillions of microbes that make up the gut microbiome. Among its many roles, the gut is responsible for what gets into the bloodstream and the rest of the body, and what doesn’t. In an optimally functioning GI tract, toxins and indigestible particles are passed through and excreted. However, in some cases, there is damage to the lining of the gut, and toxins are allowed through the epithelial barrier, further burdening the liver and other organs involved in detox.
If you jump to detox-supporting supplements before addressing gut health, you can end up exacerbating the problem by releasing toxins from your cells without the ability to excrete them properly. For this reason, it’s essential to look at your GI health with your functional medicine practitioner and begin with a gut-healing protocol.
With an understanding that a GI detox is not precisely the goal, and that you should design any supplemental detox protocol with your integrative health practitioner, there are some effective and safe practices you can start today to support detox pathways naturally :
The specific supplements and nutrients for detox should always be discussed with your Naturopath doctor before making any advanced dietary changes.
Some of the nutrients that functional medicine practitioners use to support detox pathways in nutritional supplement and food forms include antioxidants, milk thistle, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, dandelion and green tea extracts, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and magnesium.* There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as everybody’s needs vary, and different phases of detox might need specific support.
For optimal detoxification support, begin by working with your practitioner to address gut health and other downstream issues, then move on to specific detox-supporting nutrients and practices, if necessary.
You can safely lower your toxic load at any time by getting rid of toxic home-care and hygiene products and processed foods. Replace them with organic products and a diet rich in whole foods, vegetables, fruits, protein and healthy fats. A truly integrative approach also incorporates stress management, self-care, and movement.
 Gangemi, S., Gofita, E., Costa, C., Teodoro, M., Briguglio, G., Nikitovic, D., Tzanakakis, G., Tsatsakis, A. M., Wilks, M. F., Spandidos, D. A., & Fenga, C. (2016). Occupational and environmental exposure to pesticides and cytokine pathways in chronic diseases (Review). International journal of molecular medicine, 38(4), 1012–1020. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2016.2728
 Holtcamp W. (2012). Obesogens: an environmental link to obesity. Environmental health perspectives, 120(2), a62–a68. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.120-a62
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