If your idea of a detox is some magical drink that empties you out in 48 hours, get rid of that thought. That is not what I am talking about!
As a strong head start to my baby-ready body year, I chose to do a medical cleanse program. It is a three-week program that includes a medical food supplement and an elimination diet. (It is actually longer than three weeks if you include the re-introduction period.) I will tell you about the specific program I am doing and my experience with it, but first I want to tell you why I am doing it and explore the different ways that a cleanse can impact your body, your health, and your fertility.
Part 1 – Toxins and the Liver
What are Toxins?
Whenever I think of toxins, two images come to mind. The first is crowded city highways full of cars with exhaust pumping and a factory in the back billowing black smoke just for good measure. The second is the villain Hexxus, the toxic sludge from Ferngully, who is the ancient evil spirit of destruction. Those are fairly obvious forms of evil. There are many more subtle but no less devious forms of toxin exposure. Basically, any chemical, substance, or protein that our body views as foreign or offensive can be problematic. Here are some common sources:
- Environmental Pollution. Air, water, and soil can all be vessels. This is the form of toxin exposure that most people are readily aware of and hopefully attempt to reduce exposure.
- Medications. Whether over-the-counter, prescription, or recreational, medications need to be processed through your liver and thus add to its tax. This does not mean that medications are wicked, but you should understand the short and long term affects what you are taking.
- Alcohol. Again, I don’t think that alcohol is all bad; I love a good gin. (Spirit Bear is my favorite.). However, it is processed through the liver and can add a considerable burden when consumed in excess.
- Synthetic Hormones. This is a very sneaky category. Environmental estrogens (Xenoestrogens) are problematic to health. They are just one of the issues common to plastics. BPA is not the only harmful substance that can be leached from plastic. We can also be exposed to synthetic hormones (and medication like antibiotics) through the meat we eat if it is not well sourced.
- Chemical Exposure. Another deceiving category and it is everywhere. Household cleaning products, pesticides on our fruit, and even the makeup on your face can be adding to your toxic load. Any food additives, non-food substances, and chemicals within processed food (and even some supplements) can be very dangerous, especially because you are consuming directly. Your body will wage an exaggerated response against many of these substances, which leads to other health problems.
- Metabolites. Even normal, healthy, physiologic processes have end products. Digestion and metabolism require chemical reactions that have waste that needs to be processed through the liver and eliminated. Excess build-up of these end-products (especially in the form of free-radicals and inflammatory cytokines) can be detrimental to your health.
What does our body do with them?
Whenever your body recognizes something floating around as foreign or offensive, it wages a war and attempts to eliminate it. Within normal physiologic responses, anything that needs to be eliminated will be transported in the blood to the liver for processing. From the liver, it will be prepped and sent off for excretion as urine or your next BM. Even your sweat and the breath that you exhale from your lungs can help get toxins out. Long story short, your body makes a big deal of eliminating threats. Pretty much every system and organ plays a role, from the lining of your gut to your lymph nodes.
When the toxic load is too much for the liver to process, it stores any excess invaders in adipose prisons. Basically, it walls of the evildoers in your fat cells so that they can’t wander around and wreak havoc.
The Liver’s Role
Your liver is the primary organ responsible for the breakdown and elimination of environmental toxins (pollutants, medications, alcohol, coffee, etc.), hormones (especially important for sex hormone balance), and physiological metabolites. It does this in two phases. Phase 1 turns fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble ones. Phase 2 preps the now water-soluble toxins for excretion in urine or stool. It sounds simple, but there is a lot of chemistry going on behind both of these phases.
What is Needed For Support?
For all of that magically chemistry to happen in the liver, it needs co-factors, enzymes, co-enzymes, and substrates. Here is a list of the nutrients that are needed for each phase to live up to the task:
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
If you body does not have all of these nutrients readily available, then your liver can’t do its best to process and eliminate toxins. The “standard American diet” (SAD) puts an extra load on the detoxification system by eating highly processed foods full of chemicals and substances that require energy and processing to eliminate, while being void of nutrients, causing deficiencies that make the liver unable to keep up with the task. This is a recipe for disaster.
Why is it Important?
When the liver can’t handle the load, we have more evil gremlins floating through our blood stream and an increase in oxidative stress. High, unmanaged oxidative stress leads to increased free radical production and inflammation throughout the entire system. This can lead to a plethora of health problems, from cardiometabolic diseases to chronic fatigue to joint problems to mood disorders. An out-of-control, chronic inflammation process basically is the root of all evil. The bottom line is you will look and feel better on the outside and your insides will be a well working machine if you take care of your liver and don’t fill yourself with crap.
Why can it be trouble?
We already mentioned that excess toxins are stored in fat (specifically your visceral adipose). When toxins are unleashed from adipose to head to the liver for processing, they enter the blood stream. If we unload too much too fast into the blood stream, you will feel like crap and can get very sick. This will be greatly exacerbated if your liver is impaired or unable to keep up. (This is the same reason why rapid wait loss techniques can be dangerous.)
Constipation is a contraindication to detoxification. You need to have at least semi-regular bowel movements in order to eliminate the toxins you are processing.
How does this help prepare my body for a baby?
I don’t just want to have a baby, I want to have a healthy baby and know that I did everything that I could to give it the best possible start at life. Creating a healthy, nourishing, toxin-reduced environment is very important for this. The internal chemical environment of your body affects your growing fetus. Almost 300 known chemicals have been identified in umbilical cord blood studies. That is just terrifying. BPA (the synthetic estrogen in plastics), mercury, and pesticides are just some of the many chemicals that were found. This has a serious impact on fetu viability and infant health. These chemicals have been implicated in cancer, cognitive and behavioural impairments, endocrine disruptions, and so many other health conditions. This whole field has not quite reached critical mass yet, but I have seen enough to make me feel very uncomfortable. I will not wait until the powers-at-be come out with an official declaration that our chemical exposure is ridiculously high and it is adversely affecting the health of our children. These studies will take decades to do and I will not knowingly allow my kids to be part of those statistics.
This is why I chose the program that I am doing. It does not solve all of the problems that took years to develop, but it is a start. The elimination diet gives your intestines and your liver a vacation by removing any aggravating agents and eating only very clean real food. The medical food supplement ensures that my liver is getting all the help that it needs to handle the load and heal any damage. It is also very convenient to have all the nutrients listed above in one supplement rather than going after each individually.
There is more to it than that, but that is the role the liver plays. Next lets look at the gut. (I promise I won’t be as long winded from here on out.)
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