A new season or the beginning of a year usually marks the beginning of the “detox craze.” With each corner you turn, there are promotions and advertisements for you to “finally lose that last 10lbs” or to “detox to feel the best you ever have.” What these promotional messages fail to point out is that our organs are constantly detoxing and eliminating waste from metabolic by-products and toxins from our body for us. How else would we have survived all these years without having done a juice cleanse, if we didn’t have these detoxifying machines implemented within us already?
With that said, “detox” strategies still have their place, but on a daily basis, not just a week before you hop on a plane to Mexico. Our bodies are exposed and bombarded by thousands of toxins today, from pollution, heavy metals, pesticides, fragrances (yes, perfume!), house hold cleaners and beyond. This can explain the vast number of issues we’re seeing today related to hormonal imbalances, infertility, obesity and chronic illness. Given the widespread nature of these toxins, it’s not always possible (or realistic) to avoid all of them, unless you enjoy living in a bubble, but that probably comes with it’s fair share of toxic chemicals too! When it’s not always possible to avoid them altogether, our next best option is to reduce our exposure to them as much as possible to keep our toxic load at a minimum.
What is a “Toxin”?
Before looking at the Toxic Load, let’s understand what is actually classified as a toxin, aside from a word that is thrown around loosely to make us feel like we’re loaded with a bunch of gunk (which for some, may be somewhat true). Toxins can be either exogenous or endogenous; exogenous toxins come from external sources, including environmental by-products, heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, fragrances, cleansers, plastics, MSG, aspartame and house hold cleaners, whereas endogenous toxins are produced within us as a result of metabolic activities, such as carbon dioxide, lactic acid, urea, poor gut bacteria and intestinal yeast, in the event that dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora) is present. The more we are exposed to both of these types of toxins, the more we increase our toxic load, which indicates the burden that is put on our body as a result of accumulating toxins.
Thanks to our trusty ‘ol detoxifying organs, we’re able to eliminate these toxins through various channels of elimination, including our colon, lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, lymphatic system and skin. But what happens when our body is too overloaded with these exogenous and endogenous toxins and our elimination pathways start to get backed up? We start seeing the frequent migraines and headaches, skin reactions, brain fog, fatigue, drowsiness, stubborn weight gain, constipation and sleep issues. Can you relate to any of these symptoms? You might want to continue reading!
What is the Toxic Load/Barrel Effect?
This “toxic load” has also been commonly referred to as “The Barrel Effect,” which was a concept that really resonated with me when I learnt it in nutrition school. The Barrel Effect refers to the total load of past and present physical, chemical and biological contaminants in food, air, water, as well as the emotional state of the individual (yup, those negative affirmations or lies you’re constantly telling yourself transform into beliefs which can show up physiologically throughout your body in the form of illness and disease). It also refers to the accumulated effect of genetic, dietary, emotional/psychological and environmental factors on one’s health. In other words, think of your body and all it encompasses as the barrel. The more full our Barrel is, the more toxic and vulnerable to illness our body becomes. The more empty our barrel is (of toxic contributors), the less symptoms we see and the more equipped we are to combat potential illnesses and diseases. Remember also that genetic predispositions (ex: an illness, disease etc) can start to fill up your barrel even before any exposure to toxic sources, making it even more essential for those with genetic predispositions to keep their toxic load low.
How Can I Keep My Toxic Load/Barrel Empty?
The best way of approaching this is by recognizing what fills up your toxic load and reducing (or eliminating) your exposure to the sources. The following list is a great place to start:
1. Household cleaners
2. Cosmetics (skin, hair and beauty care)
3. Health – Infection, Disease
4. Physical – Age, Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Emotional Distress
5. Habits – Cigarettes, Alcohol, Drugs
6. Outdoor Pollution – Exhaust, Smog
7. Indoor Pollution – Dust, Mold, Gas Stove
8. Food Allergies – Food Intolerances and Sensitivities
9. What You Eat – Processed Foods, Sugar, GMO Foods, Pesticides, Herbicides, Insecticides
10. Where You Work – Toxins, Pollution, Exhaust
11. Where You Live – City, Country, Suburbs
You might be surprised to find things like cosmetics or household cleaners on this list. But remember, toxins can invade our body through inhalation (via the lungs), ingestion (via the digestive system) and absorption (via the skin), so we want to be extra careful about what we’re exposing ourselves to.
As I mentioned previously, the goal isn’t to hide out from the world to avoid all of these exposures, but to reduce our exposure as much as possible – it might mean paying closer to the ingredient list on products, switching out the contents of your entire make-up bag for natural toxic-free alternatives, or practicing detox strategies (dry brushing, deep breathing or rebounding). But it doesn’t mean we have to do a juice cleanse (you can still drink healing juices on the regular, though!) or a fancy detox just to feel better for 21 days. By aiming to keep your toxic load on the daily, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of vitality that no pricey quick-fix could provide!
What are some of your favourite detox strategies? How have you made changes in your life to reduce your toxic load?