Detox Me, Maybe?
Juice cleanses. Detox programs. Cleanse supplements and detox teas. These days, these products are ubiquitous in the world of wellness and nutrition. But what’s all the hype about? Why is detoxing beneficial and really – is it?
As with all things health and nutrition, there are two camps squarely opposing one another: those that say detoxing is the answer to all ailments and the key to optimal wellbeing, and those that say it’s all a complete crock made up by opportunistic marketers.
Detoxing: It’s a crock
Ask a traditional doctor or medical professional and it’s extremely possible if not likely they’ll laugh off the notion of ‘detoxing.’ The truth is, our bodies are designed to naturally detox on a daily basis: it’s literally the job of our skin, liver, kidneys, and even the lungs and digestive system to ‘detoxify’ and remove waste. So as they say, nothing you eat or drink will magically make them work better. Fact, through and through.
As the title of this article so bluntly states: you can’t detox your body. Case. Closed. The article elaborates that ‘toxins’ don’t even really exist in the world of medical science: “Much of the [detox] sales patter revolves around “toxins”: poisonous substances that you ingest or inhale. But it’s not clear exactly what these toxins are.”
Toxins, they argue, are impossible to measure, so therefore, they must not really exist or worth worrying about. The article further claims that detoxing is a ‘scandal… a criminal exploitation of the gullible man on the street.’
Ok, so according to them detoxing is a crock made up by charlatans. They do bring up a fair point – the markets abound with detox products and programs of all kinds that tout themselves as being a miracle cure. And yes, many will set you back a pretty penny. So, are all these supplements and programs complete bogus?
Are we just suckers wanting to drink a magic potion and make it all better?
Detoxing: It’s the ultimate cure
Then we have the camp that claims detoxing can cure everything, from constipation to cancer. Let’s take a little closer look at the claims of the miracle doctors.
The truth is you can google ‘detox to cure…’ and virtually every ailment will show up depending on what letter you type next. To be clear, any good cleanse protocol should help with constipation. A good detox/ cleanse diet should eliminate difficult to digest foods, increase plant-based fiber consumption, and increase hydration. If done right, this basic approach should clean out the system.
Will detoxing cure constipation? Well, that entirely depends on what an individual does after the detox. Any good protocol should encourage you to continue eating a balanced, plant-heavy diet post-cleanse.
But let’s focus on arguably the most extreme case: cancer. (Also, I’m biased.)
There are endless claims of people having cured their cancer from cleansing, juicing, and detoxing, and just as many resources explaining the ins and outs of curing cancer through these methods. I’m a huge proponent of healing naturally whenever possible. However, the reality is that many people who have eschewed the traditional ‘cut, poison, burn’ methods of surgery, chemo, and radiation and gone the alternative, natural route have, very unfortunately, also not survived.
It’s true: many people have been entirely cured of cancer utilizing exclusively natural methods. Many patients with terminal prognoses have lived much longer than the doctors ever suggested they would. Many fighters had a vastly improved quality end of life by forgoing aggressive cancer treatments. Many survivors cured stage IV cancer naturally and never had it come back. Many thrivers have successfully achieved Radical Remission.
These cases, however, are, unfortunately, little studied and while it’s lovely to believe that certain alternative healing methods truly do work, and while there actually is much logic (to my mind) supporting these methods, it’s truthfully impossible to determine precisely why and how these individuals healed. For these reasons, I think it’s extremely dangerous to claim that detoxing and juicing can cure cancer.
Each and every person is unique, and each and every cancer case is extremely individual, and what worked for one may not work for another. Personally, I do think detoxing and cleansing is extremely beneficial when it comes to healing from cancer. When doctor-approved and supervised by a trained health professional, detoxing can help heal cancer and many other diseases.
I believe there’s a time and place for both traditional and complementary methods of treatment, but every individual facing a serious diagnosis must choose the best healing methods for themselves, armed with education and information on each approach.
Revisiting the counter-arguments
The Guardian article quotes Edzsard Ernset, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter Medicine: “If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, he says, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention – “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”’
Here’s the thing – many of us are not perfectly healthy. Many people are facing a health crisis. Many people do not have a healthy body, and it stands to reason that everything is not working perfectly well in that less-than-healthy body.
And, the reality is, environmental toxins are a thing, and they’re a thing we should all be concerned about, according to the CDC itself. On average, the study found 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine, 75 of which had never been measured before in the US population at the time of the study. Alarmingly, tests have found that these 200-plus chemicals are also found in newborn umbilical cord blood– babies are now born with hundreds of chemicals in their bodies.
Traditional medical practitioners and articles like the one published by the Guardian will claim that there is no scientific proof that things like spirulina and nettle tea actually work to detoxify the system.
However, there is a reason there is little ‘scientific’ proof: they don’t study these substances because funding for these studies often doesn’t exist. The fact is, there is no money to be made by the medical or pharmaceutical industries from natural products and supplements that heal and cure, so studies on these natural substances with healing potential are limited.
For more analysis of these arguments, this articledoes a nice job rebutting some of the claims made by the Guardian article and explaining the mechanisms of detoxing.
