Detox: what is it and how does it work? And does it matter?

By Lisa Brant | 31st July 2015
A couple smile as they prepare food in a kitchen

Detox. It’s a word used by many people but what does it actually mean? Read on to find out more about detoxing – where toxins come from and learn to identify the signs from your body that you need a detox. We also investigate how the body works to detox (and cleanse) and look at what we do here at La Crisalida so you can learn how to detox at home.

What is “detox”?

According to the internet, the definition of “detox” is “cleaning the blood”, ie removing toxins and/or unhealthy substances from the blood that circulates around our body. It normally takes place over a certain amount of time. Here at La Crisalida, we take a holistic view to detox, not just cleansing the blood, but including our whole body, mind and spirit in the process. We think about detox as simply letting go – giving the body optimum foods to enable it to let go of things that are no longer wanted or needed.

What do we mean by “toxins” and where do they come from?

Before we go any further, let’s look at what we mean by toxins and how they might get into the body. A toxin is something that negatively affects body function and messes up normal physiology.

Toxins come into the body through the things that we eat, breathe, drink and come into contact with. Some are a result of natural processes (endotoxins)– for example when we breathe our body takes in oxygen and the lungs gently release one of the by-products, namely carbon dioxide. Urea is produced by the body and needs to be eliminated otherwise you can develop gout and heart disease. Other toxins are introduced from the outside (exotoxins) when we consume processed foods, fast food, non-organic fruit and veg (pesticides, chemical fertilisers), farmed meat and fish (i.e. not free-range – antibiotics etc), alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes or cigars (nicotine plus other chemicals) and tap water. Medicinal drugs, perfume, cleaning and washing products and environmental pollution also contribute to a toxic body. (Click here for our article “detoxing for everyday life”)

Signs and symptoms that you need a detox

If you experience some or all of the following, your body may be crying out for a detox:

  • Frequent sluggishness or tiredness
  • Headaches or unclear thinking
  • Slow and infrequent bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Bags under the eyes or puffy eyes
  • Irritated skin
  • Frequent low grade infections or generally feeling unwell
  • Women: Menstrual problems
Natural body methods for detox

Our body is amazing and it works naturally, all of the time, to create vitality and well-being by removing or neutralising unhealthy substances from our blood and our body. Many of our organs have specific roles in this natural process including the liver, which is the main organ for cleaning the blood, as it detoxifies chemicals and filters out toxins. The kidneys filter out the waste products from the blood before turning it into urine to be released from the body. The intestines (large and small) eliminate toxins by turning waste into faecal matter. Indeed, we should experience bowel movements after each meal if our bodies are functioning optimally. The skin is our first barrier in preventing toxins to enter our body and it is also where waste can be released from our bodies back out into the environment (sweat). When we exhale, the lungs get rid of waste products. The lymph system also deals with getting rid of toxins, as well as carrying away fluids from tissues, and carrying white blood cells that combat bacteria, viruses and other nasties that our body wants to get rid of.

Why do we need to detox?

The things that we eat, breathe, drink and come into contact with, can include substances that are toxic to the body, which, over a period of time, can build up and put pressure on the organs and natural bodily processes involved in keeping our body in tiptop health. Combine this with the way we live in the modern world, in particular high stress, always moving and “doing”, means our bodies find it hard to keep up with this natural detox process.

Each of our body processes take energy and the body is constantly prioritising which processes require energy at that moment. If there is insufficient energy for all processes, then some, like brain function, are prioritised and others are “switched off” for a while, this includes our natural detox process. Digesting a big meal takes priority over our detox processes. Once digestion is completed, the detox process is triggered so that toxins are released into the system for elimination.

The idea is that by detoxing for a period of time (3 days, or a week), we stop adding new toxins into the body, allowing our natural bodily processes and organs to recover, catch up with themselves and to get rid of those toxic substances. So in effect we are cleaning ourselves from the inside, allowing our whole body and mind to be reset to health and natural balance. By adding extra vitamins and minerals at the same time, we can provide additional support for our body through essential nutrients, to help it cleanse and rebalance more effectively.

