The Truth About Detoxification
It’s almost impossible to open a health and wellness magazine or stroll down the aisles of a health food store without seeing flashy advertisements proclaiming the wonders of detoxification. Products promising to flush “harmful” toxins from your body are now a dime-a-dozen, and while there is real truth behind many of these claims, in a world filled with false advertising and over-stated promises, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between real and false detox claims.
In an attempt to clarify this often confusing and cluttered arena, we’ve collected the most commonly asked questions regarding detoxification. If you’re interested in pursuing a detoxification program, the first step is learning the truth. Continue reading to uncover scientifically-backed facts regarding detoxification and how you can achieve a genuine cleanse without the use of fancy – and expensive – products.
What are the Benefits of Detoxing?
Most people jump on the detox train because of the potential for weight loss. While cleansing your system is a great way to kick start weight loss when beginning a new diet plan, there are plenty of other reasons to give a cleanse a try. A simple weekend cleanse or a lifestyle changeover to eliminate common toxins consumed every day can boost energy levels, improve mental clarity and help motivate you to focus on a healthier overall eating plan and more active and productive way of life.
What are Toxins?
At the heart of any detoxification program or product is the concept of toxins. In the most fundamental sense, toxins are compounds known to be harmful to the human body. While you may feel you don’t have to worry about toxins because you live a relatively healthy lifestyle, one of the biggest misconceptions regarding toxins is only people who are unhealthy have to worry about their harmful effects. While your lifestyle choices, such as being a smoker, play a direct role in overall toxin accumulation, even the healthiest of persons are bombarded by these dangerous compounds.
In order to understand toxins, you must understand how they’re introduced to your body. Toxins find their way into your system through four elements:
Water – The majority of drinking water in the United States may be technically safe to consume; however, tap water is known to hold a wide array of harmful toxins; some of which have been proven to cause cancer and other chronic diseases. Toxins, such as bleach, chlorine and ammonia, are commonly found throughout community drinking water. While you may consume water through purified sources, even your bathwater can introduce these harmful toxins and chemicals into your system.
Air – This should not come as a surprise to any person living in a metropolitan area; air pollution is one of the largest contributors to toxin accumulation. With harmful chemicals, such as carbon monoxide and methane, being released in high quantities throughout the air, it’s nearly impossible to escape the dangers of air pollution. Even if you live in a rural community free from normal air pollution, second hand cigarette smoke introduces literally thousands of harmful compounds through your lungs.
Food – The modern American diet is not only filled with high caloric ingredients, but with more and more people turning to processed foods for sustenance, the accumulation of food-based toxins, such as additives and preservatives, is reaching epic proportions. In fact, many food scientists and researchers consider the average American diet toxic due to the sheer amount of processed foods introduced into their body. By consuming such harmful food sources, you actively cultivate a toxic environment, which is a breeding ground for diseases and serious medical conditions.
Chemicals – The use of chemicals can be seen in everything from toothpaste to vegetables. In fact, the majority of commercial items are filled with extremely potent – and harmful – chemicals known to degrade human health and disturb the natural function of many bodily processes. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to escape the grasp of chemicals. Because of this truth, detoxification is essential for even those who eat whole and organic foods.
Does My Body Naturally Eliminate Toxins?
In the most fundamental sense, yes, your body does naturally eliminate toxins. In fact, there are complete systems dedicated to the collection and elimination of harmful compounds. For example, your liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering toxins from the blood and food while your lymphatic system is known as a natural toxin elimination channel. In the perfect world, these systems are strong enough to effectively eliminate toxins without the assistance of detoxification programs; however, due to the high amount of toxins introduced to the body through the aforementioned four pathways, it’s nearly impossible for the body to eliminate all toxins.
Why Do I Need Assisted Detoxification?
When you consider all the pathways in which toxins enter your body, it’s easy to understand how your natural detoxification systems can become overwhelmed. Not only this, but if you live an unhealthy lifestyle – either intentionally or not – these natural detox systems are unable to effectively filter out toxins. In extreme cases, such as in those who consume excess alcohol, organs responsible for eliminating toxins are unable to do so and actually begin harboring harmful compounds. When this occurs, your body enters into a state of retoxification, which is when trapped toxins are released back into your body.
This is when assisted detoxification comes into play. By actively working to reduce your intake of known toxins, such as eliminating processed foods, alcohol and cigarettes, and engaging in detoxification activities you actively support the natural cleansing processes of your body. Of course, it’s important to note that the claims made by many detox programs are nothing more than advertising hyperbole. While assisted detoxification is an effective way to support the natural cleansing of your body, it’s just that – support. You must still work to hinder the accumulation of new toxins and harmful compounds.
