You want to be healthy, but first you need to cleanse yourself. You’ve seen the ads on social media telling us we need to detox, cleanse, or flush in order to reach maximum health. Supplements, tea homeopathy, coffee enemas, ear candles, and foot baths are examples which promise a toxin-free body. Amazon even has categorized supplements by ‘detox and cleanse.’
Their descriptions all state that detoxing will deliver a renewed body and rejuvenated health — “It’s only seven days and $49.95 away.” Unfortunately, there’s an important detail that detox promoters aren’t telling you. “DETOX” ISN’T REAL.
This grey-area marketing language draws away from the fact that the only medically accepted definitions for detox are those clinically administered treatments for people with life threatening drug addictions, or dialysis for those with kidney disease.
The Health and Wellness industry typifies how high levels of interest can actually work to obscure scientific fact. Also, in this era of real breakthroughs in science and medicine, it’s become even more cumbersome to differentiate truths amongst product claims and other misinforming language, phrasing like ‘patented formulation’ or ‘liposomal delivery’ are especially problematic.
Patented formulas don’t equate to efficacy, and technical language such as the latter (using a fat to help absorption) is often used to circumvent our critical thinking. This is to the dismay of those truly interested in living better through a whole-food and natural product diet; the detox trend is now host to misleading claims, overhyped products, and potentially dangerous conditions to our physical health.
These supplements are unregulated, and left to take advantage of a will to become our best self, to live our healthiest. It’s actually a miraculous thought: “Why not give your body the extra power to detoxify contaminants and disease?” This is where we all need to stop and think — the body’s metabolism and innate system of healing should already be perfectly capable of sustaining good health.
The detox trend ignores that to establish that even a single chemical in the cause, let alone treatment of disease, requires an immense amount of research. The whole branch of medicine known as Epidemiology is dedicated to this; considered as the cornerstone of evidence-based practices and modern medicine, it encourages us to ask, what are these detox products actually doing?
Too good to be true
Well first, they start by making it sound quite the contrary, as if we’re missing something essential to live our healthiest. They typically contain some blend of traditional herbs, where ‘detox’ is inferred from a loose basis of traditional health promoting benefits. Few have been sufficiently researched for efficacy, and fewer to any conclusions about safety.
The reality is that our bodies are constantly being exposed to a huge variety of natural and synthetic chemicals, and these detox products are making matters worse.
These are great causes for concern. Popularized products are dangerously full of unknowns, making them especially unfit for celebrity endorsements, where many will follow in-suit without researching ingredients, side-effects, or consulting with their doctor.
Unhealthy expectations for body image also have hastened this problem in the wellness arena, where detox is marketed as a promise of results you can feel (or see) within a short period of time. This means a frequent reliance on a combination of caffeine, diuretics, and laxatives, a combination liable to cause electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.
If not such an extreme example, other detox supplements are more specific about what detoxifying function they promote in the body. You may notice a dedicated detox tea for individual organs such as the kidneys or liver, which although closer in essence to our body’s natural abilities, still represent only part of the equation.
Finding health in the wrong place
Common detox programs also direct consumers to use the product with limited or no food intake for a set period of time. This fasted state places individuals at an increased susceptibility to negative repercussions and unknown additives, and consequently hijacks the natural benefits of fasting as some of their own.
Safety aside, these typical 3 or 5 day ‘miracle cleanses’ only encourage the same benefits associated with fasting strategies, e.g. intermittent fasting. Unrelated to any detox supplements, during a fast the body enters a state of ‘autophagy’ defined by the consumption of one’s own tissue during starvation. This mechanism is deeply ingrained in our physiology, giving us the chance to remove cellular excess and more directly excrete metabolic byproducts.
Research into fasting has earned at least one Nobel Prize, linking it to disease prevention and longevity. Fasting also makes for an effect you can directly feel, a systematic process in our body unlikely to discerned from detox supplements, and better left to its own devices.
Many of those same detox programs boast compounds which improve liver function, which in most cases is the body’s primary detoxifying organ. The liver works to produce enzymes and peptides capable of breaking down toxins and aiding their removal from the body. One of the most important of these is the peptide glutathione, used abundantly to remove metabolic waste and inhibit oxidative stress.
There are some supplements suspected to encourage heightened glutathione production, including N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and Milk Thistle extracts; these are established to some level of efficacy, yet not without their side-effects. They are also nowhere near as sure-fire as would be a properly balanced diet in maintaining a happy liver.
The bottom line
The first rule of detoxing is to stop putting toxins in. If you stop putting toxic things into your body the body has many mechanisms for clearing itself out.
Ensure that your diet contains plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Make sure to drink plenty of water and matcha, and find time each day to be active. We recommend following the principles of the mediterranean diet which adheres to the anti-inflammatory pyramid.
Try to reduce alcohol, smoking, trans fats, and foods high in added sugar. Leading health researchers point to these lifestyle changes for the most long-term benefits. "There's not much point in being 'healthy' for a week or a month — you need to take a long-term view and make concerted changes to your diet."
Overall, the greatest value to living happy, healthy, and free of toxins is to help our bodies do what they were designed to do. When you incorporate a balanced whole-food diet, some healthy sweating like in a sauna (stay hydrated) or aerobic exercise, and wise choices like drinking matcha 2 or 3 times a day, you’ll be well on your way to your best self.