Women are bombarded with information on detox. It is a modern day buzz word. Dr. Watson breaks it down for us and provides details on what happens in the body, why it’s important for women, common mistakes and low risk ways to detox.
Hi! I am Crissy Fishbane, cofounder of HER Health Collective. I am thrilled to be here today with Dr. Polly Watson.
Dr. Watson is the founder of Hormone Wellness MD. She’s a board-certified gynecologist and a certified practitioner of the North American Menopause Society and The Institute for Functional Medicine.
Dr. Watson is coming to us with a wealth of knowledge and we are so excited to learn from her today. Specifically, we are talking about detoxing, which is something I know as women we are bombarded with and always eager to learn about. So Dr. Watson is going to break it down for us. Dr. Watson, what do we mean by a detox?
Dr. Polly Watson:
Thank you so much for having me! It’s great to be here. I think a lot of folks get confused about what their bowels are doing and maybe what their liver is doing. Detoxification actually takes place in the liver and there are two steps.
This is one thing I think is important for people to learn a little bit of science on because we have to be gentle about detox.
The first step of detox that happens in the liver makes a reactive intermediate, so you’re taking something that is toxic and you’re making it water-soluble, and that’s kind of a dangerous thing. You want to be careful about that.
The second phase of detox is literally putting a tag on it so it’s labeled to be taken out of the body. Usually, those tags are things like glutathione or methyl-group. So when people are really aggressive about pushing detox, you want to make sure you are balancing phase 1 and phase 2 so you don’t push the part that makes a reactive intermediate and then let it hang out. You want to make sure if you’re going to make something a reactive intermediate that you get it out of the body.
So, I guess the first point is that detox happens in the liver and elimination is often what we think about when people are going to the bathroom more often, and so sometimes people get confused and think “oh, I’m going to do this cleanse and have lots of trips to the bathroom and that’s going to feel really great.” That’s elimination! Detox happens in our liver.
I just learned something new! Why is detox especially important for women?
There are so many chemicals that we are exposed to and unfortunately many of them disrupt our hormones. It’s women that are experiencing hormonal change issues each month and having fertility and birth and postpartum changes, and all the things that we go through hormonally. We are especially vulnerable to that.
As women we also tend to put a lot of products on our skin. Our skin is a very absorptive organ to take in toxins. I think it’s so critical that as women we are minding these endocrine disruptors.
The other part is that as the spoke of the wheel of the family we are often guiding our children, our family in those decisions in what they are exposed to. So we want to be careful about toxic exposure for ourselves, but also as the spoke of the wheel of the family and making decisions about what our kids and loved ones are exposed to.
I love the analogy of the spoke of the wheel, it’s also a little overwhelming at times because that feels like a lot of pressure. I’m always thinking about what I’m putting in front of my child. So this can get really overwhelming for women, what is a good place for us to get started in all of this?
You want to take little bites at a time. I think if anyone was trying to say I’m going to detox all the cleaning products in my house, all my personal care products, all my makeup, you would spend a lot of money at once and you might get a little bit overwhelmed. I’d pick one thing and do it systematically.
But, I can give you a kind of outline. One relatively easy thing to do is sunscreen. When you’re looking at the active ingredients on a sunscreen bottle, you’ll often see the active ingredient as oxybenzo____ (oxybenzoate, etc.). You want to look for a mineral as the active ingredient. So you want it to be zinc or titanium.
These “oxybenzo…” chemicals are actually endocrine disruptors. Especially in North Carolina in the heat and the kids are going to the pool or the beach, we are slathering this stuff on our skin multiple times a day. Sunscreen is a great place to get started.
As a mom, I’ll admit I have a bit of a conflict between the spray-on kind that’s really easy to use. We’re not really sure what those propellants do versus the kind that you actually rub in, which I’m a bit more a fan of.
So, you’re looking for that active ingredient to be a mineral, zinc or titanium and not a chemical that is harder to say.
Do you have a go-to sunscreen brand that you use?
If you’re going to spend a little bit of money I like the Elta MD brand. You can buy them on Amazon. I believe theirs might be zinc and titanium. But, you know these have gotten a lot better. You know, I’m the big nerd at the beach who looks like Casper the Ghost and then she’s got chalk all over her, you know? The Elta MD ones tend to be a little more elegant where you don’t look so chalky and they work pretty well. My kids will tolerate them pretty well. But, over the years it has gotten so much easier to find.
