As delicious as it may be, we are all aware that the MSG in the Chinese take out from down the street is doing us no favours. We all know that a lot of the over-the-counter pharmaceutical prods are chemical badness. We know that grandma’s trick of white vinegar to clean the mirror is better than the fluorescent blue spray. But why? What do toxins do in our body, and what havoc do they wreak that we need to prevent? In this special Stark nerd blog investigation, we wanted to do more than just explain how to detoxify, or how often you should, or what Hollywood celebrity is doing which lemon juice cayenne pepper milk thistle colon blow cleanse – we wanted to go deeper and uncover: what are toxins up to in the body? Why do we care, and what can we do about it? So much press is devoted to ‘detoxify’ these days. So we are asking, why?
Kinds of Toxins
Well, besides them all being the ‘bad’ kind, and for the sake of this article being a blog post and not a PhD thesis, we can easily group toxins into one of two categories: exogenous, meaning it comes from outside the body and endogenous, meaning it comes from within. Exogenous toxins are usually pretty easy for us to identify, and include, but are definitely not limited to:
- aspartame, MSG, etc. in foodstuffs which do a number on our nervous system and are actually classified as neuro-toxins.
-recreational drugs! Yes, that Ecstasy you took at a party when you were 15 did have negative consequences.
-most over the counter personal care products, especially those that are applied near the mouth and are accidentally ingested.
-prescriptions, especially those that can negatively affect the function of the liver and kidneys.
Endogenous toxins are a little harder to identify, in that they happen within the body. This can include things like lactic acid build up (that knot in your shoulder from being hunched over the computer for too long), carbon dioxide, even an imbalance of flora and fauna in unhealthy guts. Usually the body has the equipment and know-how to banish the toxins itself. But, if the body is already working overtime from exogenous toxins, or, has a major super flood of toxins to deal with (you are super stressed because you are in final bar exams and the twins both have colic, you had a binge night out with your foosball team, you are a car exhaust repair specialist), then it might have difficulty doing what it can usually do so well. So how does the body usually banish toxins, and what does it do when it is overburdened with toxins?
Taking out the Trash
When the body is working optimally, it kicks out the toxins by way of pee, poop, breath, and sweat. There’s also of course sneezing, barfing, and anything that leaks out of your ears, but let’s not mince hairs (or whatever that expression is).
Considering that water is required for 3 of these 4 functions, it is imperative to help your body with these functions that you get plenty of water. They say 8 glasses of water a day. To tell if you’re getting enough, simply look in the toilet bowl. Is your pee lighter or darker than the colour of apple juice? You’re going for somewhere between lighter than apple juice and more yellow than water. Your kidneys will thank you for it!
There’s also the ever important BM. One to two poops a day, ideally the shape of a letter of the alphabet. If this isn’t you, you’re not alone: about 20% of North Americans suffer from constipation. Drinking those 8 glasses of water should help, and there’s also all kinds of other aids at hand: acidophilus, fiber, good ol’ prune juice. However you do it, make sure that it’s happening, as it is one of the main ways the body gets rid of the sh*t in your body, literally.
The importance of the breath cannot be understated. The lungs are responsible for transporting fresh oxygen into the body, and exhaling carbon dioxide. So make sure to engage in some deep belly breaths, or even pranayama (Sanskrit for breathing) meditation. This can also help with de-stress! Yet, unfortunately, many of us live in airborne polluted environments with car exhausts and allergens. So taking the time to engage in some true deep breathing at home is all the more imperative.
Sweating is the function of the skin, and of course, we love talking about skin. As the largest organ in your body, it is also your largest organ of elimination. The docs recommend working up a good ol’ sweat at least 3x/week, some say 5x/week…the point is, just to ensure you are doing it for a regular flushing out of the system. Sauna therapy (max. 30 minutes) is said not only to help with detoxifying, but with stress release, improves circulation, and can help with weight loss. And if you’re not in the sauna, sweating probably means you’re doing exercise, which also has MANY other benefits!
And if the regular exists are occupied…
In instances where pee, poop, breath and sweat just can’t cope with the amount of toxicity in the body, what happens?
-Initially, the body will get it out however it can, and if one of the channels above aren’t working out, the body will create symptoms like that weird rash, mucus membranes over reacting, acne, skin break outs, chronic ear infections,…you get the picture. The body is attempting to continue to protect the body from toxins. Taking the action necessary and identifying the root cause of the symptom here is key, as well as continuing to detox!
-Do you exercise regularly, eat well, and still can’t seem to shed that spare little tire? Toxins may be interfering with your metabolism. If the pace at which toxins are incoming is faster than the pace the body can deal with those toxins, and the body has tried all other methods of elimination, the body has no choice but to store those toxins. Because your body is the smartest machine ever, it keeps the ultimate goal of survival and health in mind, it will store toxins in your fat tissues first. This is because fat tissue is less valuable to immediate survival than muscle, nerves, etc. So to shed those last 10 pounds that won’t seem to go away, maybe detox is in order! Further down this track, this continued accumulation of toxins in fat cells can lead to benign cysts and tumors.
-In other, more serious instances, toxins in the body can result in diabetes. The toxins mess with our blood sugar levels and metabolism, which over time leads to insulin resistance – i.e. diabetes.
-And even more serious still, after the body has expelled all the toxins it can, and stored as much as it can in the fat stores, it will move on to storing the toxins elsewhere. Alternative storage units include connective tissue (ligaments, blood, bones), muscles, and nerves. If enough cells in one area or organ become laden with toxins, this is when real, irreversible trouble can begin: any stage of liver degeneration, kidney failure, impaired vision, thyroid disease, heart failure, etc. and unfortunately the list goes on.
You may recall a few summers ago, the city of Toronto garbage collectors had a strike. The black bags festered in the summer heat, the streets lined with undealt with, stinking, rot. When we are unable to effectively detox, whether by ineffective normal body detox practices, or by simply having too many toxins for the body to deal with, our body’s garbage collection can go on strike too. I think the ‘why’ is now most definitely clear! We don’t want our innards to look how the streets of Toronto did that summer. Drink lots of water, sweat and breathe, and supply yourself with only the best foods and beauty prods you can source. Ensuring that what goes in is of the best quality, and ensuring everything is leaving the building that should, are the best ways to ensure that you stay clean, lean, and toxin-free!