One added benefit of a detox is that it also helps to reset our palate – so we are less likely to want to eat salt, crisps, fatty foods etc. This is great news in the long term for people wanting to make long-lasting changes in their eating habits.

How do I detox?

There are lots of options for “detoxing” – ranging from water fasts, to juice fasts to only eating fruit (excluding whole food groups)

At La Crisalida, we offer guests the option to juice, using fresh vegetables and fruits – anywhere from one meal to your whole stay, although we suggest starting with three days. So, for three days our guests consume only freshly prepared vegetable and fruit juices, which flush their bodies with easily digestible nutrients (vitamins and minerals). Juicing means that the vitamins, minerals and food enzymes are easily absorbed by the body (reducing the energy needed for digestion). This means that the body has more energy for cleansing (detoxing) itself. Combine this with adequate rest in tranquil surroundings, water, exercise (to keep everything moving) and you have the ideal situation to allow your whole body to cleanse.

We also serve healthy nutritious food, with plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes (beans, lentils), nuts and seeds. This vegan diet is free from meat, dairy, caffeine, processed sugars and added salt – many of the things that bring added stress to the body. It also contains little gluten. This is not a faddy diet, but one that is sustainable for life if care is taken to include a variety of sources to obtain vitamins and minerals that your body needs (maybe with some supplementation for vitamin B12). For many people, coming to the retreat and following this diet, it is the first time (ever or in a while) that they have excluded caffeine or sugar. By eating this way, the body is flooded with nutrients and we stop adding extra toxins to the body. The detox process is slower than juicing, but just as effective.

Common side effects

Unfortunately, changes to what you eat or drink can sometimes have side effects for the first 24-72 hours. This includes:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea (and at extreme vomiting)
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Spots, rashes or breakouts on the skin
  • Tiredness or fatigue

So what is actually happening in our bodies? If the body can not deal with toxins as they are introduced to the body (because maybe there are too many toxins being introduced), they get stored in tissues around the body. During a detox, the toxins can be released from these storage areas, where they are re-circulated into the blood or body for neutralisation (by the liver) and then to be gotten rid of.

Natural remedies for detox side effects

When you experience side effects of a detox we recommend maintaining water intake – so keep drinking room temperature water, maybe with a little lemon juice or slice of lemon in it. This helps keep the kidneys functioning well, to produce urine to get rid of the toxins dealt with by the liver. Deep breathing helps, as does sleep! Saying that it is important to exercise and keep moving – walking, jumping (rebounding), dancing, swimming and yoga are all good for keeping the system (in particular the colon, blood and lymph) moving. (Click here for our blog on natural remedies for headaches and here for yoga poses to relieve headaches).

After your detox

After a few days of your detox, you should have

  • Increased energy
  • Bright eyes
  • Clear skin
  • Clear mind and clear thinking
  • A decrease in symptoms like skin irritations or insomnia (or they may disappear completely)

Overall, you will feel happier and more balanced in your body.

Long term

After a three day juice detox, it is important to re-introduce light cleansing foods, so think about fresh salads or lightly steamed veggies. In the longer term, if you continue to eat La Crisalida style (lots of veggies, wholegrains and nuts and seeds), your whole body will feel healthy from inside, leaving you with strong glossy hair, clear skins and shiny eyes. You will reach your natural body weight, have fewer or no cravings and feel energised. Moods will balance out and your thinking will become clear. Overall, you will feel balanced and healthy.

To your health and well-being.

Headshot of Lisa Brant - Founder of La Crisalida Retreats
Lisa Brant

Lisa has been working in the field of health for over twenty years, first as an epidemiologist and now following a more alternative route! She is a therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa is a nutritionist so designs all our menus, as well as running the retreats. She is also qualified in NLP and hypnosis. Over the years Lisa has overcome her own health challenges with severe endometriosis and is happy to share her story.

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