To detox or not to detox… it seems everyone is either doing it, talking about it, or wondering what it’s all about. Is this something we need to be concerned about or not? What do we mean by detox? How does one go about the process of detoxing?
Since so many people are interested in the topic of detoxing these days, let’s take a look at what it actually means to detox and why it may or may not be necessary. The premise is based on the assumption that stored toxic substances can be removed from the body through dieting, fasting or consuming certain foods and herbs, or avoiding specific foods altogether.
Although their regimens vary, they generally entail a “fasting period” lasting for days or even weeks, and often include juicing or drinking a lot of water while eliminating meat, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods- and in almost all cases add in an array of detoxifying herbs and supplements.
While restricting one’s calories during a detox may be appealing for dieters due to its quick, and sometimes dramatic, weight loss, the trend is now also starting to attract people of “normal-weight” or even “fit people” as a way to improve health by removing impurities from their body.
In fact, many of the more mainstream juicing regimens purport to cure chronic health issues. And while all of this may give detoxing more street cred, the question still remains…are they truly healthy, at all necessary or even scientifically sound?
While it may be true that a detoxification process can lead to quick, and in some cases dramatic weight loss, due to their extreme nature, calorie restriction and the fact that they cut out whole food groups, the weight loss is not sustainable and is usually regained very quickly once a normal diet is resumed. Even detoxes that incorporate a meal or smoothie in them can have too few calories, especially if you incorporate an exercise regimen into the mix.
So, what are the potential pitfalls of a detox program?
When you try to detoxify the body using extremely low calorie methods for a prolonged period of days, or in some cases weeks, you can create major deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Aside from the lack of valuable vitamins and minerals a detox almost always falls short on an adequate protein intake, which is a vital nutrient that needs to be replenished on a daily basis. If you’re not consuming enough protein, vitamins or minerals your body will scavenge them from other sources such as muscle tissue, organs or bones. This may very well end up leaving you in a worse state than if you never would have tried the detox in the first place.
As discussed in more detail in this article: Restricting Calorie Dieting – A Weight Loss Disaster, when you reduce calories below the level your body requires to maintain lean body mass and meet metabolic demands, you do lose weight, but a majority of that weight will come directly from your muscle. And because muscle is the physical location where calories and fat are burned for energy, you end up crippling your body’s ability to burn fat. This situation also forces the thyroid gland to make metabolic shifts to slow your body’s processes in an effort to conserve energy. This, together with muscle loss, will crash your metabolism making long term weight loss increasingly difficult.
Now, of course, not all detoxes go for the starvation approach. Some take a more sensible route, providing juices and supplemented protein shakes with adequate calories of around 1,200 per day. So, as long as you’re healthy and only follow an approach like this for a day or two, you will probably lose a few pounds without it completely sabotaging your metabolism. But it’s fairly doubtful that you are going to cure any chronic health issue, and it’s almost a guarantee that the weight you lose will reappear once you stop the process.
What Is a Toxin Anyway?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a toxin as “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism.” Venomous snakes and the bacteria that cause life-threatening botulism -which happens to be the same thing that gets injected into people’s faces if they use Botox- produce real, authentic toxins. Of course, detoxes, in the sense that most refer to, are unable to clear this out.
Now, in the context of alternative health treatments, toxin is a much more vague term, usually referring to substances alleged to cause health conditions. Toxins might include pollutants, pesticides, chemicals or anything else deemed “unnatural” or unhealthy. For instance, sugar is often considered a toxin, even though forms of sugar are often used in certain detox programs.
What Is Detoxing?
Removing poisons from the body is, in many ways, for many of us, a very attractive and tempting proposition. But much like the word natural, the term detox is so overused that it can mean so many different things.
For instance, a detox, in the established medical community, is a process for helping drug addicts and alcoholics make it through withdrawal, or to treat a genetic disease that impairs the absorption of important minerals.
Yet, in the mainstream, when it comes to detoxing, it is viewed as a means to cleanse and purify the body for the purpose of weight loss, to jump start a weight loss program, or to rid the body of a chronic health issue or disease.
However, the truth is a detoxifying system of this nature –simple put- is purely created by people, organizations or companies for the sole purpose of selling products or books. An analyzed search for the science behind these various processes will heed nothing of its legitimacy, because there is no scientific research that backs their claims PERIOD.
