Natural health supplements are a booming industry in America, and detox remedies are a large and growing part of that. But do detox treatments really work? And which ones will actually help rid ourselves of toxic chemicals? It turns out that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is -- but that doesn't mean all detox products are snake oil. There are things we can do that will definitely help rid our bodies of unwanted toxins.
Avoidance is the first line of defense against hidden toxins in our soaps, shampoos, food and sofas. Phthalates, parabens, pesticides and volatile organic compounds are of particular concern. Most synthetic chemicals have never been tested for safety on humans, and mounting evidence links many of them to breast cancer (the most common cancer among women), prostate cancer (the most pervasive of all non-skin cancers in men), autism, obesity, reproductive difficulties, birth defects, thyroid problems and more (Smith and Lourie, Slow Death by Rubber Duck, 2011). Wanting them out of our bodies is the right instinct!
Here are 10 simple steps that lead to a healthier life for all.
1. Use green personal care products that don't contain chemicals like phthalates or parabens.
Natural and organic products are increasingly easy to find on the market these days. The slow but steady movement of the cosmetics and personal care industry towards greener products is buying power in action. Follow the lead of major manufacturers and retailers and avoid personal care products with parabens, "fragrance" or "parfum" and stay away from chemical hair straighteners and soaps with "triclosan."
2. Eat more organic food, especially lots of organic fruits and vegetables.
We really are what we eat. In simple terms, an organic diet can lower your body pesticide levels -- the case for avoidance doesn't get much simpler than that. But that's not all. The vast majority of nutrition and detox experts alike tell us that fruits and vegetables have powerful detox properties.
3. Drink the water from your tap! And lots of it!
We are on average two-thirds water by weight. Water is the very essence of detoxification -- personal and ecological. So drink-up and detox -- six glasses of liquid a day for women and nine glasses a day for men (that includes all liquids). Filtered tap water is a healthy option. Stay away from bottled water -- the great plastic plague of the 21st century.
4. Look for natural fibers and green products like low-VOC paints in your homes, avoid products that might off-gas.
Most of us spend close to 90 percent of our lives indoors -- watching TV, sitting in our cubicles, or stuck in traffic. All the while we are inhaling chemicals exuding from our sofas, carpets and plastic dashboards. Indoor air quality can be more contaminated than outdoor air. So open your windows and get outside. Buy furniture and textiles made from natural fibers and that are PBDE-free. Clean and dust interior surfaces frequently and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. And avoid vinyl.
5. Eat more vegetables and less meat to avoid toxin-grabbing animal fat.
The solution to avoiding persistently pesky chemicals when it comes to the food chain is not all that different from what doctors and nutritionists (and many mothers in between) already recommend in terms of a healthy diet: Eat your veggies and stay away from fatty foods! Many of the nastiest toxic chemicals reside in fat cells (1). Less fat equals fewer toxins.
6. Sweat more -- be it through exercise or sauna, toxic chemicals leave the body through your sweat.
Our largest organ, our skin, is good at ridding us of chemicals. Certain toxins, like Bisphenol A, are more likely to leave our bodies through sweat than other ways. (2) Saunas are an easy way to induce sweat and have the added benefit of making your skin feel and look great.
7. Choose a healthy lifestyle -- exercise and eating right are a must!
Exercise gets our blood pumping through our liver, and our liver does the heavy lifting when it comes to detoxing. Sweating and increasing our breathing are additional detox benefits of physical exertion. Is there ever a downside to exercise?
8. Avoid wacky quick-fix detoxes and optimize your body's natural detox mechanisms by adopting a detox lifestyle.
Since we know that chemicals are entering our bodies on a daily basis, shouldn't we be making sure that they are leaving our bodies on a daily basis? We have to overthrow the notion of quick fix, fad-based diets and cleanses. And avoid ionic foot baths, they don't work. (3)
Focus instead on these healthy detox lifestyle recommendations.
9. Buy less, buy green.
We must get our collective act together to create a greener, less toxic economy. Buying green alternatives is a start, but the real problem is that we consume way too much, and what we consume gets tossed out faster than ever. The result is that we are producing twice as much trash per person today as a mere 10 years ago. What ever happened to reduce, reuse and recycle?
10. Support politicians who believe in a greener economy.
Only by mobilizing our power as citizens will the prospect of a modern, green economy emerge. We don't need more consumers, we need more active citizens. So join a health group or environmental organization, volunteer for your favorite politician and vote for governments willing to put public health ahead of private profit.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2009) "Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals"
2. Genius, SJ et al. (2012) Human Excretion of Bisphenol A: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study, Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Vol. 2012
3. Kennedy, DA, et al. (2012) Objective Assessment of an Ionic Footbath (Ion Cleanse): Testing Its Ability to Remove Potentially Toxic Elements from the Body, Journal of Environmental and Public Health Vol. 2012