S2E15: What To Do For Detox Symptoms

Two weeks ago we talked about some of the symptom patterns that can arise as you’re working with MTHFR. Honestly, they can show up for lots of people, but detox symptoms are especially common for us MTHFR folks. So let’s talk about a few things we can do to tackle this feeling. Remember, step one is to recognize your pattern of detox symptoms, so start there. Go through your symptom tracker and see what symptoms seem to flare up together, and if any of those might just be related to detoxification.

There are a few ways we can cope with detox symptoms and they fall into two general categories.

  1. Decreasing the amount of stuff your body has to do that day
  2. Increasing the ease of actually eliminating whatever it is you’re detoxifying.

Detoxification is a process that is happening when you have detox symptoms coming up. It is happening because you have junk that needs to go, and it stops when the junk is gone. So our goal is to get the junk gone faster. How’s that for creative use of the English language?

Decreasing Your Tasks For The Day

Your body has a whole list of stuff it has to do every day. There’s cell division, cell repair, and cell elimination when they’re too damaged to fix. There’s all of the normal stuff you do like pumping blood, collecting and distributing oxygen, and fighting off the constant stream of invading bacteria, viruses, fungi and other pathogens. There’s digestion and elimination and the manufacture of all of the enzymes and fluids involved in that process. There’s blood to be filtered and waste to be eliminated. It’s hard work, running your body.

Of course, as the wearer of the meat-suit, you don’t have to think about any of that. You can just happily go about doing all of the things you normally do while your body handles it all. Pretty amazing, when you think about it.

So on days when detox symptoms are coming up and you haven’t had a big exposure (like you didn’t go out drinking, drive all day in a formaldehyde soaked new car, or accidentally eat the lead paint), then it means your body just has too much on it’s plate that day. The stuff on your body’s plate is what I like to refer to as your bucket. Your bucket is filled up with all of your body’s work that is going on right now because of things you’re doing right now like breathing and eating and maintaining homeostasis. When your bucket overflows, that’s when you see symptoms. These detox symptoms are no exception – that bucket is too full.

Long-term there are lots of things that you can do to take a chunk out of your bucket, like eliminating food sensitivities, cleaning up your diet, getting better sleep and clearing some of the toxins out of your home and environment. But what about short-term? Like these detox days when your bucket is overflowing.

Intermittent Fasting

In good news, there are short-term bucket clearers too and one of my favorites is intermittent fasting. Fasting, which essentially boils down to not eating, is a great way to take some of your body’s to-do list off of the table. If you’re not eating food for a little while then your body doesn’t have to do all of the digestive things it normally does. It doesn’t have to make so much of the enzymes and fluids, it doesn’t have to do all of the mixing and moving that food requires, and it doesn’t have to absorb, sort, or eliminate anything. In fact, not digesting takes a huge chunk of work out of there and your body can use those resources for other things.

Now, obviously not eating long-term isn’t a great strategy – you need to eat at some point, but if you wake up feeling gross and like you’re detoxing, stick to water for the first part of the day. If you can, stick to water only (with some hydration support like salt, a squeeze of lemon or lime, or even some apple cider vinegar) until dinner time. Then, eat a healthy dinner and head to bed.

So actually, this day is easier than normal because in addition to not doing the metabolic work of eating you also don’t have to cook or find food. Bonus! Of course it does get in the way of all of the Covid-eating we’re all doing these days, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing to miss for a day as well.

Increasing Elimination

The other strategy to help your body over the hurdle of detox symptoms is to help your body detoxify faster or more efficiently. There are a few things you can do towards this goal.

Liver Support

The best liver support for this type of day is something gentle like a detox tea, or a digestive aid like bitters, apple cider vinegar, or a digestive enzyme with ox bile before meals. These are gentle things that are unlikely to push you further into symptom territory and that will give your liver a bit of a boost to get through whatever it is working on this particular day. I don’t suggest liver supportive supplements unless you’re working with a practitioner, simply because for MTHFR folks some of the liver support supplements can push just a little bit too hard and actually cause symptoms instead of helping to resolve them.

