If your waistline and energy levels are not as you would wish them to be, you may need a detox. Amelia Freer FdSc, Dip ION, long standing and highly regarded in:spa nutritionist, explains what that means and how to do it.

Sometimes, our food selections and lifestyles are less than ideal, particularly over the festive season. But in fact, we are all exposed to a wide range of toxins every day. Some are a natural part of our diet and environment and some are man-made. Our liver is the hero here: working tirelessly on our behalf to eliminate and neutralise unwanted substances such as excess hormones, fats, drugs, environmental chemicals, food additives and pharmaceuticals and yet this is the organ that we often take for granted.

If the liver gets overburdened, its ability to detoxify can become impaired and health problems can follow. I like to describe it as our body’s post office – everything that we eat, drink, inhale and absorb gets sent here to be sorted and re-packed before being forwarded on – it’s our internal filter. The liver also turns excess sugar into fat as well as producing bile, which helps to digest the fats we eat. And of course, healthy digestive function is crucial in supporting the elimination process that the liver starts.

According to the British Liver Trust, more than 16,000 people in the UK died from liver disease in 2008, and that number keeps on rising. Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in England and Wales after heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease. Excess alcohol is the number one cause of liver failure and excess sugar is the second.

In 2009/10, there were over a million alcohol-related admissions to hospital according to the NHS Information Centre. This is an increase of 12% on the 2008/09 figure and more than twice as many as in 2002/03. And, as the liver converts sugar into fat, a high-alcohol, high-sugar diet is a fast track to a fatty liver, one of the first indicators of liver problems.

Abdominal weight is a sign that your diet may be too high in sugar (rather than fat as is often thought), and a word of warning – turning to paracetamol to relieve the symptoms of a hangover only places a heavier burden on the liver, so while it may remove the short-term pain, it won’t help your long-term health.

Here are some of the symptoms that a gentle detox may help relieve:

  • Lack of energy, foggy head, sluggish metabolism
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Nausea
  • Constipation, indigestion, bloating
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Acne, skin rashes, hives
  • Itchy, watery or sticky eyes
  • Itchy ears, ear infections, stuffy nose or sinus problems
  • Excessive sweating or strong body odour
  • Joint aches, muscle aches and pains

The liver works in two phases and is dependent on specific nutrients to function effectively. As a nutritional therapist I often work with clients to sensibly look at what might be removed and what might be introduced into their diets and lifestyle to improve the efficiency of the liver. Antioxidants such as selenium, glutamine, glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A and the B vitamins are just a few of the essential nutrients that aid detoxification.

However, when removing some of the common culprits that cause us to feel sluggish, we can sometimes feel worse before feeling better. Detox symptoms include headaches, fatigue, nausea and flu-like aches and pains. These are caused by a combination of the body’s withdrawal effects (usually from caffeine but also alcohol if this features highly in your diet) and from the liver releasing stored-up toxins into the blood stream that it hasn’t been able to cope with. If you do get these symptoms they only last for a day or two, so try to avoid over the counter medications as this defeats the purpose. However, if you’re detoxing from excessive alcohol or drugs, please seek the help of a professional first.

In Patrick Holford’s book The Holford 9-Day Liver Detox he suggests five habits to make and five habits to break.

Five things to EXCLUDE:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar

Five things to INCLUDE:

  • Eight large glasses of water per day
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower)
  • Sulphur-rich foods (red onions, garlic, eggs)
  • Nuts and seeds every day
  • Orange and red coloured foods

If this kind of detox feels too extreme for you then just consider what you can remove and what can you include in your diet each day, as being conscious of what and how you are eating is the first step. If you’re unsure about anything, seek the support of a qualified nutritional therapist who can also suggest nutritional supplements to aid the process. Liver functions tests are available through your GP or you can buy home pin prick blood kits.

The Healthy Holiday Company offers week-long detox holidays called in:spa. A chef and nutritionist prepares the food, and they offer yoga, exercise and massage, so if you don’t think you can avoid the temptations at home then this could be a good way to get started.

Wishing you good health.