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.
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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Why You Should Wash Fresh Produce<p>Global pandemic or not, properly washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a good habit to practice to minimize the ingestion of potentially harmful residues and germs.</p><p>Fresh produce is handled by numerous people before you purchase it from the grocery store or the farmers market. It's best to assume that not every hand that has touched fresh produce has been clean.</p><p>With all of the people constantly bustling through these environments, it's also safe to assume that much of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fresh-vs-frozen-fruit-and-vegetables" target="_blank">fresh produce</a> you purchase has been coughed on, sneezed on, and breathed on as well.</p><p>Adequately washing fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them can significantly reduce residues that may be left on them during their journey to your kitchen.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a proven way to remove germs and unwanted residues from their surfaces before eating them.</p>
Best Produce Cleaning Methods<p>While rinsing fresh produce with water has long been the traditional method of preparing fruits and veggies before consumption, the current pandemic has many people wondering whether that's enough to really clean them.</p><p>Some people have advocated the use of soap, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/white-vinegar" target="_blank">vinegar</a>, lemon juice, or even commercial cleaners like bleach as an added measure.</p><p>However, health and food safety experts, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strongly urge consumers not to take this advice and stick with plain water.</p><p>Using such substances may pose further health dangers, and they're unnecessary to remove the most harmful residues from produce. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chlorine-poisoning" target="_blank">Ingesting commercial cleaning chemicals</a> like bleach can be lethal and should never be used to clean food.</p><p>Furthermore, substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and produce washes have not been shown to be any more effective at cleaning produce than plain water — and may even leave additional deposits on food.</p><p>While some research has suggested that using neutral electrolyzed water or a baking soda bath can be even more effective at removing certain substances, the consensus continues to be that cool tap water is sufficient in most cases.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The best way to wash fresh produce before eating it is with cool water. Using other substances is largely unnecessary. Plus they're often not as effective as water and gentle friction. Commercial cleaners should never be used on food.</p>
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables With Water<p>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cool water before eating them is a good practice when it comes to health hygiene and food safety.</p><p>Note that fresh produce should not be washed until right before you're ready to eat it. Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them may create an environment in which bacterial growth is more likely.</p><p>Before you begin washing fresh produce, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-you-wash-your-hands" target="_blank">wash your hands well</a> with soap and water. Be sure that any utensils, sinks, and surfaces you're using to prepare your produce are also thoroughly cleaned first.</p><p>Begin by cutting away any bruised or visibly rotten areas of fresh produce. If you're handling a fruit or vegetable that'll be peeled, such as an orange, wash it before peeling it to prevent any surface bacteria from entering the flesh.</p><p>The general methods to wash produce are as follows:</p><ul><li><strong>Firm produce.</strong> Fruits with firmer skins like apples, lemons, and pears, as well as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/root-vegetables" target="_blank">root vegetables</a> like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, can benefit from being brushed with a clean, soft bristle to better remove residues from their pores.</li><li><strong>Leafy greens.</strong> Spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, leeks, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choy should have their outermost layer removed, then be submerged in a bowl of cool water, swished, drained, and rinsed with fresh water.</li><li><strong>Delicate produce.</strong> Berries, mushrooms, and other types of produce that are more likely to fall apart can be cleaned with a steady stream of water and gentle friction using your fingers to remove grit.</li></ul><p>Once you have thoroughly rinsed your produce, dry it using a clean paper or cloth towel. More fragile produce can be laid out on the towel and gently patted or rolled around to dry them without damaging them.</p><p>Before consuming your fruits and veggies, follow the simple steps above to minimize the amount of germs and substances that may be on them.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Most fresh fruits and veggies can gently be scrubbed under cold running water (using a clean soft brush for those with firmer skins) and then dried. It can help to soak, drain, and rinse produce that has more dirt-trapping layers.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Practicing good food hygiene is an important health habit. Washing fresh produce helps minimize surface germs and residues that could make you sick.</p><p>Recent fears during the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/coronavirus" target="_blank">COVID-19 pandemic</a> have caused many people to wonder whether more aggressive washing methods, such as using soap or commercial cleaners on fresh produce, are better.</p><p>Health professionals agree that this isn't recommended or necessary — and could even be dangerous. Most fruits and vegetables can be sufficiently cleaned with cool water and light friction right before eating them.</p><p>Produce that has more layers and surface area can be more thoroughly washed by swishing it in a bowl of cool water to remove dirt particles.</p><p>Fresh fruits and vegetables offer a number of healthy nutrients and should continue to be eaten, as long as safe cleaning methods are practiced.</p>
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(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
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