In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 3.8 billion pounds of chemical waste were released into the air and water (2). This leads us to ask the critical question of how these toxicants, the technical term for toxic man-made substances, affect our bodies. Exposure to these compounds is a pressing issue as they have been linked to systemic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic and degenerative diseases (3-5). Sadly, toxicants may influence us more as we age due to decreased metabolic function (6).
To address this issue, detoxification programs have become increasingly popular; the question is whether there is any evidence behind detoxing for your health and, if so, which foods are best to ensure you are getting the greatest benefit.
Before we go further, we must acknowledge that detoxification is a somewhat controversial topic. Some medical professionals believe there is no need to use foods, supplements, herbs, and lifestyle changes to help us remove toxins from the body. Other clinicians actively promote “biotransformation,” the medical term for detoxification (1). They believe this process can be targeted and enhanced in order to facilitate the excretion of both exogenous and endogenous substances that can potentially harm our health.
Whether your stance is highly skeptical or detox-friendly, a whole food diet is an excellent way to increase the cofactors that support biotransformation. It makes sense to support the body with the abundant nutrients contained in colorful, nourishing foods. Protein, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients, the unique plant compounds that give vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes their vivid color, all support our ability to transform and release toxicants.
Are there special considerations for people over 50 who are interested in a period of focused detoxification?
Yes, absolutely. To make the most of any cleanse, we need specific macronutrients, micronutrients, extra hydration, and plenty of rest.
But it’s especially important for us to increase our protein intake and hydration status as we age. While it’s often repeated that Americans overeat protein, it’s simply a common phrase, not an accurate one. Most people need to increase healthy forms of protein. And they especially need to focus on this macronutrient if they want to crank up their ability to detoxify.
Proteins create the primary enzymes called CYPs (pronounced “sips”) that are the main “detoxifiers” of the body. Proteins also fuel reactions that help us effectively shuttle toxicants out of the body after they’ve been readied for removal.
Increasing our daily intake of water is a bit more intuitive. We need to make sure that our kidneys remain healthy and functioning properly to eliminate toxins. But water also helps our gallbladder and colon complete their respective jobs—both organs are big contributors to getting rid of toxicants (7).
Best Micronutrients for Detoxification
Riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and B12 are detox-specific micronutrients to include on your plate. Thankfully, these B-vitamins are readily available in many delicious and easy to find foods, including:
- beet greens
- sweet potato
- pinto beans
- garbanzo beans
Along with these B vitamins, make sure you’re eating enough iron-rich foods, such as pasture-raised red meat, blackstrap molasses, lentils, and liver. Pro-tip: consuming foods high in vitamin C with meals will increase your ability to absorb iron.
Other Detox-Specific Compounds
Two more compounds that help us optimize detoxification are phospholipids and flavonoids (8, 9). You can find phospholipids in eggs (especially the yolks!), organ meats, fish, and shellfish, as well as sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and wheat germ. Flavonoids can be found in many colorful fruits and vegetables, with tea, berries, citrus fruits, and dark chocolate topping the list of best sources.
What Is Right for You?
Ultimately, the question of whether to detox or not comes down to what works best for your unique body. Remember that the foundations of vitality and health—fresh foods, rest, joy, and contentment—create a daily “detox” due to the nutrients and state of mind they provide.
Start to incorporate some of the listed foods in your weekly meal planning. These nutrients will give you the confidence of knowing you are addressing the toxic burden in your body while also making progress toward taming the symptoms of chronic inflammation that contribute to so many health issues for the over 50 crowd.