What are Some Good First Steps for Detoxing?
Your body is exposed to any number of toxins throughout the typical day, but you don’t have to try to survive on juice alone for weeks on end to clean up your system. There are toxins in the air you breathe, in some of the foods you eat and in some of the beverages you drink. There are also some potentially harmful chemicals and compounds in other things you put in or on your body (from habits like smoking or from cosmetics you use).
One smart and simple way to begin cleansing your system is to avoid putting those negative things into your system. Make some smart substitutions in your everyday life like swapping out soda and soft drinks for a healthier alternative (water, cucumber water or lemon water); opt for natural whole foods (preferably organic) instead of pre-packaged foods and work toward kicking bad habits like smoking.
Making a conscious effort to move more is also a big factor in keeping your system clean. Regular exercise for the body and mind (including yoga, resistance training and cardio exercise) will help to ensure that your body is functioning at a high level and that natural systems are cleaning out toxins.
What are Some Good Drinks for Detoxing and Cleansing?
The types of drinks you can use to detox or cleanse your system are really only limited by your imagination and kitchen equipment. Some very simple options that require only a knife and a glass or pitcher to prepare include cucumber water, lemon water, ginger lemonade (with honey) and cucumber and mint water.
A few other simple beverages or additives that work well on a cleanse are unsweetened green tea (alone or with lemon or mint) or apple cider vinegar (mixed with water or as an adder to another detox drink).
If you’ve got a juicer or quality food processor you can blend up delicious detox smoothies that feature a wide variety of detoxifying fruits, vegetables and seeds. Some excellent choices for smoothie ingredients are beets, cranberries, blueberries, kale, spinach, grapefruit, Greek yogurt, flax seeds, chia seeds and any of the ingredients mentions above that don’t necessarily require heavier equipment.
Are there any Whole Foods that are Good for Cleansing?
While the primary focus of many detox and cleansing diets is fasting and juice consumption, cleansing the body doesn’t have to involve a total absence of solids. One a weekend fast there are foods that can be used to keep you sated that won’t inhibit the cleansing process at all. These foods can also be used throughout the week as a healthy alternative to the typical breakfast or lunch in order to keep you feeling light and focused without the longer term commitment of a weekend or week long detox.
Many of the same fruits and vegetables that star in the drinks and smoothies above can be eaten raw as a good detox option. Lemons and grapefruit, kale, broccoli, cabbage, beets and avocado can all be consumed raw on their own or combined in salads, etc. for a light meal or snack that will help eliminate excess waste and toxins from the body.
What is the Best Approach to Detox and Cleansing?
Depending on your specific goal and the length of time in which you hope to achieve that goal, your approach to fasting might be a bit different. Those looking to see a noticeable difference as quickly as possible might want to set a weekend aside to completely focus on eliminating excess waste and really kick-starting the weight loss process. A weekend long cleanse often features a special tea or drink designed to clean out the colon and digestive tract followed up by only juices or teas that will help continue the purification process. These cleanses often kick the new week off with a re-introduction to solids with small meals primarily of raw fruits and vegetables that won’t reintroduce toxins into the system.
Another, less intense, approach to detoxing the body is to replace one meal a day with a healthy detox smoothie or light meal. You won’t see as fast or dramatic a change with this approach to cleansing the body by opting for this route, but it is a simple and effective way to help you gravitate toward a healthier overall diet that will result in weight loss.
If you have been feeling excessively tired or weighted down mentally and physically, a cleanse might be a great way to help get your body moving in the right direction. Removing excess waste and toxins from your system and focusing on cleaner food choices will help elevate your mood, improve your focus and get your body ready for a new healthier lifestyle that will result in you looking and feeling better.
Do I Need to Buy Expensive Products to Cleanse?
This is a little more difficult to answer as the final answer is highly individual. In a fundamental sense, no, you do not need to purchase expensive cleansing products. The truth is many can experience successful detoxification support by simply altering their diet and avoiding specific activities or locations – such as smokey bars. However, in some cases, more advanced-level detoxification support is necessary. This being noted, many alternative medicine practitioners recommend avoiding commercially produced “detox” products and programs. Instead, reach for herbal supplements known to support specific detoxification pathways. For example, the following herbs are clinically proven to support the natural elimination of toxins – best of all – they’re relatively cost-effective:
- Organic Milk Thistle
- Organic Gum Acacia
- Alfalfa Leaf
- Garlic Cloves
- Stinging Nettle
Can I Lose Weight With a Detox Program?