Gentle Detox Aids

There are a number of gentle detox aids and I’ve talked about many of them before. These are ways you can physically help your body to detox without pushing your liver or detoxification pathways too hard. In fact, these things will help when you have symptoms. My favorites are:

  1. Sweat It Out – Sweating is a great way to boost circulation and to eliminate small amounts of toxins including heavy metals, which MTHFR folks have a hard time eliminating because they need to be methylated. Sweating it out can be accomplished in a wet or dry sauna, a hot bath, a hot car, or even with a great workout. Just make sure you wash the sweat off afterward because you can reabsorb lots of things from your skin. Also, you’ll smell better.
  2. Castor Oil – Castor oil is one of my favorite old-timey remedies and one of the most effective things you can do to support detoxification. It should not be taken internally – you would regret that – but it can be applied topically. My favorite way to use it is to slather up before bed, put on my castor oil pajamas, and go to sleep like that. I’m sleeping and detoxing all at once. I talked quite a bit about castor oil last season in Season 1, Episode 24 on Gentle Detox Strategies. If you need a refresher on using castor oil, that’s a great place to look.
  3. Fiber or Clay – Fiber and clay can both be taken internally, although make sure your clay is actually food grade before you mix it up and drink it. Both of these are what is called a “gut sponge,” meaning they bind to toxins and carry them out of your body so that they are actually eliminated and not reabsorbed. Human bodies are incredibly thrifty and we tend to eliminate toxins, then go back through what we’ve eliminated and pick them up again. Especially if they look like fats or other precious resources. That means hormones that need to be eliminated are especially susceptible to this reabsorption because they are built on a cholesterol backbone and our bodies have been well trained through the millennia to keep cholesterol around. Fiber and clay both have big porous structures and toxins get bound to them, then they can’t be reabsorbed so they are effectively eliminated.
  4. Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral and it’s very common to be deficient Your body uses more of it when you’re detoxing and taking magnesium can help if you get stalled out somewhere. Also, magnesium helps encourage healthy bowel movements, muscle relaxation, and sleep. I prefer to take magnesium before bed, but a small dose in the morning if you feel like you’re detoxing can be helpful too.
  5. Antioxidants – When your body is doing a lot of extra work, it is also creating a lot of extra free radicals and detoxification is no exception. Also, with MTHFR our master antioxidant, called glutathione, can be compromised so bolstering this system is a good idea. I’m not married to any one antioxidant and actually I prefer to rotate through different ones because each has an affinity for different tissue types. Essentially when I buy an antioxidant product, I buy something different each time. I’ll go from vitamin C, to vitamin E, to something like resveratrol, to a mixed product. The more coverage, the better. We talked a lot about antioxidants and glutathione in Season 1, Episode 14 and if you need a refresher, that’s a good place to start.
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S2E13: Patterns In Your Symptom Tracking for MTHFR

I know, I know. I can hear you rolling your eyes at me already, but symptom tracking is a huge and valuable part of this journey, so just get used to me talking about it.

By now, I’m hoping you have a feel for how your symptoms usually look, and how they look when something is going on, or at least some inkling that there are times when different symptoms seem to get worse together. Part of this whole process is decoding which symptoms mean what for you, so that you can actually begin to tackle them.

Now, for women, we have the added complication that all of our symptoms tend to also change with our cycle, which can be hugely frustrating and make it a whole lot harder to keep track of what is doing what, but we’ll talk about that too.

For MTHFR specifically, there are a few patterns that I want you to watch for. Those are:

  • Your normal
  • Your detox symptoms
  • Your bucket symptoms
  • Your too-much methylation symptoms
  • And for women who are menstruating, your hormonal symptoms.

Let’s talk about these one by one.

Your Normal Symptoms

These are, as you might expect, the things you struggle with on an ongoing basis. This is the easiest pattern to nail down because it’s probably why you started this journey in the first place. Chances are, you can already rattle these symptoms off no problem.

