We hear a lot about detox programs to rid the body of toxins. But what exactly are these toxins, how do we find them inside of us and, above all, do these programs work? We try to clarify based, as always, on scientific studies.
Toxins, what they are and how they enter our body
Pollution leaves its mark and so what we eat and breathe can introduce heavy metals and other pollutants into our body. These substances can be contained in both foods of animal and vegetable origin, but also in the water we drink. Heavy and polluting metals tend to accumulate in body fat and persist for a long time causing health problems, such as respiratory problems, increased inflammation and visceral fat, but also a depletion of the intestinal microbiota on which the health of the whole organism depends (Jung et al, Nutr Metab, 2020). In fact, an unbalanced microbiota increases the risk of depression, heart disease, neurodegeneration and cancer.
Beyond sensational headlines that have the purpose of informing about the benefits of particular diets, juices and supplements capable of detoxifying the body, a lot of attention needs to be paid in this area. First of all, often the proposed diets are very restrictive and do not allow a regular supply of nutrients. Then, it is often proposed to drink large quantities of juices and centrifuges made with healthy foods but which, if taken in excess, can cause damage. For example, spinach and beets contain oxalates that, if taken in excess and for a long time, can cause kidney problems (Source NIH). Having made this necessary premise, certainly some dietary choices can stimulate detoxification processes, protect the body from the damage of heavy metals and support the work of the liver, which is the organ in our body responsible for protecting us from the action of toxins and pollutants. (Grant el al, J Inherit Metab Dis, 1991). In fact, our body is equipped with physiological processes to remove toxins, based on the work of the liver and then subsequently of the kidneys and intestines. Therefore, it is important to stimulate these natural processes and, above all, to do it with daily gestures, without imposing restrictions on the limit of endurance to follow treatments lasting a few weeks. First of all, it is important to ensure foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, better if organic, as in its detoxification work the liver produces free radicals, which can thus be countered by antioxidant substances (Jung et al, Nutr Metab, 2020). Include in the diet foods with protective action against the damage of some heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead, for example tomatoes, berries, onions and garlic (Zhai et al, Nutrients, 2015). Then, foods with hepatoprotective action are watercress, dandelions, celery, asparagus, bamboo shoots, but also kiwifruits, apples, watermelon, hazelnuts, tangerines and zucchini (Guan et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2015). It is also important to follow a diet that does not involve excess fat. In fact, diets with a high fat content modify the intestinal microbiota, thus reducing the body's ability to remove toxins and increasing the risk of disease and damage caused by exposure to heavy metals (Liu et al, Front Microbiol, 2020).
Detox spices, algae and herbal teas
Green tea has shown a beneficial action against the toxins that can accumulate in the body. In particular, green tea is able to reduce the adverse effects of lead (Sha bani et al, Adv Biomed Res, 2015). Then, studies have shown that coriander has a detoxifying action, as does nori, the seaweed that is sold in sheets and which is used to package sushi (Klein et al, J Hum Nutr Diet, 2015). Turmeric, thanks to its active ingredient curcumin, protects the liver and reduces the hepatotoxicity of some heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, copper and mercury (Garcia Nino et al, Food Chem Toxicol, 2014).
Some yoga poses help the body detoxify. In particular, all positions based on rotations and the so-called bindings, namely the ability to wrap the body by grasping the hands or wrists and enter deeply into the position, are considered to help stimulate the body's purification processes of toxins (Beri et al , Future Sci OA, 2016). One of the simplest twists you can do is sit cross-legged. With the exhalation the torso rotates to the right, the left hand is resting on the right knee and the right hand is on the ground. With the inhalation you relax and with the subsequent exhalation you try to rotate the torso a little more. Then we practice on the other side. Another exercise to detoxify the body is this yoga posture. Sit on the ground with your legs gathered on the right side. Raise your arms and bend them, the right hand grabs the left elbow and vice versa, always keeping the arms above the head. Exhale and bend to the right, pulling in the right side as much as possible. Inhale and return to the starting position, repeat the exercise 6 times, then switch body side. Instead, a very simple binding exercise to do is the following. Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend the right knee by bringing the foot closer to the pelvis. Bend your torso forward, the shoulder presses against the inside of the knee as you wrap your arms behind your back, your right hand grabs your left wrist. Exhale and go down a little more. Then relax and repeat on the other side.