Open any magazine and detox diets and claims are sure to surround you. It’s important to know the truth about detoxing. Here, we aim to give you the lowdown on what actually works and what doesn’t when it comes to detoxification.
What Are Toxins?
No matter how “clean” you live your life, just about everybody shows some evidence of a buildup of toxins. And that is to an extent, normal. It’s impossible to go about our daily life and not be exposed to any toxins.
But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, they found some pretty shocking results. On average, the CDC’s report found 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine, 75 of which had never before been measured in the U.S. population. The chemicals included:
- Acrylamide (formed when foods are baked or fried at high temperatures, and as a byproduct of cigarette smoke)
- Arsenic, found in many home-building products
- Environmental phenols, including bisphenol A (found in plastics, food packaging and epoxy resins) and triclosan (used as an antibacterial agent in personal care products such as toothpaste and hand soap)
- Perchlorate, used in airplane fuel, explosives and fireworks
- Perfluorinated chemicals, used to create non-stick cookware
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used in fire retardants found in consumer products such as mattresses
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), found in paints, air fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, upholstery fabrics, carpets, dry-cleaned clothing, wood preservatives, and paint strippers
When you put all these together, these chemicals represent can potentially present a toxic burden to the human body, and (as the CDC has found) can accumulate in your body’s blood, urine and tissue — possibly one reason why the plastic-based versions of these chemicals are sometimes referred to as “obesogens,” due to the suggestion that they may somehow accumulate in fat tissue. While your body does actually have detoxification organs (your liver and kidney) that can process many of these chemicals and toxins, they can potentially cause medical problems if your liver and kidneys are not functioning properly or are overburdened with a poor diet.
What works and what doesn’t?
Opponents of detox say that there’s simply no such thing as ‘detox’ while proponents swear by their monthly colonic cleansing and daily wheatgrass shots. Here what to give a miss and what to try.
Give these a miss… Colonic irrigation
Proponents of colonic irrigation will tell you that mischievous plaques of impacted poo can lurk in your colon for months or years and pump disease-causing toxins back into your system. Advocates swear by having regular colonics despite many warning against having the procedure done, saying that it can perforate your bowel.
Other tactics are more insidious. Some colon-cleansing tablets contain a polymerising agent that turns your faeces into something like a plastic, so that when a massive rubbery poo snake slithers into your toilet you can stare back at it and feel vindicated in your purchase. Detoxing foot pads turn brown overnight with what manufacturers claim is toxic sludge drawn from your body. This sludge is nothing of the sort – a substance in the pads turns brown when it mixes with water from your sweat.
Moreover our colon is inhabited not just by bad bacteria and toxins but also by ‘good bacteria”. A colonic cleanse will remove both the bad as well as the good bacteria, and unless you replace your intestinal flora with probiotics, you risk more problems than benefits.
Verdict: If you are having regular bowel movements, you can give this a miss.
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Cyanobacteria is a specific type of bacteria found in spirulina that is an accumulator (also known as a “biosorbent”) of heavy minerals. It does this via a process called ion-exchange binding,, and can significantly reduce heavy metal toxicity in tissue. 100 micrograms (a very small amount) of spirulina hexane extract has been shown to remove over 85% of arsenic in tissue. At a does of 250-500 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, spirulina has been shown to prevent metal toxicity from occurring in pregnant rats’ offspring when the mothers were given fluoride, and it has also been noted to reduce lead accumulation in brain tissue, protect against heavy metal cadmium buildup, and attenuate mercury accumulation in the testes.
Verdict: If you are a heavy drinker or think you may be stressing your liver with your less-than-optimal lifestyle, try these supplements.
Try these…Milk Thistle
Milk thistle extract, another popular detox or cleansing supplement. Studies show that milk thistle actually protects and promotes the growth of liver cells, fights oxidation (a process that damages cells), and actually blocks toxins from entering the cell membrane.
Silymarins, a group of antioxidants extracted from the seeds of milk thistle, have antioxidant properties several times greater than that of vitamins C and E, with silybin as one silymarin that has been shown to be especially effective in promoting liver health. Milk thistle also helps to enhance detoxification by preventing the depletion of glutathione, which is necessary for phase 2 liver detoxification to be completed.
Verdict: Worth a try!
Try these…Mediterranean diet
A red chequered table cloth adorned with meats, fish, olive oil, cheeses, salads, wholegrain cereals, nuts and fruits. That’s the ideal detoxifcation diet if you ask us. If you can get your vitamins and antioxidants from natural sources, why bother with supplements? All these foods give the protein, amino acids, unsaturated fats, fibre, starches, vitamins and minerals to keep the body – and your immune system, the biggest protector from ill-health – functioning perfectly.
Verdict: Why not? A healthy diet is a cornerstone of a optimal body.
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“Most people think that you should restrict or pay particular attention to certain food groups, but this is totally not the case,” says Dr Low Chai Ling. “The ultimate lifestyle ‘detox’ is not smoking, exercising and enjoying a healthy balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet.”
So if you eat foods that support your liver and kidneys, or avoid foods that stress your liver and kidneys, you’re already detoxing every day — and unless you’ve gone through something like a serious bout of alcoholism or heavy metal toxicity, you don’t really need any fancy herbal blends or colonic cleanses.
For your liver, you can do things like avoid high amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats from processed and packaged foods like canola oil and French fries, and instead eat those type of fats from fish, meat, seeds and nuts. You can avoid high amounts of fructose and sugar, limit alcohol, consume plenty of egg yolks (which contain choline that your liver uses to process fats), eat good, organic liver every now and then and pay attention to what kind of soaps and shampoos and household cleaners you’re using.
For your kidneys, you can limit intake of high fructose corn syrup, drink plenty of water, limit alcohol intake, and — if you are predisposed to renal issues — limit excessive protein intake (e.g. more than 200g/day of protein).