Your Detox Symptoms

These symptoms might be a little bit harder to nail down. Detox symptoms happen a lot on the MTHFR journey simply because most of the work around MTHFR deals with unpacking unfinished business out of your backlog and finishing it. Lots of the unfinished business is toxins that you just couldn’t get to the first time around. Detox comes up for us and it often mimics a mild hangover. There could be some irritability or easier frustration, brain fog, mild nausea or stomach upset, headaches, stiffness, or even a feeling of fullness or tenderness in your abdomen, especially around the right side where your liver lives. For me, there is always a good degree of achiness and joint pain, but that’s my body’s go-to distress signal.

Days with detox symptoms will seem to arise apropos of nothing. No warning, no real rhyme or reason, and typically without the fun that precedes a normal hangover. It can seem like you’re getting broadsided by these bad days, but it’s actually your body doing a lot of work and proverbially biting off more than it can chew. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any way to eliminate these days completely, but recognizing them can help you take some proactive steps to minimize your symptoms. It also helps to understand that your body is actually working on something good, not just randomly breaking down all over the place.

Some of recognizing this pattern will be just time and familiarity, and it really helps if you’re watching out for it. Geek out with your symptom tracker for a bit and see if you can spot some detox days.

Your Bucket Symptoms

Your bucket, if you’ll remember, is all of the stuff that your body has to deal with on a daily basis. This is the foods that you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink, the stressors in your life, the chemicals you’re exposed to. This is the day-to-day junk.

Bucket symptoms, then, appear when your body has had to deal with more than it can handle. This means that an actual hangover, although it’s the classic detox symptoms, is actually a bucket symptom because this is what happens when you ingest too much of a toxin. So actually it’s legitimately detox and bucket. Bucket symptoms can also come up during allergy season – many of you are familiar with what that overflowing bucket feels like. Also, bucket symptoms can be the headache you get after walking through the perfume department of a store or from the fumes after you paint he house. They can also be symptoms that might arise after you eat a food that you’re sensitive to.

For example, I get bucket symptoms if I choose to eat wheat. I know I’m going to get them and I know they’re going to come up, but occasionally I choose to eat wheat anyway. These symptoms include a blocked nose, puffy face, stiff body, painful joints, and foggy disconnected brain. It isn’t pretty. I also get bucket symptoms in the perfume department and those are milder – more along the lines of headache, irritability, and brain fog.

These are symptoms that are a direct response to something you took in from the environment. Usually, these are easier to spot than other types of symptoms because you can spot the trigger too.

Your Too-Much Methylation Symptoms

At some time in this journey, every MTHFR person hits this wall. This is the I-took-too-much-methyl folate picture. It could also be caused by too much methyl-B12, or too much SAMe. In any event, these symptoms typically happen following a dosage change, so that can help you to identify them. Bear in mind that the symptoms aren’t always the day after the dosage change. They can easily be two weeks after a dosage change, which is why I like to take this journey so slowly and so methodically. If we go too fast, you might have increased your dose twice before the symptoms from the first increase show up. Believe me, that is a fresh hell you do not want to enter.

These symptoms typically look like anxiety, intrusive thoughts, increased frequency of panic attacks, manic energy, unpleasant energy, agitation, sometimes itchy/prickly/tingly feelings in your body, sometimes visual changes. It’s generally not fun, but all of us will be there at some point because part of getting through the backlog that comes up on the MTHFR journey is actually pushing your body to do it, and that means increasing your dose.

Your Hormonal Symptoms

Women on the MTHFR journey have an added complication, and that is our hormones. Now, having the MTHFR gene means we have a bit of a harder time processing hormones to begin with, and if you have a double-whammy with MTHFR and the COMT genes, well, sorry sisters. That means hormone processing is just going to be a bumpy road. I talk a bit about why MTHFR and estrogen are in bed together in Season 1, Episode 7, and if you want a refresher, that’s a good place to start.

