The following article is written by guest author and Beijing expat Dr. Melissa Rodriguez, N.D. She currently works in the Integrative Medicine department at Beijing United Family Hospital (where I also work). Her website address is www.drmelissarodriguez.com:
For many expats, living in a busy metropolitan city like Beijing has many advantages. Benefits include exposure to a different language and culture, a plethora of delicious foods to excite the palate, and the chance to live unique, life altering experiences. However, there is also one major disadvantage, namely our exposure to pollution and toxins. Thankfully our bodies can deal with these unwanted substances through a process called detoxification.
Modern World, Modern Issues
It seems that “detox” is quickly becoming one of today’s top health related buzz words, but the fact that our bodies are capable of cleansing our system of toxic materials is nothing new. We have 5 organs of detoxification: our skin, our liver, our kidneys, our bowels, and our lungs. These organs not only help our body dispose of metabolic wastes -for example the bi-products of cellular respiration- but also rid the body of toxins that are harmful to our system.
What is new, however, is the vast amount of synthetic chemicals that have been created in recent history and that are now floating around our planet. On a daily basis we come in contact with tens of thousands of man-made chemicals; in our personal care products, our cleaning supplies, and even the food we eat. Greenpeace estimates that approximately 100,000 new synthetic chemicals are produced in the world every year. Most of these chemicals do not have any long term studies related to safety. We have no knowledge of how these chemicals -specifically their molecules- interact with the cellular components of our bodies; much less how they interact with each other. Recently it was discovered that Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in many plastics -including baby bottles- is a hormone disrupter and can potentially cause a multitude of problems in the body. Bisphenol-A easily leaches into water or food that has been heated in plastics containing BPA. It is then ingested, by adults and infants alike. Thankfully, BPA has been legally banned in Canada and other countries are following suit. Harmful chemicals like heavy metals can accumulate in various tissues, including fat, blood, lymph, and even hair. These aren’t the only chemicals that can be found in the human body. Some studies have found over 200 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns, including chemicals used in flame retardants and industrial lubricants. Particularly alarming is the fact that the short and long-term effects of having these chemicals in our systems are not fully understood.
From a naturopathic point of view the concept of detoxification is quite straightforward. By using techniques that support and enhance the work of the organs of elimination, we can help our bodies speed up, or make the process of releasing unwanted toxins more effective. This is commonly referred to as doing a detox.
For example a light detox can be done by eating organic whole foods and avoiding common allergens like dairy, wheat and gluten. Consuming organic products decreases the toxic burden on our bodies. During a detox avoiding processed foods, like frozen dinners, soft drinks and luncheon meats, decreases our exposure to food additives and preservatives. These provide no nutrition and instead add more unwanted chemicals to our system. Usually when following this type of diet weight loss occurs. Many toxins are stored in fat and are thus released when the fat stores are utilized.
Fasting for Health
A fast is another, more powerful, method of detoxification that should only be done under the supervision of a licensed naturopathic doctor. When people hear the word fast, they often think of a water fast. This type of a fast involves drinking only water for 24 hours or more. It is best to avoid water fasts as they can be debilitating and can also cause detoxification to happen too quickly, leading to more intense side effects. Juice fasts are a great alternative that provide a source of energy, as well as valuable vitamins, minerals and enzymes. During a fast the amount of chemicals consumed is greatly decreased. Its benefits are like those of a detox diet only more intense. The importance of drinking clean, pure water during a fast cannot be underscored enough. Keeping hydrated is essential to our health. During a detox the organs of elimination are kept busy releasing all of the unwanted substances, therefore making sure we have enough water and fluids to “flush” out toxins is vital.
Saunas: A Tool for Detoxificiation
Saunas are often used in conjunction with dietary modifications in a detox protocol. The best saunas for this purpose are called far infrared saunas. These saunas emit a form of heat energy that gently raises body temperature, thus increasing the rate of metabolic reactions in the cells. This causes a higher release of waste products. Fat stores are mobilized, sweat production is increased and thus toxins -along with water and other minerals- are released through our skin.
More Research is Needed
The process of detoxification is an area of medicine that has not yet fully been explored. There are many questions that need to be studied further, including the clinical applications of detoxification. Recent studies have shown promising results with the use of infrared saunas in the treatment of fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Both of these conditions are a medical mystery, the exact cause of which is still unknown. Could these conditions be caused by a buildup of toxins in the body? With the ever increasing rates of cancers, should we not ask ourselves if this has something to do with the massive amount of chemicals that we are exposed to? Reproductive disorders are also on the rise. Could these man-made chemicals be to blame?
Small Steps Make a Difference
A visit to a naturopathic doctor can assist you in making changes that can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Naturopathic doctors are trained to help their patients create a customized detoxification plan. In lieu of your own personal detox protocol, try having a “detox day” once a week or even once a month. Keep your diet clean by avoiding as much pesticides, artificial colours and flavours, preservatives, and food additives as possible. Eat as much raw fruits and vegetables as you can, and avoid fried or BBQ’d foods. On your “detox day” drink plenty of pure filtered water, herbal teas, as well as freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. The effects of our contact with toxins are often cumulative, so every little reduction in exposure helps.