This morning, I was reading through some of my friends’ Facebook posts. It is usually that time of year when lots of women try to get that “beach body.” (That discussion of a beach body has its own discussion, but that is for another time). Many of my friends were toting a diet of eating only steamed greens and lean organic protein to get those bikini abs or swimsuit body. “I need to purge my body of those toxic chemicals,” a friend said. “Green juice and smoothies only from now on.” The truth, though, is that detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs squeaky clean and raring to go – is a scam
And it is something that, as consumers, we need to be aware of.
The shelves of health food stores are still packed with products bearing the word “detox” – the magical buzzword we all fall slave to. You can buy detoxifying tablets, tinctures, tea bags, face masks, bath salts, hair brushes, shampoos, body gels and even hair straighteners. Yoga, luxury retreats, and massages will also all erroneously promise to detoxify. You can go on a seven-day detox diet and you’ll probably lose weight, but that’s nothing to do with toxins. It is because you would have starved yourself for a week.
Other tactics are more insidious. Some colon-cleansing tablets contain a polymerising agent that turns your feces 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. I have tried a detox tea that I received in the mail, only to have to rush to the bathroom every hour because the tea was causing my body to “expel” the toxins.
Unfortunately, it was only causing me cramps.
The sales of purifying products revolves around “toxins”: poisonous substances that you ingest or inhale.Since the beginning of time, humans have held on to an idea that toxins cause one to feel ill. Look back to ancient Egypt: Physicians thought that toxic substances could be produced in people’s bodies (particularly within feces), caused disease, and needed to be expelled.” Toxication” persisted, according to the medical journal the Lancet, and even microbiologists believed it through the past century. By the early 1900s, however, our understanding of physiology evolved, and scientists sent auto-intoxication “to the dustbin of medical history,” according to the Lancet.
Still, consumers hear the merits of detoxing and its ways of removing these impurities from the body. It sounds like an instant cure: drink this/consume this/use this and you will feel instantly better. However, it’s not clear exactly what these toxins are. If they were named, they could be measured before and after treatment to scientifically test effectiveness. Yet, when we try to identify these toxins and they scamper from view. In 2009, a network of scientists assembled by the UK charity Sense about Science contacted the manufacturers of 15 products sold in pharmacies and supermarkets that claimed to detoxify. The products ranged from dietary supplements to smoothies and shampoos. When the scientists asked for evidence behind the claims, not one of the manufacturers could define what they meant by detoxification, let alone name the toxins.
Our bodies are incredibly powerful detoxing on their own. If you have healthy kidneys, liver, skin, and lungs, then you have some of the most powerful detoxifiers on the planet! Each plays a critical role in the body’s natural detox process. If you have been drinking alcohol, then your liver is the organ in charge of removing the alcohol from your bloodstream. Now, I would agree that it is probably a good idea to give yourself a couple of days to give your body a bread from consuming alcohol. However, the idea that any sort of diet is going to do a better job of “cleaning” your body out than your natural organs is just silly. If you think that your organs do not do this process efficiently, then you might have a physical medical problem. If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of some serious medical care.
Now, what I must make clear is that there is a difference between eating healthy and detoxing. Eating healthy means putting whole, nutritious foods into your body so that it can perform its best. However, restricting your food supply to only the cleanest foods as a way to rid your body of toxins is a fallacy. There is no one group of foods that can make ones body “clean”. One of the most common ways for people to detox is my eating lots of vegetables. And hey, I have done this myself. I am well known to CRAVE a bowl of steamed broccoli when I come home from a vacation. I know, craving broccoli sounds a bit ridiculous. But the idea that, after an indulgent weekend that we must eat a certain diet to purge our body of toxins is a fallacy. Even healthy-seeming broccoli, a vegetable we can all agree is nutritious, has some poison—traces of cyanide. My beloved Brussels also have traces of cyanide. But a reason that so many physicians recommend eating is it provides a tiny bit of poison that primes the enzymes in your liver to deal better with any other poisons.
Think about it as poison practice.
So while we might think one food is “safe” or “pure”, too much of a good thing is never the answer. Instead, to make our bodies feel their best, we should used the tried and true method of not smoking or using drugs, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating as many whole and minimally processed foods as possible. As much as we want to believe in fairy tales, you can’t turn back last night’s partying with kale after the clock strikes midnight.