What I learned from a 21-day detox

What’s this whole “detox” thing all about?

“Detox” is a word which has been in vogue in the health space for quite some years now. You might have come across extreme diets involving lemon juice and sugar syrup, juice fasts and highly restrictive diets which require calorie counting and significant food restriction. However, many of these fads distract from the true essence of what it means to detoxify our bodies. Here I want to explore the idea of detoxification from a functional medicine perspective and share with you my recent detox experience.

A properly formulated detox plan can result in many health benefits, including:

  • More energy

  • Improved digestion

  • Stabilisation of blood sugar

  • Reduced bloating

  • Better sleep

  • Balanced mood

  • Weight loss

  • Clearer skin

  • Better nutrient absorption

  • Balanced hormones

  • And much more!

The concept of a detox is not new. No matter what ancient form of medicine or ritual you look to, you will likely find a system for detoxifying the body as a way to promote healing and regeneration. From Finnish traditions which centre around dramatic temperature changes - dashing from a steamy sauna into the ice cold snow - to Ayurvedic panchakarma rituals which include dry body brushing, extended water fasting and colonic cleansing. The range is diverse.

What all of these rituals have in common is that they honour the human body’s natural ability to effectively process the toxic accumulation of chemicals. Our toxic load used to be somewhat limited to food and exposure from the natural environment, but these days our modern human bodies must constantly process harmful toxins that we are exposed to through our daily lives. From the brake dust we breathe in as we walk down city streets, the plastic particles we consume in foods and even the chemical constituents of the lotions and personal hygiene products we apply. Our bodies have constant work to do. Alone, these things may not harm us because our body does such a great job at protecting us. But when the load becomes too big, that’s when our body gives us the signs that it’s time to take action.

First the body whispers - skin rashes or irritation, perhaps some discomfort around digestion - and then if we don’t listen, it begins to scream a little louder. Bloating, irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), fatigue and sleep issues, various forms of acne (ever noticed those little red dots on the back of the upper arm or under the chin?), anxiety, brain fog and many other health concerns. The high and increasing incidence of chronic illness, from a functional medicine perspective, is also largely attributed to our body’s inability to deal with all of the incoming stressors - whether it’s the quantity or type of chemicals we are exposed to or how well our bodies can enter the rest and repair state to take care of the regular clean-up from such exposures. The puzzle is often complex, but there is a lot we can do to set ourselves up to enjoy long term health.

Integrative health and “emptying the rain barrel”

I’ve been a big fan of natural approaches to health and well-being for many years. I’ve always felt that our bodies are pretty special and capable of some incredible things… if we give them the right environment in which they can thrive.

When I came across the work of functional medicine practitioner Dr Stephen Cabral back in 2017, I immediately resonated with his approach. He teaches his clients how to “empty the rain barrel”, his catch phrase for understanding the stressors the body is exposed to and reducing them in a holistic and sustainable way. Using his DESTRESS Protocol (which I’ll talk about in later posts), he has been able to lead many people experiencing severe health issues back to optimal health.

The premise of functional medicine is that the body doesn’t get it wrong. Whatever dysfunction is happening within us is simply our body’s way of responding to the stress it is exposed to - whether it emotional stress, toxic load, gastro-intestinal stress or the presence of viruses in the system (think Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, herpes for example). Whatever the source - internal or external - stress affects our body in profound ways.

So where do we begin with reducing the load?

In comes the detox! A kick-start to emptying that rain barrel and reducing the workload of the body so it can become more efficient at processing any toxins or reactants it is exposed to... all through supporting the body’s own (phenomenal) natural processes.

The main organ we focus on during a functional medicine detox is the liver. The liver plays an absolutely vital role in processing all of the toxins which come in contact with our bodies. It receives bi-products from digestion, chemicals filtered from the blood and chemicals stored in the body which are released during the detoxification and weight loss processes. The toxins which come in are generally fat-soluble and therefore difficult for the body to process. The liver turns these into water-soluble substances which can then be safely excreted from the body through our urine, bowels, skin, breath or sweat.

There are two key steps we need to take care of in an effective detox:

  • Minimise additional toxic load coming into the body as much as possible so the backlog in the liver can be reduced

  • Add in the vital micronutrients required to up-regulate the effectiveness of the liver

I’ll spare you the discussion on phase I and phase II liver detoxification - but just know that to open the detox pathways you need to have certain micronutrients to activate these processes.

The Dr Cabral Detox - my detox of choice

The Dr Cabral Detox is my absolute favourite way of effectively incorporating the two key ingredients for a successful detox and achieving the health outcomes stated in the introduction above. This detox can be done for 7, 14 or 21 days, depending on your specific needs and the health outcomes you are seeking. An integrative health practitioner (which I’ll be recognised as very soon… almost graduation time 🎉) can guide you toward the right option for you.

Unlike other detox products on the market, you won’t starve or deprive yourself doing the Dr Cabral Detox as the meals and meal replacements are very satisfying. Further, this detox combines the best of the East and West by combining various Ayurvedic and functional medicine herbs which make sure your liver has the right micronutrients available to maximise the effectiveness of your detoxification.

The 21-day detox protocol comprises 3 rounds of a 7 day detox. The 7 day detox looks like this:

Day 1-2 - fasting

4 x Daily Nutritional Support (“DNS”) shakes which provide 100% of your daily vitamin and mineral intake plus protein

2 x Ayurvedic detoxification support blend capsules morning and night

2 x Functional medicine detoxification support herbs morning and night

Day 3-7 - detox meal plan

2 x Daily Nutritional Support shakes

2 x Ayurvedic detoxification support blend capsules morning and night

2 x Functional medicine detoxification support herbs morning and night

Vegetarian lunch based on the detox meal planning guide shown below

Animal (optional) or vegan protein dinner

To help keep things simple, the detox prescribes the following formula for building your detox meals for days 3 through 7:

Now we’ve got all this theory covered - I want to share with you my experience in doing my first 21-day detox. I’ve done several rounds of the 7 days before, but the longer detox was really a game changer and taught me so