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9 Steps to Detox Your Body and How it Can Help You Lose Weight

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9 Steps to Detox Your Body and How it Can Help You Lose Weight

“Dr. Hyman, I’ve been reading about the role of environmental toxins in our health,” writes this week’s house call. “What is the best way to get rid of these toxins and are things like household cleaners and skincare products really that harmful?”

The short answer is yes. We know that environmental toxins, such as BPA and other chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs), can increase the risk of weight gain and even type 2 diabetes independent of calorie intake. I had one patient, who I treated years ago, come up to me at my recent book party. I didn’t even recognize her because she lost 40 pounds after I helped her detoxify from mercury. Before we removed the mercury, no amount of eating right or exercising helped her lose weight.

To fully understand just how harmful these environmental toxins can be, we need to understand how the detoxification process actually works.

If you ask most doctors about detoxification, they will most likely tell you it is absurd to think you can “detox” your whole system or even any organ, such as your liver.

Reframe that question and you’ll get a different answer. Ask your doctor how bad things can get once your kidneys or liver stop working. What about if you get constipated for a long period of time? Those are the kinds of things doctors get worked up about, but prevention and maintenance, unfortunately, often are not the primary focus.

What these doctors often neglect to understand is that our bodies continuously detoxify. In our modern age, our bodies simply cannot keep up with the constant daily barrage of environmental and dietary toxins.

These toxins, which include plastics, pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, mercury, lead, arsenic or any one of the 80,000 chemicals introduced into our world since the industrial revolution, can interfere with your metabolism and cause weight gain even when you stick with a normal-calorie diet.

That “new car smell” provides a great example. That “scent” that you are breathing in daily is most likely formaldehyde, which has been shown to cause adverse health effects and even cancer.

Why We Should Avoid Obesogens

We call these environmental toxins obesogens or foreign chemical compounds that disrupt fat metabolism and create weight gain.

Obesogens are more prevalent than you might imagine. Stop and consider the average newborn has 287 chemicals in his or her umbilical cord blood. Since they are brand new to the world, you can see that exposure only gets worse from there.

Studies show early-life exposure to environmental toxins can play a major role in predisposing animals to insulin resistance, hormone disruptions and obesity. Toxins promote weight gain in many ways, including affecting your metabolism, your hormones and your brain function.

As we become more toxic, we get fatter. Obesity rates continue to rise in the U.S. and abroad. Almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight. The latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about 35 percent of Americans are obese.

Even animals and lab rats are getting fatter, suggesting an environmental aspect independent of calorie intake and energy expenditure. And in fact, animal studies show toxic chemicals can cause weight gain independent of any change in calorie intake or exercise.

Where do these toxins come from? They lurk in your cosmetics, skincare products, soaps, shampoos, deodorant, food, water, air, household cleaners, plastic food storage containers, furniture, mattresses and carpets.

Maybe you carry a plastic water bottle and Tupperware to work every day. These products contain chemicals that leach into our water and food. These and other toxins can really wreak havoc on your health.

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Researchers link chemical pesticides found in food and water, especially atrazine and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), with increases in body mass index (BMI) in children and insulin resistance in rodents.

Studies even link particular drugs like Avandia (for diabetes) to weight gain in both humans and animals.

These and other obesogens are endocrine disruptors that negatively affect your hormones. Phthalates, which researchers also link to obesity in humans, exist in common household items such as air fresheners, laundry products and personal care products.

How to Detox Your Body

I could go on, but I think you can see that we live in a toxic world. That doesn’t mean you are powerless. In fact, you can do plenty to minimize exposure to these harmful toxins, help your body get rid of stored toxins and prevent new ones from accumulating.

Here are nine ways to do that:

1. Eat organic whenever you can. Follow the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” to identify the worst and least contaminated fruits and vegetables.

2. Become aware of toxic skin products. Creams, sun block and cosmetics that contain paraben, petrochemicals, lead or other toxins are easily absorbed through your skin. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin. Please visit EWG’s page about skin products to learn more.

3. Stop eating mercury. Avoid big fish with lots of mercury. See the Natural Resource Defense Council’s guide for choosing fish with the lowest mercury content.

4. Eat clean, organic animal products by choosing grass-fed or pasture-raised animals without hormones or antibiotics. They cost more, but you can eat smaller portions and start including bigger portions of plant foods.

5. Filter your water. Use a carbon or reverse osmosis filter to get rid of hidden contaminants in water.

6. Support your body’s own detox system by drinking eight glasses of water a day, eating lots of fiber so you poop at least once a day and sweating to excrete toxins (with exercise or saunas—see #9 for more on this).

7. Increase foods that help your body detox. Eat one to two cups a day of cruciferous vegetables, preferably organic, such as broccoli, kale and bok choy, as well as lots of garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric.

8. Take supplements that support detoxification including selenium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin B complex, as well as special glutathione boosting compounds such as n-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle. You can find these and other supplements in my store.

9. Exercise and sweat regularly. When you exercise and your body temperature rises, you increase blood flow, which in turn transfers heat from the core of the body to the skin. Sweating helps move and excrete toxins from your body. Saunas or steam baths also help release the toxins through your skin as you sweat. Get the toxins off your skin after the sauna or steam with a hot shower, soap and a skin brush.

While diet and exercise always matter, unfortunately in today’s world, they are not enough to stay lean and healthy. Daily detoxification also plays a huge role in our health. We must remain proactive with the above steps to avoid exposure to toxins and get rid of the ones your body may have stored.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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