If you’ve watched TV, been on the internet, or opened a magazine in the last several years, you’ve probably heard about detoxing. This is not your old-school medical or drug detoxification, rather it’s billed as a natural process to remove toxins from your body to improve health. And it’s everywhere, in a thousand different styles and products. Detox diets, detox cleanses, detox supplements, detox herbs, detox foot wraps, detox powders, detox chewable tablets, detox teas… Same-day detoxes, 48-hour detoxes, detox for weight loss, detox cleanses, the list goes on almost infinitely. You can pay hundreds of dollars for cleanses from health coaches, or buy $5 products at the drugstore, or anything in between. But it seems almost too good to be true. I mean, can we really take a supplement or wrap funny pieces fabric around our feet and suddenly be healthy, cleansed of life’s nasty toxins? It’s more complex than you might think but -- spoiler alert! -- the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” holds true here. Let me explain. This could be a REALLY long article, but I will try to keep it relatively short and not bore you with too much biochemistry.
First, before we get into the science behind detox programs and products, we have to define what exactly detoxing is. In biochemistry, detoxification is defined as “the metabolic process by which toxins are changed into less toxic or more readily excretable substances.” In the medical community, it is a treatment that aims to rid the body of an ingested poison, and uses antidotes as well as therapies like chelation and dialysis. Neither of these definitions describes what the detox/cleanse fad purports. There doesn’t seem to be any specific definition for this type of detoxing, but the claim of most programs is to use a product or products to cleanse the body of all harmful toxins, therefore improving overall health and stimulating weight loss. There are longer, more in-depth programs available, but the most common systems are 1-5 day cleanses, utilizing teas, juices, smoothies, and/or supplements. It’s impossible to discuss in any depth all programs on the market, so this article will focus on the standard 1-5 day cleanses.
It’s hard to find a proper definition of what “toxins” are in this context. The best description I can give is that it’s any harmful substance or chemical not naturally occurring in the body. To achieve the claim of removing all these toxins from the body you would have to live a completely clean life for many months while the body naturally detoxifies itself (which is nearly impossible, as our air, water, soil, food, and home and work environments are all contaminated to some extent overall), or go through full medical detoxification, where all the blood in your body is filtered through machines. I hope I don’t actually need to point out that medical detoxification is not a gentle or especially healthy option. It is utilized only in extreme cases like consuming poisonous substances, or dealing with drug or alcohol addicts who are trying to get clean.
Second, the idea that these toxins are stored in organs and fat cells is not wrong. However, the concept that a day of drinking juice or a week of taking a detox supplement will cleanse your body is completely unfounded. It’s just not how the body functions. There are no reputable studies that show that an herb or food can pull toxins from cells. Your body is incredibly designed to naturally rid itself of external factors as well as waste products created by the cells themselves. It’s far better at detoxing itself than any product or supplement ever could be. Our gut is not only an important part of the process of excreting waste from the body;, it’s also the place where about 90 percent of our immune system lives! Other filter organs include the liver, kidneys, spleen, and skin.
It’s important to note that a lot of individuals use cleanses to lose weight, and see results. I feel like this should be obvious, but the weight is lost because they ate nothing but juice and smoothies, not because they’ve magically cleansed themselves of all of life’s nasty byproducts. Also, these results are rarely sustainable long-term, because no one can thrive on just juice.
But there’s a flipside to this argument. That is, our bodies are exposed to a lot of garbage on a day-to-day basis. The food we eat is sprayed with pesticides and produced with added colors, flavors, and fillers. The air we breathe is full of exhaust and other pollutants. We use a wide variety of harsh chemical substances for cleaning, processing plastics, carpets, fabrics, recycling, and much more. We consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Basically, we subject our bodies’ amazing natural systems to way more stress than we should. So if you want to detoxify your life, and you want to be healthier, there are truly useful options.
Eat clean food to start with. Avoid highly processed foods, things with weird colors, flavors, and preservatives added. Reduce your sugar, alcohol, and caffeine intake. Eat organic whenever possible. Good food may not suck the toxins out of your body, but they will support you as your body naturally purges unwanted or harmful materials, without adding (many) extra “toxins.”
Exercise regularly. Keeping your body moving, your blood pumping, and your muscles strong and active helps speed up metabolism, which moves everything in and out faster. During your regular exercise, drink plenty of water instead of sports drinks. Get those 8 glasses a day in! Exercise also helps with stress management, which is key to overall health.
Be aware of what you’re putting on your skin. In as little as 26 seconds, natural and synthetic chemicals that have made contact with your skin have been absorbed into your bloodstream. Within one minute of absorption, that blood and everything in it has made its way through the whole body. So keep an eye on what’s in your bath bombs, lotions, makeup, perfume, nail polish, hair dyes, etc.
And lastly, use teas and herbal products that are pure and have no fillers or added flavors, and that contain herbs that help support the optimal function of your filter organs and gut health. Basically, help your body do its job, instead of trying to do it for it. You’re looking for teas like Natural Equilibrium’s Detox Chai Spice Tea; teas with dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa), elecampane root (Inula helenium), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Also, drink green tea. It’s great for your skin (filter organ), and has loads of antioxidants. But source it well because big companies often put lots of trace toxins or fillers on their tea, such as pesticides, lead, fluoride, arsenic, added flavors and colors.
So, please, don’t waste your money on detox supplements or crazy products. Use juice cleanses carefully, with only good quality, organic, fresh squeezed juice, and in moderation. If anyone tells you their product or system can do a Same Day Detox, 48 Hour Detox, completely detox your system, or cure anything, be SUPER skeptical. And honestly, it’s so much more affordable (and easier, once you get used to it) to just live a cleaner life and incorporate foods and teas that support your natural systems, rather than try to fix it all later.
These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist, Reiki Master Teacher, and a Natural Health Consultant, and are for educational purposes only, and not intended to replace consult with your healthcare practitioner.
If you have any questions or concerns about anything in this article, please contact me or your natural healthcare practitioner immediately.