What is Detox Really?

Detox powders, products, protocols, and programs are everywhere these days, from raw food and vegan diets to foot baths and body wraps. But do they really work? And what is detox anyway?

Detoxification is often synonymous with a "cleanse" or "cleansing" and it means different things to different people. The United States National Library of Medicine defines detoxification as the removal of harmful substances from the body and I agree.

It's a good goal because more than 400 chemicals from the environment have been found in human blood and fat tissue, according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition. And environmental toxins have been linked to some of the deadliest and most debilitating diseases including
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Infertility
  • Endometriosis
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune disease

Unfortunately, removing environmental toxins that have been stored inside our bodies is not as easy as it sounds.

Most environmental toxins are fat-soluble and they're stored inside our fat cells. The only way to get them out is to burn fat for energy, because when fat cells release fatty acids into the blood stream, they release stored toxins as well.

Once toxins begin to circulate throughout the body, they can cause more harm than good if the liver isn't efficient at changing them into excretable water-soluble compounds and if our bodies aren't efficient at eliminating them through the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.

Detoxification can only happen when the body is burning fat for energy, and our bodies only burn fat instead of sugar when insulin levels are low and sugar isn't widely available. When insulin levels are high, the body will always store fat and toxins, never release them.

Low blood sugar and low insulin levels can be achieved by eating a diet low in sweets, starches, and other easily digestible carbohydrates (or through supervised calorie restriction). But most popular "detox" protocols offer or allow foods, drinks, and/or supplements that can raise blood sugar levels, including
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Dried fruit and fruit preserves
  • Root vegetables like potatoes and carrots
  • Winter squashes
  • Grains including whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal, and processed grains like flour (bread, baked goods, cereal, pasta) even if they're gluten-free
  • Natural sweeteners
  • Artificial sweeteners (they may not raise blood sugar but they do raise insulin levels)
These foods can actually have the opposite effect of detoxification because they cause the body to store toxins, not release them. For real detoxification to take place, blood sugar and insulin levels must be low. Other things must happen too.

A good detoxification program should accomplish four goals:
  1. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins in food, water, and your home environment
  2. Release toxins that your body has stored back into blood circulation
  3. Up-regulate enzymatic pathways in your liver that break down circulating toxins, making them easier to excrete
  4. Increase excretion of detoxified compounds through all routes of elimination

So simply eating raw food, adopting a vegan diet, soaking your feet, or nourishing your skin is not detoxification. These things may be good for us and may help to minimize our exposure to toxins, but they don't necessarily detoxify our bodies.

Also, it's important to realize that detox isn't right for everyone and one program doesn't fit all people. If you're interested in detoxification, ask your naturopathic doctor to design a program tailored to your unique needs and goals.


Cancer Prevention Coalition. Carcinogens at Home. Available at http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/household/carcinogens_home.htm

Chevrier J et al. Body weight loss increases plasma and adipose tissue concentrations of potentially toxic pollutants in obese individuals. International Journal of Obesity-Related Metabolic Disorders. 2000 Oct; 24(10):1272-8.

Liang Y et al. The effect of artificial sweetener on insulin secretion. 1. The effect of acesulfame K on insulin secretion in the rat (studies in vivo). Hormone and Metabolic Research. 1987 Jun; 19(6):233-8.

Müllerová D and Kopecký J. White adipose tissue: storage and effector site for environmental pollutants. Physiological Research. 2007; 56(4):375-81.

Four Ways to Celebrate Earth Day


In celebration of Earth Day, these simple steps will improve your health and help the environment at the same time. 

#1 | Get the plastic out
Re-purpose plastic food storage containers to hold things you don't plan to eat and replace them with glass containers. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastics can mimic or block natural hormones made by the body and have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems like early puberty, infertility and cancer. Evidence is mounting that these chemicals also interfere with neurological and immune systems and contribute to thyroid disorders, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Because most of these toxins are fat-soluble, they are stored in tissues, rather than excreted. They can accumulate in the body and be transferred from mother to child through the placenta and breast milk. When these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are released into the environment, they can have similar negative effects on wildlife.

#2 | Clean out your cleaning products
Replace toxic household cleaning products with non-toxic alternatives.

#3 | Compost
Composting not only reduces waste, it also saves greenhouse gas emissions from refuse transport and provides nutrient-rich plant food for gardens, yards and parks. Even apartment dwellers can compost.

