These days, it seems as though you can hardly leave your internet homepage without an ad or article popping up proclaiming the wonders of a detox or cleanse. From magazines to social media, different approaches to detoxing abound. It can be difficult to wade through the barrage of information and find a reliable medical source about detoxifying the body. If you think a detox may be right for you, here is what you need to know.
Our bodies are built to remove toxins from themselves. The liver, colon, kidneys, spleen, skin, and respiratory system are all part of an extraordinary internal detoxification system. While our body works wonders in ridding our system of some harmful toxins, sometimes it needs a bit of a boost.
In our modern and mechanized world, we are exposed to more harmful toxins than ever before. With more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals being released into the environment each year, the natural detoxifying systems in the body often cannot cope with the massive volume of toxins our bodies are exposed to. Accumulation of toxins, pollutants, and chemicals from our environment is linked to a wide variety of diseases. This includes cancer, asthma, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and improper development of the brain. Similarly, the Environmental Working Group reported that 70% of conventionally (non-organic) grown fruits and vegetables contain nearly 230 different pesticides or their by-products.  These pesticides, paired with the fact that the average American diet is lacking in the proper nutrients, add to the accumulation of toxins in the body. The buildup of these chemicals in the body can begin to take a toll on your health. A safe and scientifically-supported detox helps bolster the body’s natural mechanisms to rid itself of these dangerous toxins.
Not All Detoxes Are Created Equal
The majority of detox or cleanse regimens advocate full or partial fasts, emphasize eating raw foods, and involve drinking mostly water or fruit and vegetable juice. Some integrate herbs or spices like turmeric or cayenne, liquids like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or green tea, or other supplements. Often, they claim to boost your metabolism, provide energy, and lead to weight loss. The sheer number of different detoxes and cleanses on the market are enough to make anyone a bit skeptical.
There are a few things to note when considering a safe and effective detox. First, it’s important to work with a medical professional when determining if and when a detox is right for you. Any diet, whether short or long term, should be discussed with a doctor, especially if you have any medical conditions.
Second, short term detoxes are not effective ways to keep off excess weight and can lead to improper nutrient intake. While many people report feeling lighter or more energetic during the first few days of a detox, often this has to do with the removal of processed foods and sugars from their diet. Eliminating these high-calorie but low-nutrient foods usually helps people feel better. However, if a detox requires a steep decrease in calorie or protein intake it may result in fatigue or, during long term detoxes, certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Short term detoxes also usually fail to keep excess weight off. While they may lead to immediate weight loss, this is mostly water weight that will pile back on after a few weeks.
Functional Medicine and Detox
Within the field of functional medicine, the process and outcome of detoxification often looks different from fad detoxes and cleanses. Detoxification, in the context of functional medicine, is a method of lightening the body’s load by reducing the amount of toxic chemicals it is taking in. It is not merely a one and done cleanse. Instead, it requires a lifestyle and nutritional change that enhances the body’s natural mechanisms in ridding itself of toxins efficiently.