We've all heard the claims from TV doctor personalities and grocery-store tabloids: you're vulnerable to dangerous toxins poisoning your body and you need a detox diet, a cleanse, or a special product to flush them out so that you stop feeling terrible.
In fact, syndicated TV host Dr. Oz even named that sluggish feeling attributed to toxins as "FLC Syndrome" — that is, "Feel Like Crap Syndrome."
But what are toxins, and should we detox?
What Is Detox? Is It For Real?
Yes! Detox is for real.
Real detox is the process used by medical practitioners to help treat people with life-threatening drug addictions.
In March 2013, SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) took a "snapshot" of substance abuse facilities in America.
There were 1,249,629 patients in treatment — 78,156 (6.3%) of which were under age 18.
There were 383,130 (30.7%) patients taking medication just for opioid detox.
There were 14,148 substance abuse treatment facilities — 2,581 (18%) providing detoxification services. Of those detox centers, 2,027 (78.5%) routinely used medication to help detox from substances.
But then there's the other type of detox.
Professor Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, says: "The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you're supposed to have accumulated."
So What Are These "Toxins"? Are Those For Real?
Yes! Toxins are for real.
Experts tracked down 12 neurotoxins that they've identified as having affected Americans' neurological development:
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethes (PBDEs)
Polycholorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
But then there's still another type of toxins.
According to the people making claims about "toxins," they're poisonous substances that you ingest or inhale through your food, clothes, or even polluted air or water.
But in 2009, a network of scientists contacted the manufacturers of 15 products sold in pharmacies and supermarkets that claimed to detoxify. Not one of the manufacturers could define what they meant by detoxification, let alone name the toxins.
So What Are They Selling?
Most detox kits include two main elements:
â¢ A liver booster like milk thistle.
There are no high quality trials to suggest that milk thistle has any beneficial effect on the liver. Low quality trials show mixed results.
â¢ A laxative like magnesium hydroxide, senna, rhubarb, or cascara.
This supposedly lets you know that the "detox" is working. However, these laxatives can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if not used carefully. If taken too often they can also cause constipation when not in use.
"the perfect procedure to eliminate constipation, detoxify the major organs of elimination and restore normal bowel function."
– The Colon Therapists Network
Supposedly this removes stubborn plaques of impacted fecal matter. Proponents of the practice claim that fecal plaques seep disease-causing toxins back into your system.
It costs $80 – $100 per session with a recommendation of at least 3 sessions.
But the real cost comes from what it can do to you:
â¢ Changes in your gut bacteria can cause illness.
â¢ Risk of perforated bowels
â¢ It can skew your electrolyte levels
â¢ It's been linked to liver toxicity problems. Instead of flushing toxins, it can cause
â¢ damage to your liver.
â¢ Or even death: a 62-year-old man died from an embolism after a colonic session.
"the incredible detox system that naturally captures toxins from your body while you sleep!"
These foot pads claim to capture heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, cellulite and more. They'll even turn brown to prove it!
John Stossell from ABC's nightly show 20/20 had an independent lab perform toxicology testing on used foot pads. They found no toxins, heavy metals, or invasive chemicals.
In 2008, the FDA investigated Kinoki brand foot pads and found their claims to be fraudulent. Under a court order, Kinoki had to stop claiming that their foot pads removed toxins.
"an intense cleanse that triggers body digestion and detox and may help you manage your weight in the process."
Promoted as a way to rid the body of toxic overload, juice cleanses are popular. But they've got their own set of dangers:
â¢ Low in protein — higher risk of infections
â¢ Low in fiber — you always feel hungry.
â¢ Low in calories — slows your metabolism putting you in starvation mode.
â¢ Make you feel worse — headaches, fatigue, difficulty thinking, moodiness, stomach pain, hunger pangs, bad breath, dizziness, diarrhea.
â¢ Unstableness blood sugar levels — not a good idea for people with diabetes.
â¢ Scientifically unfounded — no evidence that it works.
â¢ No better than whole fruits and vegetables — in fact, it removes some nutrients.
â¢ Expensive — most juice cleanses cost between $60 – $75 per day.