The human body is quite capable of detoxifying itself, and is well-armed with all the necessary tools to do so
You see, just like many of the other processes that are done “automatically” by our body, like stabilizing our blood sugars, controlling our cholesterol, regulating our blood pressure, heart beat, body temperature and so on…the human body is quite capable of detoxifying itself, and is well-armed with all the necessary tools to do so.
Our body has the amazing ability to heal itself naturally – if it doesn’t like a substance, it will simply get rid of it. For instance, toxic substances we inhale or eat go into the blood stream and are filtered into the liver. The main function of this organ is to break down these various chemicals using enzymes. If the body doesn’t need them, it will simply excrete them. Furthermore, the body is far more capable and efficient at detoxifying itself than any magic potions, diets or strange gimmicks like wraps or detox socks that are supposed to flush toxic substances out. And (I might add), a heck of a lot cheaper!
The really neat thing is these tools (organs) our body has been blessed with are working hard 24/7, filtering and excreting toxins while continually rebuilding themselves with new cells. For example, the liver completely turns over all of its cells approximately every 150 days. Essentially, what this means is we have a newly rejuvenated liver nearly every five months. So, what type of foods and beverages you consume on a daily basis will determine the outcome of the health of those cells, NOT a 30 day prepackaged detox program.
Let’s take a closer look at the tools our body comes equipped with to keep our toxins in check
The liver has a wide range of functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis, and production of biochemicals necessary for digestion. This organ plays a major role in metabolism and has a number of functions in the body, including filtering the blood and producing enzymes to destroy toxins that come from our food, water and the air. The liver prepares these toxins so the body can expel them through urine and bile.
The intestines are where digested food passes through, and where nutrients are absorbed. They also balance the good and bad bacteria, helping the body to digest better, and to produce natural antibiotics to break down toxins. If you have an unhealthy diet, you may damage your digestive process so that the digested food remains in your gut and your body may reabsorb the toxins. Therefore it’s essential to maintain a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria.
The kidneys are an essential part of the urinary system. They serve the body as a natural filter of the blood, and remove waste which is diverted to the bladder. In producing urine, the kidneys excrete waste such as urea and ammonium.
The lungs are the essential respiration organs in our body. Their principal function is to transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the bloodstream, and to release carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere. We may breathe toxins in the air through our lungs, but the lungs are also able to expel toxins. We can breathe deeply and fully exhale to maximize the cleansing effect.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. The skin protects us from microbes and the elements, helps regulate body temperature, and permits the sensations of touch, heat, and cold. Sweating is the production of fluids secreted by the sweat glands in our skin. Sweating not only allows the body to regulate its temperature, but also provides detoxification by expelling toxins through sweat.
The lymphatic system
The lymph is the fluid that circulates throughout the lymphatic system, and is part of our immune system. The lymph contains white blood cells that pick up bacteria or other toxins from the body’s cells, and brings them to lymph nodes where they are destroyed. The lymph moves around the body by breathing and muscle contraction, so breathing and mild exercise help it to work better.
Selling the Idea YOU have a toxic body is Big Business
Of course, a lack of scientific evidence does not deter the marketers of detoxes, or for that matter the many who try them. And the idea that the body is polluted is nothing new: A good example of this is back in the 1990’s, a product alleged that cellulite (fat just under the skin that makes us look dimply) was toxin-filled sludge that could be removed by special treatments such as brushing one’s skin. Now, just a few decades later, we realized how ridiculous this idea actually was.
Typical detox dieters do not ask for proof. They assume or are convinced their bodies are polluted and also assume the regimen they follow will actually remove the problem. Again, books, products or practitioners offering detoxes are fairly vague. Rarely do they specify which toxins their plan is removing, nor do they recommend that you get tested for proof of having a certain level of toxicity before you try their plan.
Of course, some people who do detoxes often swear by them. Many lose weight and often say they feel much better. So, who’s to argue with someone that claims to feel better, certainly not me because helping folks feel better is my sole purpose. With that said, the reality is, we need to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves “were the positive effects due to magical nutrients in the herb concoction or juice you drank, or was it simply due to the fact that you were no longer consuming a host of processed foods that were making you feel sluggish and bloated? Detox advocates often brush off negative symptoms as a sign that toxins are being released, yet they offer no scientific evidence to back their blusterous claim.
