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Admit it: Someone mentions detox and you think of over-the-hill TV stars limping into the Betty Ford Clinic, or grotesque procedures involving gallons of soapy water--or, worse, both. In fact, detoxification is about utilizing simple, noninvasive methods to transform inner toxins left behind by pollution or natural functions such as protein metabolism. Clearing out excess waste and dead cells can revitalize your body's healing capacities while increasing energy and improving both daily routines and fitness performance.
You don't have to breathe freeway fumes for hours a day to become saturated with toxins. Most of us are already fully loaded, says Elson Haas, M.D., author of The Detox Diet and founder of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif.
"A toxin is any element the body doesn't have a use for, like lead and mercury and hydrocarbons, and more mundane things like food colorings and hydrogenated fats," Haas explains. "These toxins are in just about everything we come into contact with: polluted air and water, pesticides in foods, and chemicals in shampoos and medications. We store them in fat cells, in the brain and in the nervous system."
Accumulating these inner poisons can lead to a wide range of symptoms such as sluggishness, fatigue, slow metabolism, poor digestion, skin disorders, headache or persistent coughing. (All of which, of course, do nothing to enhance your fitness regimen.) It may also increase your risk of arthritis, heart disease or cancer.
The quickest, safest means of minimizing your toxin load is to reduce your junk intake, says Martin Dayton, M.D., D.O., of Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. With a healthy diet, the proficiency of the organs directly involved in detoxification--the liver, the intestinal tract and the kidneys--is a given. Avoiding tobacco and excessive caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, dairy products and refined sugars helps maintain your body's filtering system. And increasing your fiber consumption with grains, fruits and vegetables (as pesticide-free as possible) promotes more regular elimination.
Inner cleansing can also be facilitated by avoiding food, at least for short periods of time with the proper precautions. During a fast, solid foods are abandoned for one to three days or more in favor of fruit juice, herbal tea and vegetable broth. Proponents argue that fasting reduces the stress of digestion, better enabling the body to heal itself. Consult your physician before beginning any fast.
Haas advocates the use of supplements during a prolonged juice fast. Miso, a paste of fermented soybean, replenishes essential nutrients while supporting colon function and intestinal bacteria, both important in detoxification. Spirulina, an algae powder, provides additional protein and may aid those who experience fatigue during fasting. It's best to begin a fast on Friday so your body can adjust over a leisurely weekend rather than at the office.
There are more extreme forms of cleansing, of course. Colonic irrigations rinse out the intestines using vast amounts of water, and some brave souls perform regular enemas using water, herbs or even diluted coffee. Haas warns against doing these more than two or three times a year, while other experts discount them entirely.
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