#4 | Add indoor plants
Plants can help detoxify the air. These indoor species have been shown to remove harmful chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and/or toluene:
  • Moth orchid (Phalenopsis sp.)
  • Dendrobium orchid (Dendrobium sp.)
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa')
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
  • Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata "Bostoniensis")
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
  • Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckii')
  • Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  • Bamboo palm or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii')

DIY Herb Garden In Your Window

Spring is the perfect time to plant an herb garden in your window. Not only will it mean that you'll always have fresh herbs available, but you'll never have to worry about them spoiling like cut herbs can. Just snip off whatever you need whenever you need it.

In my window garden, I planted the herbs I use most in the kitchen: thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, and majoram. If you like mint, always plant it alone, in its own container. Mint prefers shadier conditions than other herbs and can quickly crowd out other plants.

Because different plants have different requirements for sunshine and water, consider these factors as you pick out your herbs, especially if you'll be putting them in the same pot. If you need help, ask the seller which plants grow well together, how much sun they will need, and how often to water them so you can be sure to select what will grow best for you.

Most herbs are best bought as "starts" (small plants that someone else started for you) because they can be difficult to germinate or because they need to be germinated in the fall for a summer harvest. In New York City, find herb starts at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Plan to plant your herb starts inside a terra cotta or ceramic container. Be sure to use one large enough and deep enough to fit the plants comfortably without over-crowding, at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Planting containers should have drainage holes and bottom trays to catch excess water.

To make your own window garden at home, first assemble your materials:
  • Herb starts
  • Planting container
  • Organic potting soil
  • Natural drainage materials like rocks, sea shells, egg shells, and broken terra cotta or ceramic pottery

 Then follow these simple steps:
  1. Place the drainage materials inside the container.
  2. Scatter a thin layer of organic potting soil over the drainage materials. 
  3. Remove the starts from the plastic pots they came in and transfer them along with their soil to the container.
  4. Fill in the gaps between plants with organic potting soil. Press it down gently but firmly.
  5. Water the container thoroughly, until water starts to drain out the bottom. Allow it to drain completely. (I allow it to drain in the sink before I place it on the bottom tray. If you drain yours on the tray, empty the water.)
  6. Place your herb garden where it will get direct sunlight every day.
  7. Keep the soil moist (not wet) by watering it regularly. Never allow the roots to sit in water. (I make an exception for times when I'll be away and unable to water them on time. In this case only, too much water may be better than too little.) 

Spring Flowers

Make time this spring to get outside and get active doing something that you love. I love walking through the Conservatory Garden in Central Park.

“People from a planet without flowers 
would think we must be mad with joy the whole time 
to have such things about us.”   
Iris Murdock

Mystery Meats

When it comes to buying healthy food, the most common questions I get from my patients concern meat labels. I agree that they can be mysterious and even misleading, so let me help clear things up.


"Grass-fed meat" means exactly that: meat from animals that ate grass. It applies to ruminant animals like cows, buffalo, goats, and sheep. According to the USDA:

"Grass and/or forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage and animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season." 


"Pastured" or "pasture-raised" meats come from animals that foraged for their food but ate more than grass and green plants. It applies to animals that eat both plant and animal matter, omnivores like chickens and pigs.

"Pasture-raised" doesn't have a legal definition but when you buy these products at the farmer's market from the people who raised the animals, they're usually happy to tell you how they did it.


Labels that read "vegetarian-fed" assure consumers that the animals were not fed other animals.

"Vegetarian-fed" meats and eggs come from grain-fed animals. (If they'd had the chance to snack on bugs and worms, they wouldn't be vegetarian.) Remember that certain animals, like chickens and pigs, are not supposed to be vegetarian. 

"Free Range"

Labels that read "free range" or "free roaming" only mean that animals had access to the outside. It doesn't mean that they were frolicking on a farm, foraging for their food, or that they ever ate green-leafy plants.  These animals usually eat grain.


"Grain finished" meat comes from animals raised on grass but fattened with grain. 


The next best thing to grass-fed or pasture-raised animals products are those high in omega-3 fats. Studies show that giving animals fish or algae extracts, which are high in omegs-3s, significantly enriches the concentration of DHA in their meat and eggs. A French study found increases that were two-fold in beef, six-fold in eggs, seven-fold in chicken, and twenty-fold in salmon (Bourre 2005). 


The label "organic" means that the meat was produced without exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, synthetic fertilizer, genetically engineered ingredients, or irradiation.

Organic meats and eggs come from animals fed organic grains. While organic grains are better than pesticide-treated grains, but the bottom line is that they're still grains. Organic meat is a step up from non-organic meat, but it's not as good as grass-fed meat. 


The label "natural" gives no information about the diet of the animal at all. It just means that the meat doesn't contain any artificial ingredients like colors, flavors, or preservatives. The US Department of Agriculture considers all fresh meat to be "natural."