The Intelligent Man’s Guide To Detoxing

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The Intelligent Man’s Guide To Detoxing

Words by Mr Ahmed Zambarakji

26 January 2017

A year-round guide to clean living – we sort the fads from the facts.

Marathon fasts, Master Cleanses and other extreme detoxing regimes are symptomatic of our binge-purge culture. Hardcore partying invariably leads to an equally hardcore detox. But lurching from one extreme to the other isn’t healthy, and can even do more harm than good. And unfortunately, many of the popular programmes are fads – too much bold promise, not enough solid, scientific rigour. The more insidious regimes out there have even landed unwitting detoxers in hospital, prompting the medical community to speak up about the dubious science behind them. With the exception of those in the grips of substance addiction or who have been exposed to asbestos and heavy metals for a prolonged period, most doctors will point out that the human body – given half a chance – is perfectly capable of detoxifying itself. That, after all, is what the digestive system is designed for.

Which is not to suggest that our liver, kidneys, gut, lymphatic system and skin don’t deserve a break after a period of excess. Or that we aren’t exposed to a disproportionate amount of chemicals in our everyday life. We most certainly are. But rather than slam on the brakes and catapult your body into withdrawal for the duration of January, we prefer to think of detoxing as a softer process. One that is sustainable, nourishing and that doesn’t involve sticking a hose up your backside.

So, if you have already relented on those unrealistically monastic New Year’s resolutions you set yourself a few weeks ago, relax. This is MR PORTER’s gentle and intelligent guide to sustainable and healthy detoxing, notable for its total abstinence from fanciful claims.

In addition to being the largest and fastest-growing organ in the body, the skin is also one of the main channels of toxin elimination (along with the colon and, perhaps surprisingly, our breath). When withdrawing from stimulants such as sugar, it’s not unusual for skin to flare up in response to toxins being “awakened” and subsequently released. As the old adage goes, things get worse before they get better. But they will get better.

While breakouts are normal, you can help skin detox by using a mud mask to draw out impurities. Tom Ford Intensive Purifying Mud Mask absorbs excess oil and toxins at the surface of the skin, thus speeding up the detox process. The clay in this formula conveniently turns light grey as it dries, so it’s easy to tell when it’s done vacuuming your pores.

The other way to support the skin’s innate ability to detox is by exfoliating with a weekly face scrub or peel, such as Dr Sebagh Deep Exfoliating Mask. Exfoliation sloughs away dead cells to reveal a new, fresh layer of skin.

Dry brushing skin below the neck will jump-start the lymphatic system, the network of tissues and organs that removes waste from cells and bolsters your immunity. The action of the bristles against the skin helps move “dirty” lymph – fluid composed of unwanted fat, waste, poisonous toxins, excess protein and water – to nodes where it can then be eliminated by the usual channels. While the lymphatic system usually plods along without our intervention, dry body brushing expedites this process and has the added benefit of boosting circulation and delivering oxygenated blood to the skin.

Irrigating your innards seems to be a consistent theme among the more intelligent detox programmes. And this is not without reason. The modern diet relies heavily on processed and sugar-laden “fake” foods that put a lot of strain on the digestive system. While our gut should be able to digest and eliminate waste with relative ease, our intestines haven’t evolved quite as quickly as the agricultural and food industries. Moreover, detoxing on a sluggish or “leaky” gut (where the lining of the gut wall has started to crack and become permeable) means toxins may get diverted elsewhere for elimination, including your skin. Rather than sign up for a course of colonics, the simplest way is to simply up your fibre intake to help toxins find their way out.

Bodyism’s Clean And Lean Ultimate Clean fibre shake has a blend of soluble and insoluble fibres (including the intriguingly named ingredients psyllium husk and slippery elm) that bind to toxins and push them through your gut. Most importantly, the formula contains both a prebiotic sweetener and a probiotic fermented rice bran, which will help you digest foods completely.

Detoxing without the assistance of probiotics is like trying to steer a ship without a rudder. We do not possess the genomic ability to produce enzymes that can completely degrade most of the toxins we encounter in today’s world (including the proteins in wheat, for example). Probiotics are tiny micro-organisms that outnumber bodily cells by 10 to one and they are capable of breaking down toxins, pesticides and preservatives while healing intestinal permeability (the aforementioned “leaky gut”).

Of all the major organs, your liver works the hardest to detox the blood of pollutants as well as natural compounds such as bilirubin (a pigment derived from old red blood cells when they are broken down) and ammonia (a byproduct of protein digestion). It is also chiefly responsible for metabolising alcohol. Chances are it has been working overtime for the past few weeks.

Assisting your liver during a period of abstinence is crucial, and one key supplement to consider is milk thistle. This herbal remedy contains the active ingredient silymarin, which strengthens and protects liver cell walls while supporting regeneration. It’s so effective that it’s commonly used to treat people recovering from liver damage and to prevent cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis. As an added bonus, the phytochemicals (biologically active plant compounds) in milk thistle have antioxidant benefits that will improve skin health.

The herb comes in various forms from tinctures to tablets, but be sure to consult a qualified naturopath to determine the right dose for you.

Most detox programmes focus exclusively on diet and overlook the necessity of exercise in kick-starting the cleansing process. Restraint, though, is essential. You simply won’t have much energy during this period, especially if you’re creating a calorie deficit. Temporarily abandon the CrossFit/Spartan Warrior Workouts and opt for something slower, such as hot yoga, which will accelerate detoxification through sweating. Forward bends and spinal twists will (gently) massage the digestive system without getting your heart rate unbearably high. It’s possible to lose an enormous amount of water doing hot yoga, so be sure to rehydrate as often as possible and to top up on electrolytes.

If you are used to intense periods of training, now is a great time to rekindle your relationship with foam rollers. The intense, searing pain of rolling out your fascia (that’s the connective tissue between your skin and your muscles) has many pay-offs. Regular rolling helps heal micro-tears, breaks down muscle adhesion and relieves swelling in just the same way as massage.

Granted, our suggestions may not possess the allure of a prettily packaged panacea or the intensity of a quick fix, but they are grounded in evidence-based medicine and will fit easily into everyday life. As seasoned hedonist (and unwitting health advocate) Mr Oscar Wilde prescribed, do “everything in moderation, including moderation”.

Illustrations by Mr Andrea Mongia