How To Detox For Better Brain Health
Detoxification is a real buzzword these days, immediately catching our attention when we see it, read it, or hear about it. Especially as we're recovering from the holidays, people are more interested in detoxes and liver cleanses right now than at any other time of the year. But what is detoxification, really? And how is our brain involved?
Physiologically, detoxification is an essential cellular function. When the body detoxifies, it packages debris in the form of foods and toxins so that it can be easily excreted from the body. We eliminate this debris through various mechanisms such as our gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary tract, respiratory tract, and our sweat glands, and it requires the recruitment of multiple organs such as the liver, lungs, gallbladder, skin, kidneys, and yes, the brain.
Why organs like your brain suffer most from toxins.
Not to get too science-y on you, but our body's detox pathways also require a variety of nutrients that act as cofactors for the enzymes involved in this multistep process. These steps include activation, oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis, conjugation, methylation, and recirculation. Because it's so complex, detox requires significant amounts of the body's energy supply.
When our body is assaulted by the exposure to pro-inflammatory foods, alcohol, tobacco, medications, and foreign substances such as drugs, heavy metals, chemicals, persistent organic pollutants, and microorganisms, our natural detoxification systems can be overwhelmed and unhealthy metabolites can accumulate and ultimately trigger mitochondrial dysfunction, metabolic deficiencies, immunotoxicity, and resultant neuroinflammation (also known as inflammation in the brain). As a result, the body's energy is diverted and metabolically active organs such as the brain, the heart, and the muscles start to suffer. It is then we start to feel unwell and experience not only chronic fatigue and weakness but slow processing and cognitive difficulties.
How to detox for better brain health.
So what can you do to start detoxing your brain from the effects of contaminants, toxins, and inflammation? Here are some suggestions:
1. Start with an elimination diet.
A comprehensive elimination diet can provide information on your personal food sensitivities and intolerances. Consuming foods you may be sensitive to can increase inflammation and make it difficult to detoxify as well as to lose weight.
2. Eat a diverse array of fruits and vegetables.
Colors represent different vitamins and nutrients, so include ginger, turmeric, garlic, beets, broccoli seed sprouts, and herbs such as thyme and rosemary in your diet each day. Consume dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables regularly. Other important food groups include nuts, seeds, legumes, and fatty fruits such as avocados and bananas.
3. Include complex forms of carbohydrates.
While it's best to stay away from simple and processed carbs, complex carbohydrates are an important energy source for the brain, as the glucose molecule—broken down from whole grain and starch sources by the intricate mechanisms with our body’s catabolic pathways—is the preferred energy source of the brain and its cells.
4. Incorporate interval eating patterns into your meal plans.
Allowing the body to take a break from digestive duties will help divert energy from the gastrointestinal tract to the organs recruited for detoxification pathways. This can take the form of a simple intermittent fasting plan.
5. Try to minimize exposure to toxins and contaminants as much as possible.
Eat organic when you can to minimize exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and farm chemical residues. Use eco-friendly cosmetics, personal care products, and cleaning agents.
6. Target your supplementation for additional detox capability.
You can do this with supplements like milk thistle for liver support, Coleus forskhii for respiratory support, ubiquinol and NAD+ for mitochondrial support, L-glutamine for gastrointestinal support, and N-acetylcysteine for additional antioxidant support since detoxification results in reactive oxygen species, which are damaging to our cells. For increased brain support, consider the use of plants such as Lion's mane, Boswellia, and Macuna pruriens. For more information on how exactly to use these supplements and in what dosage, speak to an integrative physician, naturopathic doctor, or other supplement-savvy health care practitioner.
7. Daily movement and exercise.
Run, walk, hike, go to a yoga class, dance, and bike. However you can manage, sweat each and every day and it will support your detox pathways and your brain.
8. Deep breathing exercises with episodic rapid breathing.
Did you know that breathing exhales waste by-products? It's true. Rapid breathing (like in this video) also results in alkaline urine, which can help you better excrete other toxin metabolites as well.
9. Maintain good hydration.
Fill up that reusable water bottle at least a few times a day. Proper fluid balance keeps blood and lymph moving through the kidneys and leads to better elimination of toxins through urination.
10. Aim for 20 minutes in nature each day.
Research is clear that immersion in nature improves mental clarity, decreases stress and anxiety, and has beneficial physiological effects such as lowered heart rate and respiratory rate and decreased blood pressure. These improved physiological parameters can only help the body during detoxification. So, go for a hike, walk through the park, or sit in your backyard for a few minutes each day.
11. Sleep at least seven to eight hours each night.
During restorative sleep, the brain is able to repair cellular damage from toxins and other exposures. Make sure you're giving your brain a chance to slow down and repair itself every night by getting enough sleep.
12. Have an infrared sauna session each week.
Infrared saunas create heat from within, much like a fever, so it aids in hastening detoxification via the sweat glands. As an added bonus, they're also incredibly relaxing.
If you detox the brain you detox the body and vice versa. In clearing your brain and improving brain function, do not be surprised if your body feels stronger, more energetic, and more efficient.
It might feel like a lot to do, but I can tell you that I personally do (or have done) all of the above for a healthier brain. I practice what I preach and admit that some days are (much) harder than others. Consistency is key and will get the job done, even if not every day is perfect. Above all, be kind to yourself and take each day as it comes on your path to a healthier brain.
Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified neurologist practicing integrative pediatric and adult neurology in Seattle. She is the owner and founder of the Center for Healing Neurology and is on the faculty of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her holistic approach includes full neurological care with the addition of acupuncture, neurofeedback, and herbal and nutritional guidance. She received her M.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed her neurology training at the University of Washington in Seattle. In addition to becoming a certified medical acupuncturist, she has also completed the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona. Her Ph.D. doctoral dissertation studied the effects of environmental toxins on our nation’s water systems.