Perhaps one of the most common marketing tricks used by detoxification manufacturers is the claim that their program will shed your unwanted pounds. Although it’s true many detox programs and treatments can promote the superficial loss of weight, the majority of weight lost is water weight. In the event you undergo a juice cleanse, or a fast, you may actually lose body fat, but when you begin eating as normal, this weight will come back – and in many cases, it’ll come back with friends (i.e., extra weight gain). Although weight loss is a side effect of many detox programs, this weight loss is generally contributed to simply eating better and living healthier. You should not engage in a detox program with the goal of losing weight.
What Are The Disadvantages of a Detox Program?
Proponents of detoxification programs are quick to proclaim the wonders of a specific regimen, but are notoriously quiet when it comes to discussing the disadvantages of detoxification. While it’s essential to point out that all-natural detoxification programs are designed to produce little-to-no side effects, there are some potential disadvantages worth discussing.
If you were to engage in a fasting detox program, also referred to as a juice cleanse, you may enter into a state of nutritional deficiency, which can produce a host of negative side effects ranging from fatigue, headaches and muscle cramps. If you suffer from a medical condition, detoxification programs could make your medication less effective or potentially exasperate an existing condition. If you’re curious about a detox program, then it’s imperative to discuss the exact program with your physician. This is especially important if you’re taking medications or suffer from a chronic or acute condition.
How Will I Feel During a Detox?
Even if you take part in a healthy, recommended detoxification program you’ll likely feel several strange sensations during the initial phase. Most often, any negative sensations are due to your body’s withdrawal from addictive substances, such as caffeine, sugar, nicotine and alcohol. Many times when the toxins are being collected and removed, you can actually feel worse than when you first started. Typically, these side effects reduce in severity after seven to 10 days. Once your body begins to adjust to its new way of living, these negative sensations will begin to reduce and replaced with positive sensations, such as an increase in energy, mental clarity and concentration. Many times, the severity of acute and chronic conditions will reduce in severity. It’s not uncommon to produce excess mucus during the first few days of a detox program. In some cases, you may feel as if you’re coming down with a cold, but this is typically only when you engage in a highly restrictive detoxification program, which is not necessarily recommended for all persons.
Which Detox Program Is Best?
If you were to do a quick Internet search on detoxification programs, you’d receive literally thousands of various programs, tips and techniques. Because of this, many become confused regarding the “best” program for them. In the most fundamental sense, there are two types of detox programs:
Full Body – A full body detox program is one where the entire body is activated throughout the treatment. These typically involve complete dietary and lifestyle alterations to promote the release of toxins from every major organ. For example, a juice cleanse is considered a full body detox as the lack of solid foods affects the functionality of every organ. For many people, these programs are ideal for a generalized elimination of toxins. If you’re relatively healthy and have no specific symptoms (i.e., symptoms that point to a lack of efficiency within a particular organ or bodily system), then a full body detox may be your ideal choice.
Organ-Specific Detox – These detox programs utilize specific herbs and dietary attributes to single out one or more organs. For example, if you wish to cleanse your liver you’d consume milk thistle, which is a potent liver support herb or if you’re dealing with digestion issues, you’d consume herbs and supplements designed to support the natural flush of your gastrointestinal tract. These are ideal for those suffering with organ-specific symptoms. If you’re interested in taking part in this type of detox program, it’s important to consult your physician or an alternative medicine practitioner to ensure you embark upon an effective and safe treatment.
Are Bath Detox Treatments Effective?
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to promote the release of toxins from your body is through a bath detox treatment. These treatments involve soaking in a warm bath filled with specific compounds, such as Epsom salt. Because your skin is the largest organ in your body, and because it’s a primary elimination channel for toxins, many natural health proponents claim these treatments to be the most effective. Although detox baths may help support the elimination of toxins, they should not be your only method of detox. Many alternative medicine practitioners suggest combining detox baths with dietary and lifestyle alterations. For example, eliminate processed foods and increase your filtered water intake while undergoing a weekly detox bath.
Although detox baths are generally considered safe for most adults, if you have skin ailments, high blood pressure or a chronic disease, you must consult with your physician before taking part in this treatment. For example, those with high blood pressure may not be healthy enough to sit in a hot Epsom salt bath as its compounds could result in a spike in blood pressure. Once you’ve received the “go ahead” from your physician, a detox bath can be a highly effective way to support the natural toxin elimination channels. Increase the value of this treatment option by incorporating essential oils, such as lavender or peppermint oil, into the bath water.