What do you think of when you hear the word “detox”?
If you spend time on social media, you’ve probably seen ads for detox diets or cleanses - programs involving bottles of green juice and specially-treated water, intense workouts or sweat sessions, and special teas or supplements. And the arguments in its favor sound logical - you give your body a break from digesting heavy foods, you drink lots of plant-based drinks to hydrate and flush out your body, and after a while your body is slimmed down, cleaner, and back to proper working order! The ingredients are healthy and natural - why wouldn’t it help your body?
Fads - Past and Present
The idea of purging the body of harmful materials is not new - different cultures have practiced their own form of cleansing for centuries. Sweat lodges and saunas, enemas, diuretics, and bloodletting (via leeches or other means) have all been used since the Roman Empire and even earlier as a means of purifying the body. Some of these have been largely rejected, but a few have stuck around despite proof that they do the body very little good, and can actually harm you.
One of the more recent detox trends is the Master Cleanse. You may have seen it advertised - it seems to be popular with some celebrities: massive amounts of fluids mixed with salt, lemon, maple syrup and cayenne, and laxatives. No food, no other nutrients, just massive amounts of liquid intake for 10 days. And I’m sure that when this particular cleanse loses popularity, another will take its place.
The problem with the vast majority of these cleanses is that they ignore scientifically-proven concepts about how the body works, and, if you look into it, provide no real proof that they actually flush out toxins. Yes, you might lose some weight and feel lighter at the start, but cleanses can cause major problems down the road.
What most people don’t realize is that our bodies are constantly detoxing! Different systems work constantly to filter different parts of our body, and most of the time they are extremely efficient at it.
1. The Liver: One of the body’s detoxing powerhouses, this organ filters your blood for toxins (including harmful metals like lead and mercury), and creates the bile that carries toxins out of your body. It also plays a huge role in processing nutrients and medications, removing bacteria from the blood, storing your body’s iron supply, and helping to regulate glucose levels.
Liver Cleanses: There is no scientific evidence that livery cleanses actually help the liver function better. While there are a few foods that might have a helpful effect (such as milk thistle and turmeric), most supplements for liver function have no effect, and occasionally can damage the liver - not good!
How You Can Help the Liver: Avoid things that can damage your liver - only drink alcohol occasionally, and avoid the risky behaviors that can lead to hepatitis infections. It may surprise you to learn that 30% of all Americans suffer from Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which can lead to liver damage and even organ failure - the best way to avoid it is to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, avoid sugar, and eat foods that are high in good fiber and lean protein.
2. The Kidneys: After the liver, the kidneys are your major detox machines. These little guys filter your body’s blood up to 60 times per day! They can filter out many things from our system: industrial toxins, dangerous metabolic byproducts like ammonia and uric acid, excess nutrients and salts that can harm us, and water-soluble toxins that cannot be filtered out by the liver.
Kidney Cleanses: The kidneys are very self-sufficient. While there are things you can avoid to help kidney function, there are no supplements or cleanses that have been proven to help them work better. Diuretic teas, supplements, or drinking extra water doesn’t improve kidney function.
How You Can Help the Kidneys: There are many things you can avoid that can harm the kidneys. Stay far away from mercury-heavy fish, herbicides, pesticides, non-stick coatings in cookware, fire retardants, tobacco products, and long-term NSAID use - all of these things produce toxins that clog and damage the kidneys. Conditions associated with kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
3. The Digestive System: Your small and large intestines work hand in hand with the liver, with the large intestine carrying away the fat-based wastes filtered by the liver and sending it out of the body. The whole system is sensitive to certain toxins, and can flush them out quickly once detected. Lymph nodes in the small intestine also separate parasites and other unwanted substances from the nutrients absorbed through the organ wall.
Digestive System Cleanses: There are a TON of products that claim to cleanse the digestive system of leftover food and waste, speed up digestion, and get rid of parasites. Almost all of these actually do great harm to the system - the laxatives and other supplements can leave you dehydrated, kill off helpful bacteria in your gut, throw off electrolyte balance, and more. Your digestive system is very effective at getting waste out of your body - it doesn’t need your help when it’s working properly!
How You Can Help the Digestive System: A healthy, balanced diet makes your digestive system very happy! Eat fiber-rich foods (whole grains, beans, veggies and fruit, etc.), avoid sugars and fatty/processed foods, and drink plenty of water. If you feel your digestive system isn’t doing its job, get your stomach checked for acid levels and gut flora levels, and get checked for food sensitivities while you’re at it.
4. The Lungs: Not many of us think of the lungs as detoxifying organs, but they do great work of balancing the nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in our blood, and getting rid of the excess. When those levels get out of balance, it can cause anything from headaches to organ failure - we should be so thankful for our lungs!
Lung Cleanses: Ok, so there aren’t many lung detoxes out there (which is probably a good thing!). There are some people who breathe in concentrated oxygen through a mask or nasal tube, claiming that it helps them think clearly and get more energy. It might provide a slight “oxygen high” at the time, but there’s no proof that healthy lungs benefit from concentrated oxygen - if your lungs are healthy, you’re getting all the oxygen you need.
How You Can Help the Lungs: Stay away from pollutants and other things that can irritate and damage your lungs: tobacco and vape smoke, exhaust fumes, airborne particles from chemicals and herbicides/pesticides, and more. Practice breathing deeply regularly, and give your lungs a stretch with regular outdoor exercise.
When Toxins Get Serious
Our bodies are marvelous at detoxifying, but it can often be difficult to determine if they’re doing their jobs correctly. For example, if your kidneys aren’t working properly, you likely won’t notice symptoms until they’re close to failure - far too late to do anything about it. And even if these systems are working well, if you’re getting exposed to high levels of toxins, your body might not be able to get rid of all of them, which can lead to cancer, organ damage, and other terrible consequences.
That’s why it’s crucial that you have a healthcare provider who monitors organ function. There are a number of simple tests that can make sure that your organs are functioning as they should, and can detect the buildup of certain toxins in your body. With regular testing and awareness, you can make sure that you are not pushing your detoxing systems too hard, and that you can rely on these systems for decades to come.
At Illuminate Wellness, we are very aware of the risks that modern-day toxins pose, and take a whole-life approach to making sure that these toxins are eliminated from your body and your life. Many of the toxins we take in these days can be avoided with some careful changes to your environment and lifestyle. If you’re concerned about toxin exposure, contact us today to start learning more about what you can do to avoid toxins and stay healthy.