Does Detoxing Actually Work?

If you’ve ever been around someone discussing their post-holiday or spring-cleaning ‘detox’ you’ll know these public conversations usually go one of two ways – either begrudgingly, with the detoxer’s laments of headaches, poor sleep, fierce cravings and moodiness, or with nothing short of an evangelical tone as the detoxer glowingly reports on the revolutionary upsurge of energy, digestion and mood. There are thousands of detoxing techniques advertised in health food stores, alternative medicine publications, and on the internet, each making claims the benefits of weight loss, improved energy, and stress relief. Most approaches include restriction of certain foods (or fasting) and may suggest other more aggressive methods such as colonic irrigation. Whilst these approaches may have some benefit, I suggest it’s useful to understand what the word ‘detox’ actually means, and to investigate how the body acts as its own detoxification system on a daily basis.

Detox, short for detoxification, can be thought of as the body’s complex orchestration of processes to neutralise or eliminate toxins from the body. The liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, skin, lymphatic system and blood are all involved in their own way to ensure harmful compounds, or toxins, are excreted from the body. These harmful compounds can be any number of substances, but tend to fall into two categories.

Exogenous Toxins

Exogenous toxins are chemicals which form outside of the body and can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed into the bloodstream by another means. These toxins might come from air pollution, personal hygiene, cosmetic, or cleaning products, recreational or prescription drugs and synthetic flavourings such as MSG or Aspartame, or Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of some food and beverage packaging.

Endogenous Toxins

Endogenous toxins are those produced inside the body, and include waste products from normal metabolic processes such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, and which, in most cases, the body is fully equipped to eliminate. However, the gastrointestinal tract can become unbalanced with unhealthy toxins over time as a result of poor eating habits, stress and the use of certain antibiotics. This inbalance can lead to a condition known as intestinal dysbiosis.

Eliminating Toxins from the Body

There are primary toxin removal systems in the body, which, when working in harmony, can efficiently eliminate unwanted compounds. The digestive system takes centre stage in the elimination of toxins through waste excretion. A common problem of constipation is detrimental because toxins linger in the bowel and can get reabsorbed into the body, increasing the workload and efficiency of the body. In fact, if you struggle with digestive issues, this should be the first step in any program that aims to ‘clean’ the body internally. The kidneys filter blood, balance fluid content, and remove toxins through the excretion of urine. The best way to assist this process is to drink ample amounts of water (aim for 1.5 litres or 8 glasses a day) and to eat lots of fruits and vegetables which contain water and will keep the body hydrated. The liver clears toxins from the blood, processes food nutrients and regulates the metabolism. A range of conditions can inhibit its function including the accumulation of fat, alcohol misuse, iron or copper accumulation and damage such as cancer. One of the best ways to keep the liver healthy is to ensure proper nutrition and limit alcohol consumption. Raw fruits and vegetables are particularly important for healthy liver function.

Given the body’s amazing capacity to eliminate toxins on its own, the best way to ‘detox’ is to avoid toxins in the first place. It’s not possible to eliminate all toxins to which we are exposed in the larger world, but here are some simple things you can do every day to keep your body functioning optimally.

Eat healthy foods

Eating healthy is arguably the most natural way to ‘detox’ as it assists your body in maintaining its balance and function optimally. There’s no magic, just a bit of dedication. Avoid processed, fried and refined foods such as white bread, sugar and biscuits. Eat organic as much as possible. Get a wide range of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Drink lots of pure, filtered water. Limit caffeine and alcohol.

Switch to Green Products

Look at the ingredients of your household items including cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. Shop around for ‘greener’ alternatives which don’t use harsh chemicals. Vinegar is one of nature’s wonders for cleaning.

Get moderate Exercise

Light exercise such as walking, swimming and yoga keeps digestion strong and stimulates blood circulation, which boosts the health of all your organs.