So that’s one place to start. I think makeup companies are getting so much more in tune with what we are asking for as consumers. So I know that Jane Iradel products are good, Beautycounter products are good. There’s a great resource called Environmental Working Group and they have a tremendous resource on their website called Skin Deep. So anything you put on your skin you can check against that resource and in fact you can download an app on your phone and scan it while you’re at Target or wherever you shop and see if the product is rated and it gives you a toxicity score of 1-10. So 10 is bad, you want to stay at 3 or less if you can. So that’s a great way to look too.
I love the use of an app and I think sunscreen and makeup are two very big factors for women. What are some common mistakes you see in women as they are engaging in these detox programs on their own?
Yes, remember how we talked about how detox happens in your liver and we have phase 1 and phase 2.
Your liver is putting a tag on something to say hey this has got to get out of the body. If you try to push those pathways and get a bunch of yucky stuff to come out of the body, you have to be able to poop it out. If you can’t poop it out it’s going to sit in your descending colon and the toxin can potentially get reabsorbed. If someone is really constipated and backed up they need to get things moving before they detox.
In general, we live where we’ve all been exposed to antibiotics and steroids, and a lot of things that affect our gut’s integrity. If I’m going to think about a detox program for someone it is towards the end of my healing journey with them. I really want to make sure their gut and digestion is working well first.
We always say we don’t detox through a leaky gut. We want to make sure that the gut has been healed so that when we are trying to eliminate these more dangerous substances they don’t get reabsorbed back through the intestinal wall.
What are some easy low-risk ways for our moms to try detoxing?
We can never underestimate the power of plants. There are so many wonderful phytonutrients and metal binders in plants. Cilantro is a great heavy metal binder. Apple pectin is a great binder.
You know, I go to these conferences and go across the country and spend thousands of dollars and then you come home and you’re like yep, you’re still supposed to eat a lot of vegetables. We want to eat a lot of vegetables.
Mom was right!
Other things that I really like are sweating. Exercising enough that you are sweating. Getting in a sauna would be terrific. If you don’t have access to a sauna at the Y or a health club, there is a sleeping bag sauna that you can buy. The company is called Higher Dose and it’s like a big giant yoga mat that heats up and you fold it over but it’s vinyl almost so it’s really easy to clean off.
I have one! You just get in there, you will sweat, it takes about 22 minutes. Just put on a podcast then you get out and wash off right away. If you sweat out toxins, sometimes we do this as moms, we go to the gym, we work really hard and then we go pick up the kids in carpool. If you sweat out the toxins you want to rinse them off right away, get them off your skin so you don’t reabsorb them again.
That makes so much sense and is an amazing tip. I’m guessing hot yoga is a good option too.
Hot yoga is a great suggestion, just go shower afterward.
I think the last thing I would want to say about getting stuff out is just limiting getting it in in the first place.
Another thing sometimes women get into candles and fragrance. These are also endocrine disruptors. If you walk into a place and it has those little glade plug-ins, that is really not good for anybody’s hormonal health so I would really want to limit that kind of exposure. Use essential oils. Use an oil diffuser. But don’t use a chemical fragrance. I’d rather you use a natural fragrance.
I recently made a shift towards more essential oils a year or two ago and now when I walk into a place that has those heavy scents it’s overwhelming and I can’t handle it anymore. This is all such fascinating information. Thank you so much, Dr. Watson.
Thanks so much for having me!
Dr. Polly Watson is a board certified OBGYN who has been refining her practice of women’s medicine for almost 20 years. In 2007, she chose to focus solely on gynecology. Early in her career, she found that many women felt underserved in busy OBGYN practices which focused on delivering babies. Seeking to serve these women better, she concentrated her practice on menopausal medicine and became a North American Menopause Society Certified Practitioner in 2009. She sought to broaden her skills and attended training from International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health in 2011. Dr. Watson completed the Institute for Functional Medicine Certificate Program (IFMCP) in 2019. She is one of about 1000 providers in the US who has obtained this certification.
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