For hormonal symptoms, it helps to combine your symptom tracking with period tracking so you can start to notice patterns. Now, most of us are familiar with the times of the month that are hardest for us so you probably know all about your hormone symptoms already, but occasionally you’ll find a symptom that is associated with your cycle that surprises you.

Typical hormone symptoms include cramping, bloating, acne, skin changes, mood changes, headaches, food cravings, even weight fluctuations. Less typical symptoms can be anything from swollen ankles to dizziness, to nausea. It all depends on your body. When you’re tracking be aware that symptoms can happen at any point in your cycle, we just know they’re hormonal because they happen at the same point in your cycle most months. It can be pre-menstrual, during your menses, during ovulation, or really any other time – the key here is that it repeats most cycles at that same time.

Okay – I Have Symptoms. Now What?

Knowing there are different symptom patterns can really help to bring some order into your life. Partly because when your body is doing something bizarre, you understand it a little bit better. It isn’t just another bad day, it’s a bad day because of something. Partly, also, because if you understand what is causing those bad days then we can take active steps toward fixing it. This is huge – all of a sudden you go from a person besieged by all kinds of bad days, to a person who is actually responding appropriately to those bad days and gaining control.

In the next few weeks, we’ll talk about some strategies around all of these different kinds of bad days and how you can learn to listen to what your body is telling you, and respond in a way that makes you and your body feel better. This is the start of a long and glorious communication with your body that can bring you to an entirely new level of health.

Thanks so much for listening today, and if you enjoy the show and want some different ways to connect, consider becoming a patron on Patreon. There is a patron-only podcast, if you’re interested, called MTHFR Stories. As you might guess, it’s stories from MTHFR folks just like you, ideas about what has been most helpful for them, and memories of their MTHFR experience. Thanks for listening!

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Detoxification for MTHFR, Revisited

MTHFR and detoxification are intimately linked. Having a methylation issue impairs detox of many substances including heavy metals and hormones to name a few, but also when those branches of detoxification are impaired it can generally affect the speed at which other substances are able to be eliminated.  So actively supporting those elimination pathways is a huge part of the MTHFR lifestyle. The problem is that anybody who has ever had a hangover, knows that being toxic comes with symptoms. Sadly, lots of people who have done cleanses also know that cleansing too quickly can come with symptoms.

I can certainly say first hand that doing an intense cleanse is fraught with difficulty. When I was a student, well before I knew anything about MTHFR or it’s consequences or that I have it, a good friend was bulk ordering cleanse kits at a discount.  This is the sort of weird geekery that we engaged in as students. Anyway, the cleanse involved a limited diet that tapered down to a total water fast over the course of six weeks along with heavy-duty liver pushers, clay as a binder, and a massive dose of fiber.  I won’t go into the gory details, but right around week four a good friend sat me down and said, very earnestly, “If you don’t stop this cleanse, I am personally locking you in your apartment to preserve everyone else’s sanity.”

I actually broke that fast with an entire large extra cheese and pepperoni pizza and an order of breadsticks by myself, which is even funnier if you had seen me in person because I’m 5’2 and 105 lbs soaking wet. Quite honestly, the pizza was blissful and the only part of that cleanse that was worth the price of admission.  The problem was, that for my body the cleanse was WAY too intense and it pushed my liver to liberate toxins that my system had no way of actually eliminating, and so they rattled around turning me into quite literally a toxic human.

Interestingly, when we refer to someone as “toxic” emotionally, they are usually a pretty good picture of what a person who is toxic physically looks like.  Angry, lashing out, generally spewing hatred and unpleasantness. Internally they might also have a headache, some mild (or severe) nausea, and be constipated. Their skin could be itchy, they might (eek!) produce some weird odors. It’s all pretty gross and, well, toxic. 

The symptoms of being toxic and needing a detox are much the same as the symptoms that occur if you’re trying to detox too quickly.  I know, for the small handful of you who are listening who have experimented with an overly-eager cleanse before, this was a lightbulb moment. The rest of you are probably saying, “so what?”

