Everyone’s fantasized about it. You take some pills, you drink some juice, you stick some pads to the bottoms of your feet, and it — almost magically — sucks the evil right out of you. By “evil,” of course, I mean “toxins,” that amorphous term for “things that make us sick and aren’t supposed to be in our body in the first place,” and can refer to anything from sugar to heavy metals to fermenting fecal matter (yes, this is allegedly a thing).
Clearly, this falls under the too-good-to-be-true umbrella. Or does it?
Yes. Yes, it does.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, “before you dust off that juicer or take the first tentative steps towards a colonic irrigation clinic, there’s something you should know: detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs squeaky clean and raring to go – is a scam. It’s a pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things.”
“Detoxing” hails itself as the perfect penance to absolve us of what we perceive as caloric sins, of the penalties for living in a modern era spewing smoke and smog and other nastiness.
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University in Britain, says that it’s important to distinguish between the two types of detox. One, he explains, “is a medical treatment for people with drug addictions.” This is the respectable kind, and it saves lives on a daily basis. Then there’s the detox that got co-opted by capitalism to sell you the dream of a perfect body, purified of all those pesky toxins and poisons running rampant in our bodies.
And full disclosure: our bodies are filled with stuff that shouldn’t be there. According to the Huffington Post, when the CDC did a study to find what kind of chemical load people were toting around, the results were fairly horrifying. On average, they found 212 chemicals in people’s blood or pee, 75 of which had never been measured in people before. Put together, they present “a pretty toxic load on the human body,” and “can accumulate in the body’s blood, urine, and tissue.” If you’re suffering from other health problems or a poor diet, this stuff can cause problems.
So how do you detox and get rid of the gunk? Well, you keep your kidneys and liver healthy. The kidneys are the body’s natural filtration system, and the liver breaks down chemicals and toxins and then removes them by filtering your blood. So keep those vital organs in tip-top shape with certain nutrients like B vitamins, foods rich in flavonoids, A, C, and E vitamins, fish oil, and amino acids from protein.
None of the “detox” products you see on the shelves define what they mean by “detoxification.” Most don’t name the toxins they are claiming to remove, either. That doesn’t mean they’re totally and completely ineffective; it just means that there are probably more efficient — and reputable — ways to get these toxins out.
Colon irrigation, or colonics, are another popular detox trend. They’re based on the idea that toxic poo sits in your intestines, getting reabsorbed into your system and making you sick. In a colonic, someone sticks a hose up your back door and washes it all away. Think an enema on steroids.
Many doctors, The Guardian warns, say that no one’s ever seen this impacted poo plaque and that colonics can end in perforated bowels. And again, the body takes care of itself. The colon sheds cells every three days, “preventing the buildup of harmful material”; that good bacteria there eat the baddies; and that “mucus membranes in the colon can keep harmful material from re-entering the bloodstream.” So take the hose out of your butt and go home, Mary Jane.
The Guardian notes other insidious tactics the market’s developed to convince you that you’re detoxing. Colon cleanse tablets turn your poop into a plastic-y snake. Those foot pads they used to hock on late-night TV have a substance that reacts with sweat, turning them black, allegedly from heavy metals except not. All those juice/cucumber/celery/carrot soup cleanses? Well, your ass might feel cleansed after all that quality time you’ve spent on the toilet. But it’s done nothing except make you poop. A lot. No heavy metals were lost in the making of that poo, unless you were possibly taking spirulina, and even then the scientific evidence is sketchy.
So when it comes to cleansing and detoxing, your best bet is to detox the trend from your life. Instead, rely on the tried and true methods of staying healthy: eat a balanced diet rich in leafy green veggies, veggies in general, fruit, fish, nuts, and some red meat. This will support your liver. Maybe take some supplements (different from fake detoxifiers) after some serious research. Support your liver, which is where the body’s trash ends up.
And most of all, don’t fall for the corporate shills that promise easy answers and quick fixes. This stuff takes time. This stuff takes effort. And by “effort,” I don’t mean relaxing your anus as the tube goes in.