â¢ Chelation Therapy
â¢ Vitamin Injections
â¢ Coffee Enemas — Yes, you read that right. Some people take their coffee up the bum.
Then Why Do So Many People Believe The Claims?
Non-mainstream medicine is popular
More than 30% of adults (about 74 million) and 12% of children (about 9 million) use health care approaches outside conventional medicine, such as: chiropractic, holistic, supplements or other naturopathic medicines.
"Detox" borrows from the real detox
In 2014, 2.6 million individuals received treatment for substance abuse. An estimated 20 million more abusers did not receive treatment. There are an estimated 96,500 inmates in the United States prison system incarcerated for drug related crimes.
Manufacturers with pseudoscientific claims take the benefits of real detox and pair it with fear over toxins to sell products. Sorry, folks – there's no magic pill. The only toxin here's the "detox" craze itself.
So If Detox Doesn't Work, Are We All Doomed?
Here's the good news: your body already has a line of defense from toxins!
First, your body passively tries to keep out toxins.
Skin: The largest organ of your body serves as a protective barrier that bacteria can't penetrate. Sweat glands can naturally excrete some toxins in the blood and the salt concentration in sweat creates a hostile environment for most bacteria. Other barriers like saliva, mucus, tears and tiny hairs also help keep toxins from entering the body.
If something is invading, your body will actively try to expel it.
Expelling: Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea — all help the body quickly expel unwanted substances. â¨â¨Fever: An elevated temperature helps kill invading microorganisms.
If your body can't keep a toxin out then your gut will try to kill it or expel it.
Gut: The digestive system is a hostile environment for harmful bacteria. Stomach acidity kills unwanted microorganisms. The colon is responsible for ejecting unwanted solid matter from the body. The gut also houses "good bacteria" that keeps "bad bacteria" in check.
Any toxins that get past your gut go through your very own detox system.
Liver: The largest internal organ in your body is dedicated to removing toxins from your body. Through complicated chemical processes, enzymes in your liver convert toxins into less-harmful, water-soluble chemicals that can then be excreted, via the kidneys or colon. Your liver is very powerful — it can even remove an almost deadly dose of alcohol from your body in 36 hours!
Kidneys: Small structures called glomeruli filter out toxins from the blood stream and gets rid of them in your urine. This happens within just a few hours to keep toxins from building up in your body.
Lymphatic system: This system returns fluid (lymph) and blood cells from your tissue back to your veins. The lymph nodes filter out bacteria and viruses from the lymph and the spleen filters bacteria and viruses from the blood.
If your body can't naturally detox this way, then you are in need of legitimate medical care — not an over-the-counter "cleanse."
So How Can I Keep The System Running Smoothly?
â¢ Don't get constipated.
â¢ Drink plenty of water to help your kidneys and liver do their job right.
â¢ Help your liver out by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables — with at least 30% of that being raw.
â¢ Foods good for your liver: artichokes, garlic, onion, leeks, beetroot, radish, turnip, watercress, fennel, broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears, apricots, grapes, berries, lemons, papaya, pineapple, avocado, cranberries, banana and watermelon.
â¢ Eat enough protein.
â¢ Healthy protein sources: eggs, lean meat, fish, quinoa, beans and pulses.
â¢ Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.
â¢ You're going to want 100% RNI of: Vitamin A, C, E, Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Iron, B Complex including Folic Acid, Magnesium.
â¢ Maintain a healthy gut with probiotics.
â¢ Probiotic-rich foods: kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup and tempeh.
â¢ Eat more organic: Several real toxins, like DDT, chlorpyrifos, and arsenic, have been or are still used in the production of pesticides for food. Experts suggest consuming a majority of organically-produced food.
â¢ If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
â¢ Don't smoke.
â¢ Exercise regularly.
â¢ Get lots of sleep.
Choosing a healthy lifestyle is the best defense that you've got from toxins.
"In most cases, the liver, kidney and intestine are so good that they can overcome even the stupidity of the worst dietary insults. Juicing and cleansing, however, push the system in an extreme way. They are dangerous even if most people survive. But why take a risk for no gain?"
– Dr. Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University