Diet culture is undeniably toxic; however, toxic load is killing us. Many people become stuck in adequately caring for themselves when they realize they are approaching what and how they eat through a traumatizing conditioned lens, but also are aware that their consumption habits are not serving them. It can feel "damned if you do and damned if you don't," and it leads many to stay stuck in patterns that don't feel good one way or another.
The way through is by using both the head and the heart - taking information/science wisdom through our body wisdom to come to a truth that fully serves us. We deserve to be fully nourished by all things life affirming. Wrapping our brain around what is generally good for us and generally not good for us is important, and making new consumption habits from a place of compassion and unconditional love is also important. Nourishing ourselves is about what we consume AND how we feel about ourselves in doing so.
There are no formal definitions for detox or cleanse. Sometimes the words and concepts are used interchangeably, and sometimes they each have a distinct focus. The body naturally works to eliminate toxins perpetually. Problems arise when a person is born with a predisposition for detoxification imbalance due to genetics, developmental abnormalities or birth trauma and/or experiences acute or chronic toxic exposure (and/or micro and macro trauma without proper processing) at any point in life (including in-utero). This can lead to an inability of the body to detoxify properly, resulting in (or furthering) an imbalance, and potentially lead to injury and/or disease (or cause additional injury and/or disease).
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has developed succinct definitions regarding toxicology terms. Though they use the term chemical, they do not provide a definition of a chemical. All matter (anything that has mass and occupies space) is made up of chemicals. An element is a chemical substance that is made up of only one type of atom. Few elements exist in nature in pure form. Non-elemental chemicals are any substance, natural or synthetic, that have a defined elemental composition. Energy, light, heat, sound, thoughts, dreams, gravity, and magnetism fall outside of the chemical definition; however, they can directly (or indirectly) lead to cellular damage and can also be considered toxic under certain circumstances.
Toxic - poisonous or deadly effects on the body by inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating), absorption, injection, or by direct contact with a chemical.
Toxicant - any chemical that can injure or kill humans, animals, or plants; a poison.
Toxin - any poisonous substance that reacts with specific cellular components to kill cells, alter growth or development, or kill the organism.
Acute exposure - contact with a substance that occurs once or for only a short time (up to 14 days)
Intermediate duration exposure - contact with a substance that occurs for more than 14 days and less than a year
Chronic exposure - contact with a substance that occurs over a long time (more than 1 year (https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/es/training/toxicology_curriculum/modules/1/module-1.pdf)
As the ATSDR indicates, any chemical may be poisonous due to selective toxicity (injurious to one kind of living matter without harming another form of life), dose (injurious above a threshold otherwise recognized as safe), individual susceptibility (difference in individual response to exposure), or within a sensitive subpopulation (a group of individuals that may be more at risk to develop illness from exposure). This is important to keep in mind as it relates to individual specificity of diet.
For the purpose of this course, cleanse will be defined as eliminating, or reducing, exposure to toxins. And, detox will be defined as eliminating built-up toxins in the body and restoring functionality of the metabolic detoxification pathways.
Detoxification is the clearing of external and internal toxin exposure. External toxin exposure comes from inhalation, absorption, ingestion or injection of chemicals from air, water, food or other products we consume or interact with. Examples of external toxins are; synthetic and highly processed food additives/preservatives/dyes, pesticides/larvicides/herbicides, heavy metals, PCBs, plastics/bisphenols/plasticizers/phthalates, PFAS chemicals, synthetic and highly processed scenting agents, flame retardants, solvents, pharmaceutical/synthetic drugs, mycotoxins, meat toxins, and plant toxins and antinutrients. Internal toxin exposure comes from metabolic process, stress response, and microbiome dysbiosis. Examples of internal toxins are; ammonia produced from protein metabolism, catecholamines released during a stress response, and bacterial/fungal/yeast/viral infection or imbalance.
