As any good integrative practitioner knows, metabolic detoxification is a central part of most interventions. The human body is exposed to both endogenous and environmental toxins every day, including heavy metals, pesticides, plastics, industrial chemicals and bacterial endotoxins. In some cases, toxins are not efficiently eliminated and can accumulate in organs and tissues, disrupting normal cellular function and increasing the risk for disease. Improper clearance of toxins over time may play a role in obesity, cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive concerns, immune dysfunction, chemical intolerance, and reproductive and developmental concerns. Utilizing metabolic detoxification protocols to support the body’s detoxification systems and reduce toxic body burden is critical to overall health and longevity.
An important component of metabolic detoxification protocols is to support each of the body’s elimination pathways, since metabolic toxins must leave the body through stool, urine or sweat. The three phases of cellular detoxification must also be supported, which forms the basis of a metabolic detoxification plan.
Some people may experience mild symptoms during a metabolic detoxification protocol, commonly referred to as “detox reactions,” particularly during their first time. These symptoms sometimes occur when the detoxification processes becomes unbalanced and metabolic toxins are not eliminated optimally. It can be described as a biological bottleneck problem, during which the released toxins exceed the body’s capacity to transport and eliminate them through stool, urine and sweat. Symptoms are generally minor, and resolve within a day or two, and other imbalances may also reveal themselves during a detoxification program.
Here are some of the most common symptoms, and what you can do to minimize them and facilitate rebalancing:
1. Headaches, Fatigue and Irritability
Headaches, fatigue and irritability are common nuisances that may accompany metabolic detoxing. There can be a number of different causes, including:
- Withdrawal symptoms: Suddenly avoiding caffeine, sugar, wheat and dairy, all of which can be addictive, can result in minor withdrawal symptoms.
- Dehydration, which impedes elimination via lymphatic and the urinary systems
- Constipation, which impedes elimination via stool
- Blood sugar fluctuation
- Release of toxins from fat cells and other biological hiding places that aren’t being eliminated efficiently enough
- Try drinking green tea. Green tea is hydrating and provides smaller amounts of caffeine. It also supplies L-theanine, which supports the production of calming neurotransmitters. The phytonutrients and antioxidants in green tea promote detoxification enzyme activity via cytochrome p450.
- Drink more water, and be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Stay alkaline by eating more foods that are alkaline-forming in the body, such as vegetables, fruit and herbs.
- Stabilize blood sugar by including high quality protein, fiber and healthy fat at each meal.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Get plenty of rest and optimize sleep quality.
- Work up a sweat in a sauna, steam room or warm Epsom salt bath.
- Support bowel regularity (see number 3, below).
2. Food Cravings
Many people experience food cravings while on any type of elimination diet, including the dietary component of a metabolic detoxification plan. This symptom may present its challenges in the short term, but the best strategy is to stay the course and know that the cravings will ultimately subside in a few days. There are many possible reasons for food cravings during detoxification protocols, including:
- Withdrawal from addictive foods and beverages
- Sugar addiction or breaking habits that revolve around desserts and sweets
- Dysbiosis, microbial imbalances in the digestive tract or simply a shifting in microbial population in response to diet change
Many people have food addictions without being aware of it. Since sugar, gluten and dairy all trigger an opioid-like response in the brain, many of these foods can be addictive. Sweet flavors trigger the synthesis of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, and that too can create an overreliance on sugar and sweets. The state of one’s microbiome may also affect food cravings, with certain strains associated with either sweet cravings or cravings for fat. It’s been postulated that gut microbes can trigger cravings in the host that favor that particular microbe, even if it’s to the detriment of the host. These microbes may also be able to cause the host to feel poorly until the craving is met and a feeling of euphoria sets in. Since metabolic detoxification protocols and their dietary components can help to shift the microbiome and address certain aspect of dysbiosis, conquering sugar or cravings for other unhealthy foods is one added benefit to reap.
- Include more alkaline foods and beverages, which can help minimize food cravings and promote beneficial shifts in gut microbes.
- For sugar cravings, try increasing protein at each meal and enjoying your favorite fruit alone or in a smoothie.
- For fried food or starchy food cravings, try roasting sweet potato and parsnip wedges brushed with coconut oil and a sprinkle of rosemary and sea salt.
- For cravings in general, there are usually suitable substitutes that fit within the prescribed plan. Working with a nutrition professional on managing and redirecting food cravings can be helpful in creating lasting diet improvements.
- Stay the course – breaking unhealthy food habits is worth the effort in the long run.
3. Bowel Irregularity
Constipation is a metabolic detoxification plan’s worst enemy, since so many toxins are eliminated through stool. While following a meal plan designed to promote detoxification typically includes a fiber-rich diet high in vegetables, some people still experience bowel irregularity and digestive symptoms from the diet change. Reestablishing daily bowel movements are a top priority during a detox plan, and constipation can be addressed in several ways.
- Drink plenty of filtered water, herbal teas and other fluids.
- Eat bitter vegetables and herbs that encourage healthy peristalsis, like radicchio, endive, arugula and ginger.
- Try a magnesium supplement in the form of magnesium citrate or oxide.
- Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables and high fiber seeds like flax seed, as well as healthy fats and oils that help lubricate the digestive tract.
- Get moving to get things “moving!” Exercise and daily physical activity can improve bowel regularity.
Armed with these strategies, consumers and health professionals alike can feel confident in their metabolic detoxification protocols, even if mild “detox reactions” occur. Simply knowing why these symptoms can occur and knowing what to do about them can truly help people stay the course and reap the potential benefits that periodic metabolic detoxification programs offer.