In Part IV, I’m going to outline a basic functional medicine detox program that can be followed for either six or ten weeks depending on your needs. This detox plan focuses on providing nutrients to the liver and cleaning the body, explaining the basic nutrients needed to cleanse and detox the body. As always, any program should be reviewed with your personal, licensed healthcare provider. This article is meant as a guide and is not intended to replace an evaluation by your personal, licensed practitioner. Working with a skilled practitioner can help you to decide how to personalize this program.
At her three months follow up, I could already see a marked improvement in Mary’s appearance, mood, and energy levels. Like 60% of my patients, a simple nutritional support, lifestyle modification and detox program had resulted in huge gains. Mary was not yet “100%,” but I could tell from her response to the initial protocol that we were on the right track.
Below you will find the timeline for the detox, as said previously, the detox plan can be followed for either six or ten weeks.
A 6–10 Week Detox Plan
Of my patients, a good majority respond to just this basic regimen. Our bodies were designed to self-heal and when given the right nutrients, hydration and environment, many will improve. I don’t want to minimize this step. As you have seen from Parts I & II, toxins are all around us and removing them will be no small feat. Yet, this is the step that will help you maintain any gains from this program as well as prepare you for any advanced detoxification that may be needed.
During the following basic detox, you will be surprised how you feel. You may feel light-headed, tired, have food cravings, feel cranky, a little confused and potentially have an upset stomach and bad breath. A lot is going on. You are already doing the following:
- Withdrawing from foods and substances like meat, salt, sugar, gluten, dairy to which you are habituated or addicted
- Changing the balance of bacteria in your gut, meaning some bad bacteria are dying and releasing their toxins
- Releasing toxins from your cells
- Reestablishing healthier physiology
The average American eats 1,996 lbs. of food in a year (or over 150,000 lbs. in a lifetime). As you can see a small exposure in the 4 lbs. we eat daily can add up over time. This is where clean eating or eating ‘organic’ comes into play. A great way to eat clean and fresh foods is by purchasing foods through a local Community Supported Agriculture group (CSA). In my area it is called Fall Line Farms. Some will prefer to start a little garden in your back yard. Others (due to time constraints) will only be able to eat food purchased from their local grocery store. However you proceed, you should be consistent and intentional in your food choices. The Environmental Working Group has a “Clean Fifteen Dirty Dozen” link and app that can help you save some money and guide you as to which foods must be organic and which you can ‘cheat’ on.
The Institute for Functional Medicine has put together an excellent resource for starting a detoxification food program. Please review the entire Comprehensive Guide, prior to starting the Food Plan. The Food Plan is a seven-day meal planning guide meant to be a starting point for food planning. It is only a guide, so use it as such. As you expand your palate and food preferences, you will expand on the food plan, but be sure to maintain the concepts that you learned in the Comprehensive Guide.
Our drinking water is an often-overlooked source for chemicals and toxin exposures. By now most have heard of Flint, Michigan, where over 100,000 residents were exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water. We take for granted that our drinking water is 100% safe. But is it? The Environmental Working Group has a resource to test the quality of your local drinking water. In the county where I work, there are 8 contaminants over the EPA allowable level that are associated with an increased risk for cancer and thyroid issues. Even bottled water is a source for toxin exposure. A recent article in Business Insider outlines the exposure to microscopic plastic particles in bottled water and its’ potential effects on our health. So, what can we do about that?
The first thing is to get a reliable source for filtered drinking water. This may require water testing to determine your potential exposure or just buying a high quality water filtration system for your drinking water at home, like the British Berkefeld (Berkey). I personally have a whole house water filtration system that removes chlorine from my water including in the showers, then I use the Berkey for our drinking water. It can get complicated, for those wanting to simplify things, you can get a whole house system installed from your local Lowe’s.
Currently reverse osmosis filters are all the rage. In my mind the jury is still out. These filters remove everything from your water—even trace minerals necessary for your health. A few are replaced but the majority are ignored. Science is beginning to show that these ultra-trace minerals (as I like to call them) serve an important purpose. For this reason, I currently am withholding a recommendation for this technology.
The next thing is to stop drinking out of plastic cups, which leach out plasticizers, and start using glass, ceramic or stainless steel to drink out of and store your water. I use a ½ gallon Mason Jar to take my water to work and then drink out of a stainless-steel water bottle.
For those still not convinced our drinking water is in a state of public emergency, read this article by the Environmental Working Group on the State of American Drinking Water.
It’s hard to believe air quality is still a big issue in our country. You would think with the Clean Air Act, and with the EPA regulating emissions, our air would be 100% safe. But we are learning that in our era of air-tight buildings and new building materials, a new condition called Sick Building Syndrome has reared it ugly head. This NIH article outlines the proposed causes of this, but the summary is that we need our breathing air kept clean. The simplest way to do this is to put a high quality 3M type filter on your HVAC system. For many this will be enough, but for some with significant health issues (i.e. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia, Chronic/Post Lyme Syndrome, CIRS), a more complete approach will be needed.