FLC Syndrome – The Reality of our current State of Health
Mark Hyman, MD, asserts that half of us suffer from FLC: the Feel Like Crap syndrome. And the reason we feel like crap is because we eat crap.
Given the contaminated state of our food system and the less-than-natural environment in which the majority of us reside, I must agree. Simply put, if you overload the system with crap and (dare I use the word) toxins, your body will not be happy.
You don’t need a medical degree to comprehend that ingesting unnatural compounds and excessive amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats can trigger our immune systems to attack and cause inflammation. You don’t need a PhD in biology to understand that not eating the right food or getting enough nutrients will not supply the cells in our liver and other organs with the nutrients and proteins it needs to keep those enzymes working properly.
Why does detoxing work?
By stripping the crap from our diets and replacing it with real, whole foods, we give our bodies the chance to reset, and YES, to do just what they were designed to do: detox! The result is natural detox the way it was designed, without interference. Elimination approaches result in detox done right: with the all the nutrients and resources the body needs to get the job done right and to get the job done thoroughly.
Think about it like a messy desk – if you keep piling papers and files on top of the already existing piles of papers and files, you’ll never clear off the desk. But if you stop piling more stuff on top of what’s already there and start sorting through the existing mess, you’ll give yourself the chance to clear what’s there in due course. Same goes with the body: if you stop feeding it crap and just give it clean fuel and resources, your body gets the chance to get rid of the crap that’s still in there without being further burdened by continual crap piled on top of the existing crap.
Basically, if you don’t give your body the chance to properly reset, it’s like sisyphus rolling that rock up a hill: you might have good days, but you’re never going to get over the hump because you’ll keep falling back into the Feel Like Crap state.
Detoxing vs Cleansing: It’s all in the name
The key thing to understand when trying to come to grips with the notion of detoxing is that the term ‘detox’ is used very loosely, and it means different things to different people and different programs. One detox diet can consist of consuming solely lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne alternated with tea for ten days (the infamous master cleanse) while others (like mine) call for not a single juice – just real, whole foods. And there are countless products on the market using the term ‘detox’ that it’s difficult to suss out what’s legitimate and what’s putting a popular label on a product just to sell.
Because the term ‘detox’ is so incredibly loaded these days, I prefer to use the term ‘cleanse’ as it sounds a little less harsh and rigid. And that’s precisely the approach I take. My cleanse approach is entirely whole foods based, juice optional. I have personally done a couple 3-day juice cleanses to see what the hype is about, but that’s not how I approach cleansing on the whole.
Truthfully, it’s entirely unnecessary to do a juice cleanse if you’re not into consuming an entirely liquid diet. I use real, whole foods, with soups, smoothies, salads and simple veggie sautées on the menu, snacks allowed, supplemented with plant-based protein powder and even some chicken or fish if you really need it.
When you approach cleansing from this standpoint, the two camps are really not quite as far apart as they sound at first glance. To give the naysayers the credit they’re due, they all of course recommended eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in plants and healthy protein while cutting the refined and processed foods. Really, that’s what it’s all about: cutting the crap and allowing your body to reset.
Ahh, but what about that protein factor?
The lack of protein is a concern mentioned in each and every article dissing detoxing. To be sure, protein is absolutely essential for proper bodily functioning. But the truth is, not every protocol calls for a complete avoidance of protein, and people underestimate the amount of protein contained in plants.
A 3-day juice fast – a common product on the market and the most extreme I’ve gone and would ever feel comfortable recommending to a client (assuming medical permission was granted of course) – is short-term and your body will certainly not shut down over such a short period of time.
And frankly, if you do it properly, a juice cleanse provides far more protein than people realize: a primarily green juice plan can provide up to 20-30 grams of protein per day. It’s also possible to supplement the juices with plant-based protein, as I recommend doing with smoothies (and even soups!) on my approach.
And the fact is most of us consume far more protein than is actually necessary. The US Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)/Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 46 grams each day for adult women and 56 grams each day for men. Meanwhile, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the average female eats about 70 grams of protein while the average American male consumes 102 grams.
To be sure protein requirements vary by size and activity level, yet on the whole we clearly consume far more protein than is actually necessary. Which, in itself, may actually be doing a disservice to our bodies if we are replacing plants with excess protein.
So how do you know if you need a cleanse?
The symptoms of toxic overload are extremely varied and can impact the entire bodily system. Seemingly unrelated conditions may all result from this underlying issue. You might want to consider a gentle cleanse if you:
- have trouble sleeping
- get headaches
- gain weight easily, especially in the belly
- feel exhausted and depleted
- feel a lack of focus and energy
- have trouble losing weight
- experience bloating or gas
- have digestive complaints
- have excessive sinus problems
- suffer from joint pain
- have acne, eczema or other skin problems
- feel stuck, unmotivated, or irritable
- feel stressed and overwhelmed
- experience mood swings
- crave sugar or starchy food
Symptoms often include relatively minor annoyances like some listed above, which are plenty frustrating. But toxic overload can also be a factor in more serious conditions such as autoimmune conditions, asthma, arthritis, acne, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
Next up, I’ll dive more into the details of Why Cleanse: the signs and symptoms that you need a cleanse and the benefits of cleansing.
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