The body systems involved in the process of detoxification are
The body goes through three phases of detoxification
Phase 1 - occurs predominantly via a group of enzymes called the cytochrome P450 system, which is found mainly in the liver, but also in gut mucosa, kidneys, lungs, and the brain. The function of the enzymes is to modify the molecular structure of toxins, which are usually lipids, to allow them to become more water soluble. The modified toxins are called free radicals and are reactive. Free radicals kept in the reactive state too long, or too many built up, can cause damage termed oxidative stress. (file:///home/chronos/u-6859b18c54f873ae55f69117c6d5789f261423ba/MyFiles/Downloads/Free%20Radicals.pdf)
Phase 2 - enzymes and non-enzymatic endogenous and exogenous antioxidants neutralize the reactivity of free radicals by adding a molecule to the molecular structure to increase water solubility. This makes the intermediate toxin less harmful and enhances excretory capability.
Phase 3 - the less reactive and more water soluble toxins are eliminated from the body through urine, stool, and sweat.
An overload of toxic exposure can be too much for the body to handle even if the body is healthy, so reducing overall toxic exposure is important (see more under the below cleanse section). It is also essential to address each metabolic detoxification phase, or the body can remain in a (or experience a worsened) state of toxicity. In the case of all three phases - organ inflammation or damage, lack of proper nutrition, and/or need for supplementation should be assessed. Supplementation may be needed until the body’s innate nutrient absorption and chemical production is improved, and due to less nutrient dense food globally. Also, there are genetic factors, developmental abnormalities, birth trauma, and diseases that affect the body’s ability to produce certain chemicals and thus detox properly. Supplementation may be necessary until the body can regain balanced function.
Signs, Symptoms and Conditions Associated with Toxic Load
The below lists are not definitive or exhaustive and signs, symptoms and conditions associated with toxic load vary.
Early signs of toxic load:
Sneezing or coughing fits
Nasal congestion or runny nose (from mucus overproduction)
Change in body odor
Excessively oily skin
Symptoms of toxic load:
Weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight
Difficulty concentrating; memory problems; confusion
Muscle aches; pain
Digestive concerns; bloating; gas; constipation; diarrhea; abdominal pain
Skin rashes; eczema; acne
Dizziness; vertigo; light sensitivity; visual disturbances
Frequent infections and/or viruses; poor immunity
Mood swings; depression; irritability
Shortness of breath
Numbness; tingling; nerve tremors
Conditions with an association to toxic load:
Fibromyalgia; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Depression; anxiety; mood disorders
ADD or ADHD
Testing for general toxic load, or specific toxic buildup is not an exact science. Western practitioners, Functional Medicine practitioners, and Naturopathic practitioners may each take different approaches to test for and identify issues of toxicity in the body. Exhaustive testing can become quite expensive. It can be enough to assume general toxic load and detox accordingly. However, it can be important to identify certain toxins such as biological agents (parasites, bacteria, virus, fungi) in order to target appropriate interventions. Additionally, testing can be an effective tool when trying to identify, and eliminate, environmental toxin exposure.
Standard Conventional Tests
Standards for normal range are based on the general population. It is quite possible that normal ranges are not actually normal. There is an “assumption that those with lower levels are healthy and not being damaged by their toxic load,” but the pervasiveness of toxic exposure would presume otherwise. Because of this, it is recommended to consider increases within the normal range to be possible indications of toxic load. (Pizzorno, Joseph. “Conventional Laboratory Tests to Assess Toxin Burden.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 14,5 (2015): 8-16.) Standard conventional lab tests do not diagnose toxin exposure; rather, they can show if there is imbalance in the body in order to continue pursuing root cause explanation for the imbalance(s) - toxin load being a potential root cause.
Beyond standard conventional testing, there are breath, blood, urine, fecal, hair, nail, and biopsy tests that can be run to diagnose parasites, bacteria, virus, yeast, mycotoxin, heavy metal, and non-metal chemical toxicity.
Applied kinesiology, also known as muscle testing, is commonly used.