An intestinal detox or cleanse diet will help aid whole body detoxification since your gastrointestinal tract and liver (thought of as the main organ of detoxification) are closely interconnected. Impaired gut health may add to your toxic load and lead to sluggish detoxification, symptoms and health problems. Altered intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” is a root level imbalance and linked to many health conditions.
Your answers to these questions have an impact on how well your body detoxifies which may correlate to your overall health…
Does your digestive system have the right function and balanced bacteria to digest, absorb nutrients and eliminate toxins?
Does your digestive tract have toxic elements in it that are impairing absorption and elimination?
“Cleanse diets” (or intestinal detox) focus mainly on cleaning up and/or clearing out the digestive system, which aids liver detoxification. There are many cleanse, fasting and detox diets out there that are not based on good science or physiology. I use the terms intestinal detox and cleanse diets on this page, but there is no specific “diet”. I will focus on factors that will help to promote or restore your gut health which will aid in healthy detoxification.
Sidebar: In general, restoring gut health and ensuring adequate elimination/open bowels and kidney function is important prior to starting an aggressive detoxification diet.
These factors include:
Avoiding a “SAD” diet: A low fiber, high-animal product, unhealthy fats and highly processed diet (aka the “SAD” or Standard American Diet) is linked with intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. Altered gut permeability allows for increased toxic burden and subsequent oxidative stress and inflammation (precursors for disease). A whole foods diet is an important first step to improving the health of your gut and whole body health and healing.
Removing food sensitivities: Often, an elimination diet may
be part of an intestinal detox and detoxification diet in order to remove
potential food sensitivities that may be contributing to “leaky gut” and
impaired detoxification capability.
This may include food additives such as preservatives, food colorings,
artificial sweeteners, stimulants (caffeine) and flavor enhancers (MSG) which,
for some, are considered toxicants which may impair detoxification.
Adequate fiber and fluids: A high fiber diet is essential for gut health by providing “fuel” for beneficial gut bacteria and aiding in elimination of toxins. “Fuel” comes in the form of prebiotics which are naturally found in foods such as, onion, burduck root, asparagus, rye, Jerusalem artichoke and banana as well as soluble fibers in foods such as, apples, pears, plums, bean, lentils, oats and squash.
Insoluble fibers work as “bulking agents” to help intestinal flow and elimination. If you experience reactions to the usual dietary fiber sources (gluten containing products) and/or are also following an elimination diet as part of your intestinal detox, there are other beneficial food fibers to choose from which include, soy fiber, beet fiber, pea fiber, oat gum, rice bran, apple pectin, apple fiber, etc. Medical foods and professional line fiber supplements often contain these less commonly known, but beneficial fiber sources.
A diet high in fiber rich foods must also be accompanied by adequate fluid intake. Your daily fluid intake should be about ½ of your desirable body weight (in pounds) in ounces. Best choices include, purified water and unsweetened caffeine-free beverages.
Probiotics: Promoting bacterial balance assists in minimizing leaky gut and may help to decrease your total toxic load. Dysbiosis and subsequent intestinal permeability has been linked to many chronic diseases. Food sources that contain probiotics include, yogurt (unsweetened, plain), kefir (unsweetened, plain), tempeh, miso, natto and sauerkraut. Pretty much any food that is cultured or fermented contains probiotics.
If you do have dysbiosis that is contributing to symptoms, health conditions then you will most likely need to supplement with the appropriate types of probiotic supplements. A stool test can tell you if you have a bacterial imbalance as well as which strains of probiotics to supplement with. There are many types and causes of dysbiosis which will ultimately determine the overall management plan. In general, a professional line, refrigerated, mixed probiotic supplement that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus plus Bifidobacteria strains is a good start.
If you are also following an elimination diet as part of your intestinal detox, your options for getting probiotics naturally from food may be limited and a supplement may be useful in the short term.
Beneficial bacteria do not permanently stay in the gut so you need to regularly get them from food or supplementation. In general, its best to take a food first approach and regularly eat foods that naturally contain probiotics.
A functional medicine practitioner will use the “4R” approach when assessing and supporting gut health. These four factors include, “remove” (allergens or other toxins), “replace” (probiotics or other insufficient digestive factors), “reinoculate” (probiotics, reintroduction of beneficial bacteria) and “repair” (direct nutritional support of the gut). Specialized nutritional supplementation may be indicated to support overall gut health based on individual circumstances.
This is a general guide to intestinal detox and may need to be modified based on your symptoms and health condition. In general, optimal gut health is important for healthy detoxification for general health and to help manage certain health conditions. This page will give you a starting point to maintain or restore the health of your gut and your whole body health.
Some references: IFM Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach, 2004; DIFM/AND. The Integrative RD newsletter Spring 2012;14(4); Lipski, L. Digestive wellness, 2012; S. Allen, RD, CCN, personal communication, 2013
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