In today’s health and wellness world, there is one buzzword that stands out above the rest: detox. Popular detox programs claim to put you on the path to a skinner, healthier, more vibrant you, but do they really work? Will a detox be the magic pill for health or weight loss that you’ve been looking for?
By definition, “detox” means far more than what the buzzword definition has to offer. According to Wikipedia, a detox is defined as “the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism, including the human body, which is mainly carried out by the liver.” In the medical setting, a detox protocol is used to remove toxic substances, like drugs and alcohol, from a person’s body. It is typically utilized in very serious, or potentially life-or-death, situations.
As a medical doctor and health enthusiast, I’ve come across my fair share of detox programs in the health and fitness world. And here’s the thing: despite popular opinion, I don’t believe in detoxes or cleanses. Why? Because they’re almost always a “quick fix” solution to a long-term problem. Unfortunately, no amount of detox programs contain enough magic to provide lasting health. In reality, fundamental health changes, including diet and lifestyle, must be made to allow your body to begin to heal and maintain optimal health!
How the Elimination Cycle Works
Essentially, detoxification is the elimination cycle within the body. It’s main players include: the skin, colon, liver, gallbladder, kidneys, and lungs. Together, these organs form a mighty powerhouse that rid your body of toxins and waste. Here’s how it works:
- Skin- Your skin is actually the body’s largest organ. It eliminates toxins from the body in the form of sweat.
- Colon- Your colon, or large intestine, eliminates waste through bowel movements, which is why pooping daily is essential.
- Lymph- Lymph fluid flows through the lymph nodes, where pathogens are filtered and excreted.
- Liver/Gallbladder- The liver and gallbladder are a tag-team effort. The liver filters toxins from the blood, then sends them to the gallbladder, where they’re excreted as bile.
- Kidneys- Your kidneys filter the blood, as well, and eliminate toxins through urine.
- Lungs- The lungs main goal is to eliminate carbon dioxide from the body via breathing.
Although it might sound simple, the detoxification cycle really is quite complicated. It requires many properly working parts to achieve true and optimal detoxification.
Why Popular Detox Methods Don’t Work
Unfortunately, there are many health products today that claim to detoxify the body. While some in fact do aid in detoxification, I never rely on, nor recommend, sole use of these methods for optimal detox:
- Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal can be used in emergency situations, like in the case of a drug or alcohol overdose. But, they should never be used long-term in an unsupervised setting.
- Juice Cleanses
Juice cleanses, like lemon water concoctions or celery juice, might not be disadvantageous in-and-of themselves, but they are not an end-all-be-all for detoxification.
- Colon Cleanses
Colon cleanses, or in other words, laxatives, provide immediate relief of chronic issues (ie. constipation). Laxatives should never be used on an on-gong basis, as they can harm and disrupt the functions and integrity of the large intestine.
- Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a natural herb that promotes detoxification. Many natural remedies have not been studied in depth for efficacy. While I don’t see much wrong with adding this into your regimen, the limited studies have involved chronic liver disease patients and did not show much evidence in reduction of mortality.
How to Support Healthy Detoxification in the Body
Instead of magic pills or quick fix programs, your best bet for healthy detoxification is focusing on the foundations of your health.
First, it’s important to avoid all substances that impair and slow down your detox organs. These common toxic substances include cigarettes, alcohol, carcinogenic chemicals, drugs, cleaning products, pesticides/herbicides, artificial sweeteners, refined foods and sugar, fragrances, and more.
After you’ve eliminated the use of toxins from everyday life, you can incorporate foods that promote healthy organ function. These foods include organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, whole grains, and fresh herbs. Additionally, staying properly hydrated with filtered water is key to optimal kidney and liver function.
It might be tempting to down a glass of lemon water or rely on the use of detox supplements after a weekend full of junk food and alcohol, but these methods won’t provide you with the detox benefits you’re looking for. Instead, it’s essential to focus on pursuing a healthy lifestyle. By nourishing your body from the inside-out, you’ll naturally help your body detox from harmful substances.