Indoor carpets are a huge source for dust mites, mold, VOCs, and microparticulate materials. If possible, you should consider minimizing or removing these. Most will simply replace the carpet as needed over time but for those who are sick, a purge of all the carpeting in your house may be necessary. The most important room in the house to address is your bedroom, where you spend 1/3 of each day.
In addition to the above, those with significant health issues should have a bedroom ionized HEPA filter. Examples include: IQAir and Molekule. These systems are designed to remove VOCs as well and bacterial and fungal nanoparticles in you sleeping area. For those who want to be more thorough, a whole house electrostatic filter with an air scrubber is the optimal way to remove the maximal amount of VOCs, mVOCs and airborne particulate matter throughout your whole house.
This topic is a bit ‘crunchy’ or ‘woowy’ for me, but an important one nonetheless. We all have people in our lives that are a bit—how shall we say it … Toxic! When we see a text or Facebook post from them or see them out in public, we get a pit in our stomach and want to go and hide. That feeling you get is called a fight or flight response. It’s your sympathetic nervous system arousing you to a potential threat that you may need to flee from. The issue is that most of our bodies’ detoxification occurs in a parasympathetic state, or digest and rest state. So literally those toxic individuals are affecting our central nervous system and that limits our bodies’ ability to remove toxins. This is not a mind-body medicine post, so I’ll keep this short. But you get the point: remove all the toxins you can from your environment—even toxic people.
Sweating was discussed in Part III and the details on what sweating gets out of the body were detailed there. 100 years ago we all sweat—especially in the summertime. Now I see people who have literally not sweated in years. A basic protocol would be to do something to sweat at least three times a week, preferable five times. This could be yard work, going to the gym or using the gym sauna. The concept to keep in mind is that you want to sweat enough so that you have a sweaty, oily water layer on your body.
Other options for sweating include the use of a FAR-IR sauna. Use of a Far IR sauna is a great way to detox and has multiple studies reviewing its effects. Be sure to discuss this with your health care provider to make sure it is the right choice for you. There are a few, though significant risks, to the use of FAR-IR saunas. With FAR-IR saunas you can use them from once to five times a week for 60 days. Again be sure to have basic labs done by your provider to make sure your blood mineral levels are adequate so that you can tolerate this therapy.
After two weeks of the basic detox you should have worked through any major ‘detox’ reactions or food withdrawals and should already notice a few improvements in your basic health. Some won’t need to go any further and will should stick with the basic detox for another 4–6 weeks. Others will need to move on to a more focused detox in addition to the above—for a period of about 4 weeks.
A quick note on detox nutrition supplements. Supplement quality varies like food quality. There are pharmaceutical grade supplements, medical grade, nutritional grade and veterinarian grade ones. You want the best, cleanest, most effective ones for your body. I have provided a resource from Full Scripts where you can get trusted supplements, and I make specific recommendations below. If you’d like to learn more about supplement quality and concerns, read this resource that I’ve provided on my website. No matter where you purchase your supplements, make sure you research the source. The supplement market is not regulated and it is up to the consumer to ensure their quality and purity.
Microbiome Reset (2 weeks)
The berberine and garlic extracts are natural antimicrobials that will help further decrease the load of unhealthy bacteria and yeast from your Gi tract. If you have a reaction, stop the supplement and then reintroduce but do so more slowly.
- Berberine Complex (Integrative Therapeutics).
Start with one capsule daily with a meal. If tolerated, increase to twice daily (with meals).
- Garlic Extract (Allicillin by Designs for Health)
Start with one capsule daily with a meal. If tolerated, increase to twice daily (with meals).
2 grams twice to three times daily. Use something like India Organic’s Psyllium, PGX Granules (by Bioclinical Naturals), or G.I. Fortify (by Pure Encapsulations). Start this once daily and then slowly—as tolerated—work up to three times daily. Continue the fiber after finishing the two weeks of antimicrobial herbs. Ideally, you would eat 50–80grams of fiber daily in your diet. If you are not getting that much, stay on this supplement.
Repair the Gut (2 weeks)
This is an abbreviated Gi protocol meant to help heal the lining of your gastrointestinal tract and repair any areas of the mucosal membrane that may have broken down due to ingested toxins. Begin this part on week three and continue it for two weeks, after completing the two weeks of Step 2.1 of antimicrobial herbs. Continue the fiber as instructed.
- Thera-biotic Detox Support (Klaire Labs)
Start one capsule daily and work up to 3× daily for two weeks, then back to twice daily.
- GI Benefits (DaVinci Labs)
One scoop twice daily. This contains a mixture of supplements to heal the Gi Tract lining and assist in gut repair.