Again the underlying issue with a detox program –whether it is a diet or a myriad of powders and herbs- is that little to no scientific evidence for their effectiveness exists. The herbs that make up the blends may have some scientific evidence behind them, in their sole form, but beyond their single effectiveness, there’s nothing that evaluates the compound’s effectiveness of the blends and their processes themselves.
Doing a fairly extensive search, I personally couldn’t find a detox or cleanse provider that dedicated a section of their website containing any clinical research. And again I am not saying that some people may feel better after doing a detox program but AGAIN -as stated earlier- we must dig to the root of what’s really behind why some people feel better after doing a detox or cleanse. Was it truly the components of the detox that were rejuvenating or could it have been the elimination of the junk making the body perform poorly in the first place?
Even if these detoxes or cleanses work (and again there’s no hard evidence to prove they do), the effects aren’t permanent. Sure, you could do a fairly thorough job of cleaning your body every couple of months, but if you fail to address the core reasons for the accumulation of clutter in the first place, you won’t have solved the real underlying issue, which is, eliminating its cause. The body will get polluted again, the toxins will once again accumulate, and you’ll have to detox or cleanse all over again. So, you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to detox or cleanse –on and off- for the rest of your life.
Pros and Cons
The upside of a detox regimen is that you are deliberately cutting out unhealthy foods, and helping your body to eliminate waste more easily, which makes perfectly good sense. The downside to a detox is the belief that it can kick-start a healthier lifestyle permanently. In fact, the deprivation during the fasting phase may result in a backlash—an impulsive return to junk-foods or unhealthy processed foods, but now with a slower metabolism than when you started.
If you are one of the many who is sold on the idea of using a detox program, then do your research and make sure you don’t take a complete abstinence from whole food unless you are willing to jeopardize the health and safety of your metabolism. My suggestion is to not go below 1200 calories per day and make sure you are getting an adequate amount of protein in your diet to sustain your lean muscle tissue.
In the end, it’s pretty simple. Our body has its own natural “built in” detoxification system, and our time of detoxifying the body is when we are naturally fasting (which is when we sleep). That’s how the human body is designed – with the amazing ability to take care of and heal itself. I will agree that in most cases our systems are overburdened, but the highest percent of destruction comes from what we choose to put into our bodies in the way of foods and beverages. So, if you really want to give yourself a chance at natural detoxification, eliminate the awful foods that are fouling up the process in the first place. At least then you have a real chance at seriously changing the state of your health and weight PERMANENTLY.
Here are 5 simple steps you can take to help your body naturally detoxify more effectively
1. If you smoke, give it up
The numerous risks of smoking include liver damage from harmful chemicals, which increase the risk of Lung, Liver and Lymph cancer.
2. Cut back on alcohol
People often underestimate how much beer, wine and spirits they consume each week. Over time, this can damage the liver and pollute the body with an array of toxins. Too much alcohol can cause fatty liver, cirrhosis and scarring of the liver. When the liver becomes full of scar tissue it becomes defunct.
3. Eat a balanced diet
After overindulging, jumping on the latest detox or fad diet to get you “back on track” seems tempting, but again it fails as a long term solution. Choosing to eat a balanced diet which contains foods from all the major food groups is more likely to succeed long term. If you don’t know where to start, just make one small change at a time from things you’ve learned in this book. Before you know it, you will have mastered a new healthy lifestyle and it will have been done fairly effortless.
4. Boost your fruit and vegetable intake
It seems obvious but the majority of people do not eat the recommended 4 to 6 servings of vegetables per day and 1 to 3 servings of fruit. Fresh or frozen all count, and are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. If you’ve overindulged, you’ll undoubtedly be lacking these valuable nutrients so you’ll need to replenish your stores. If you want to make a fruit and vegetable juice or smoothie, go ahead. Just make sure you eat a balanced diet alongside it.
5. Get active
Try getting a minimum of 90 minutes of vigorous activity in per week. This will help keep the liver, heart, lungs and the rest of your body healthy. Exercise improves the circulation of blood to the liver, helping to regulate and process toxic substances faster and more efficiently.