The reason this matters is that if you’re truly on a path towards balancing your methylation, then you’re going to get to the point where you start incorporating gentle detox into your routine more frequently, and invariably when people start doing gentle detox regularly and see how much better it makes them feel, they try to push the envelope with heavier-hitting detox. 

So let’s talk about steps toward mitigating those toxic symptoms.  We’ll go through a little flow chart.

  1. Are you having symptoms spontaneously (like you’re just toxic) or have you been actively detoxifying?
  2. If you’re just toxic, it’s time to implement some gentle detox strategies and give your body a cleaner diet for a couple of weeks or for good.
  3. If you’ve been detoxing, it sounds like you’re pushing your body a bit too hard. Here’s how to handle that.
    1.   First, Stop taking any supplements involved with the detox. Your body needs a break.
    2. The next big priority is to get your bowels moving because if you can’t physically eliminate things, then they’re hanging around inside of you and that is a genuinely horrible thought. This may mean a one-off dose of a laxative tea or even a glycerine suppository. Whatever you do, make sure you poop.
    3. Also, adding in some detox-type activities that don’t go through your liver or bowels can be a really helpful thing. This is using a sauna or sweating it out in any way you can, doing castor oil packs, taking Epsom salts baths, and that type of thing. 
    4. Keep a very simple, clean diet (fruits and veggies, rice, broth, fresh juices, lots and lots and lots of water. No alcohol, refined sugars, or processed foods, until the symptoms have passed, will help too.
    5. Sleep more – as much as you physically can, and generally give your body a break. 

MTHFR-safe detoxes.

In general, I warn MTHFR folks away from detox kits unless they are a pro with detoxes and can read their body’s signs and symptoms effectively and know how to counter any adverse reactions. But just because we can’t do prepackaged kits very well, doesn’t mean we can’t detox.

Intermittent Fasting

 I love intermittent fasting. Love it with a passion. It’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s extremely well researched in all kinds of areas, but especially in promoting longevity. It’s just about the simplest and most effective health hack out there. Here’s how you do it.

  • 24-hour Fast: For a 24 hour fast, have dinner like usual, skip breakfast, lunch, and snacks the next day and drink plenty of water with a little bit of lemon in it (or plain if you’re not into lemon). Around the same time as you had dinner the night before, have a healthy, simple dinner. That’s it! It’s literally the easiest possible health-boost because there is less effort involved than you take on a normal day. 
  • 36-Hour Fast: For a 36 hour fast, have dinner the night before, skip all food the day of the fast and drink a ton of water or lemon water.  Get up the next morning (which is roughly 36 hours later) and eat a healthy breakfast. Done!

Clean Week

This is a great tool to use quarterly, and it can be as simple or as intense as you feel ready for that quarter. A simple clean week could be stripping your diet down to fresh fruits and veggies, rice, broth, and some gentle herbal detox teas. Take out some of the foods we tend to lean on that might not be the best – the grains, processed foods or packaged foods, refined sugars. During this week it’s important to rest more, be more mindful of toxin avoidance, and I like to take it as an opportunity to go inward – do a bit of journaling, clear out some clutter, that sort of thing. If you want to get more intense about it you can do a full juice cleanse, liquid diet, or alternate between juice only days and fasting days. This is a completely customizable tool.

Modified Month

This is exactly what it sounds like, and can be a really helpful format to use if you have a habit that you know is taking a toll. A modified month is like taking a reset on a bad habit – if you’ve watched your sugar cravings ramp up (like mine have) during covid, it could be a great idea to do a modified month over the summer in which everything else is mostly the same, but you cut out the sugar and sweets. Lots of people do modified months with events like Dry July or Sober October. Also, a modified month can be a great way to work on improving a good habit instead of eliminating a bad one. What about Active August or Hydrated… Shmydrated. I don’t have a rhyme for that one.

Detox can be as simple and small or as large and complex as you want to make it, and just because you did a big complex one last time doesn’t mean you need to do that again. Take your stress level and your life chaos into account when you’re planning this.

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