At this point—after a total of six weeks on the detox diet, two weeks of the microbiome reset and two weeks of a basic gut repair program—you will be ready to move on to a more advanced program. Once again, some will not feel a need to continue because they are already feeling so well. Others will want to build on the gains they have made. Working with a skilled practitioner will help you to decide how to personalize this program.a
My Detox Smoothie
- 6–8 oz of kombucha (or 8oz filtered water with 2 TBSP of lemon juice)
- 4–5 cups of fresh greens or detox mix (usually kale, chard, arugula, spinach mix)
- 1 tsp of match powder (green tea powder)
- 1 apple or 1 kiwi or frozen berries to sweeten
- 1 piece of celery with some parsley
- 2 TBSP of unground flax seeds (can use 1 TBSP to reduce texture and thickness, but 2 TBSP is ideal dose)
- 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil (some can add 2–4 oz of coconut milk as well)
- 2 scoops of cold processed whey protein like Whey Cool (by Designs for Health). For extra protein, add in 1–2 scoops of hydrolyzed collagen protein. If unable to tolerate whey you can use a pea/rice protein mix like Metabolic Detox Complete (by Metabolic Maintenance).
The next step in our program will be a two-week liver detox during weeks 6–8. This will build on the gains from the above. Below are a few food ideas you may be doing already. If not, consider adding these for the next two weeks. The goal is to transition to a food-based detoxification and treatment.
Foods to be sure you are consuming
- Daily greens
One generous handful of greens per day, such as spinach, chard, kale, dandelion greens. In addition—or as a substitute—you can do a green smoothie. Beside is a sample recipe.
- Daily cooked cruciferous vegetables
(cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus)
- Two eggs, daily
Eggs are high in choline and cysteine (important detox nutrients).
- One organic apple, daily
- One serving every other day of avocado or walnuts
(high in glutathione)
- One cup cooked lentils, 4× per week
Ideally sprouted lentils (these are high in fiber to bind toxins, and in sulfur needed for liver detox support)
- 3oz of SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, halibut), 4× per week
- Sunflower seeds sprinkled on salads and vegetables
(high in cysteine)
Continue daily fiber supplement and Probiotic
Phosphatidyl Choline (Designs for Health) — 1 tbsp, twice daily
EPA/DHA Liquid (Pure Encapsulations) — 1 tbsp, daily
Detox Formula (Vital Nutrients) — 2 capsules 3× daily
B Complex Plus (Pure Encapsulations) — 1 capsule, daily
DFH Complete Multi (Designs for Health) — 3 capsules, twice daily
Liposomal Vitamin C (Designs for Health) — 1000mg, twice daily
C3 Curcumin Complex (Designs for Health) — 400mg twice daily
During weeks nine and ten we will be focusing on kidney support. The focus will be on foods that support your kidneys as well as supplements that can assist in this process.
Foods to eat
- Avoid meat and animal protein for the two weeks—including milk and dairy. Fish is fine.
- 3 oz of seeds & nuts, daily (e.g. almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews)
- Continue the green leafy vegetables/smoothie from above
- Citrus fruit, daily (the easiest was to do this is by using 2 tbsp of lemon/lime juice concentrate)
- 8 oz of beet juice, daily
- Ginger juice, daily (or throw the ginger into your smoothie)
- One cup blueberries, daily
- Be sure to drink at least 3 quarts of clean filtered water (not bottled)
Supplements to take
Continue the multivitamin, probiotics, B Complex, Curcumin, Vitamin C, Fiber, EPA/DHA, and add the following:
Goldenrod (Herb Pharm) — one dropper, 4× daily
N Acetyl Cysteine (Designs for Health) — 900mg, twice daily
Magnesium Citrate (Pure Encapsulations) — two 150mg capsules, twice daily
Congratulations, you’ve finished a ten-week detox! So now what?
That depends on how you feel. If you’re feeling great, then following the principles below will suffice. If not, you should seek out a functional medicine practitioner to help you dive deeper into what else could be going on in your body. You can start your search at the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Practitioner Search.
For basic maintenance, follow the principles from Step I above. Also, these days it seems everyone needs some sort of basic supplement support. This would include: a good multivitamin, B Complex, Vitamin D, Fiber, probiotics, fish oil (EPA/DHA).
Due to the world we all live in, you will ‘retox’ over time. A standard suggestion is to repeat steps 2–3 twice a year. In addition, intermittent fasting will help keep your detoxification organs running smoothly, this entails leaving a 12-hour break of no eating between dinner and breakfast the following day (e.g. eat dinner at 6pm and don’t have any food until after 6am the following morning) at least 5 days per week.
Hopefully this series has been helpful. For more information on Functional Medicine topics, please feel free to check out my other blog posts.
Yours in Health!
Aaron Hartman MD