Detoxification: What it is and who needs it

Because we cannot scrub our inner body we need to learn a few skills to help cleanse our tissues, organs and mind.

– Sebastian Pole

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day most people eat and drink more than at other times during the year. They eat more cookies, sweet desserts, junk food and consume more alcohol than at any other time. Americans gain on average a bit more than one pound during the holidays. The vast majority do not ever lose this additional weight. When January 2 rolls around, many people would like to lose weight and also feel the need to cleanse or detoxify their bodies.

What is a Toxin?

Toxins are poisonous substances produced by plants, some animals, disease-causing bacteria, fungi and viruses, chemicals and metals. Most people are familiar with the toxins produced by poison ivy plants, bees, snakes, re ants and other similar plants and animals. But there also can be toxins in our food, water, household and personal care products. There can be pesticide residue in many fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are conventionally grown. There is also a large variety of chemicals added to processed foods, which you can see on their labels. Personal care and household product labels read like a chemistry lab inventory as well. One recent study of a random group of Americans found residues of 249 different chemicals in their bodies, 167 of which were known to be harmful to humans.

These types of toxins are exogenous, because they occur outside the body and people ingest them. There are also endogenous toxins, the naturally generated waste products produced through normal metabolic processes and through an overgrowth of bad bacteria or yeast within the body. If there is not an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or yeast and elimination channels are working properly, then these endogenous toxins are eliminated and do not build up to cause problems.

When are Toxins a Problem?

People were designed with natural mechanisms to eliminate toxic substances from the body on
 an ongoing basis. There is a problem only when 
the amount taken in from all sources exceeds 
the body’s capacity for elimination. This is the concept of “total load.” If you think of your body
 as a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it, then as long as the amount of water that is poured into the bucket (toxins) is less than or equal to the size of the hole in the bucket (elimination), then the bucket won’t overflow. But when a large amount of water is poured into the bucket and the hole size remains the same, the bucket will soon overflow. When the body’s total load capacity for toxins is exceeded, then the body “overflows” with symptoms.

Symptoms Associated with Toxin Overload

People often decide to do a cleanse or detoxification program because they would like to lose weight. Since toxins are stored in body fat, an overweight or obese person may have accumulated many toxins; this is one reason to complete a detoxification program.

Many people at a normal body weight also should consider a detoxification program if they have ongoing symptoms. A wide range of symptoms that can occur if the body is overloaded with toxins include:

  • Intestinal indications, such as pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation.
  • Skin problems such as acne or rashes, joint or muscle pain.
  • Possible mental or neurological symptoms, such as brain fog, headaches, or anxiety or other problems such as poor sleep and fatigue.

If someone is experiencing a number of these symptoms on a regular basis, then a systematic cleanse or detoxification program may be of
 great help.

Steps to Detoxification

There are a number of cleansing and detoxification programs, products, and books available. The best of these have many of the
 same elements. To detoxify effectively, the
 inflow of toxins to the body has to be reduced.
 The best programs have participants eliminate processed foods, sugar and alcohol from their
 diet for a specific time period. In addition, the most commonly allergenic foods such as gluten- containing grains, dairy, soy, eggs and corn are removed from the diet. For a detoxification program to be most effective, participants also need to eliminate the body care and household products which have toxic substances in them.

After reducing the toxin in flows, nutrients should be restored through a high quality whole foods diet. Most good detoxification eating plans include lots of vegetables, especially the cruciferous ones such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and sulfur-containing vegetables such as onions, leeks and garlic. They also should include berries, seeds such as chia, flax and hemp, and good fats such as avocado, coconut, olive and ghee. Some cleanses eliminate animal products entirely, but I do not recommend this for any longer than three days because the liver needs adequate supplies of all
 the essential amino acids to effectively complete
 its detoxification processes. The best and most complete source of these amino acids is from animal foods.

Regeneration of damaged cells can be helped by use of a number of targeted supplements.
 Some of these include probiotics, prebiotics, milk thistle, dandelion root, chlorella, L-glutamine,
and N-acytlcystine among others. These can be found in combination supplements found in most health food stores. There are also lifestyle changes often included in detoxification programs such as exercise, sauna, and deep breathing.

After completing a more intense detoxification program, some of the foods that have been eliminated from the diet can be added back. To be most effective, the commonly allergenic foods are added back systematically one at a time to test for personal sensitivity. I recommend that processed foods, sugar and alcohol continue to be limited in all cases for maximum health results.

If you think a detoxification program is for you
and you need help going through the process, I am offering a six-week group program starting February 6 called From Fatigued to Fantastic. Please see my website for more information about this program or contact me at

Ginger Hudock is a holistic nutrition consultant in Aiken, SC. Her business, Nutrition with Ginger, helps clients discover the power of personalized, whole foods nutrition to prevent and heal from many chronic health concerns, especially food allergies and sensitivities. She is a graduate of the Nutrition Consultant Program at Hawthorn University and is also a Certified Gluten Practitioner. Prior to beginning her career in nutrition, Ginger was an educator and college administrator for thirty years, most recently as the Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance at USC Aiken. To sign up for nutrition consultation sessions or her newsletter and blog where she gives more nutrition news and recipes, visit Ginger’s website at, or call 803-640-4381.