24 Apr Why “detoxing” is a myth (and why you should probably do it anyway)
Every January, gyms across North America experiencing the biggest boom of the year as people swear off junk food and drinking in a sudden backtrack of their “everything in moderation” opening gambit from the start of the holiday binge. This is followed immediately by sudden drop in activity, and then a new burst of interest in wellness when the calendar flips over to April. Swimsuit and shirtless season is just weeks away!
Along with this glut of fitness fanaticism comes the supplement industry’s own version of Black Friday, as people seeking to fulfill personal promises of returning to their svelte, super-healthy pre-adult figures buy up every natural, holistic, and sacred herb product on the market.
And along with this spending wave comes the inevitable pile of hooey that comes with it: the myth of the “detox.”
I’ve sold detox packages, so I’m allowed to say this stuff. The thing is, most people don’t understand the difference between the hype and the reality. They’re taken in by what sounds like seemingly logical scientific jargon, when in reality there’s very little science behind most detox products. So how can I justify being on both sides of the coin?
Simple: I think there is a detox to be done. But it’s not what you think.
The reality is, most “detox” products you see on drug store shelves aren’t really for detoxification. Rather, the word is used in the same trigger context as “natural” or “pure” or “gluten free.”
Yes, I’ve seen chicken breasts labelled “gluten free” in the grocery store. The marketing world is that attuned to the demands of the Dr. Oz-obsessed public. And we’ll talk about gluten free soon enough, trust me.
I could list argument after argument explaining why “detox” is a virtually meaningless word in the context of about 99% of these products as well. Other sources; like this one, and this one, and my personal favourite: this one; have done an excellent job chipping away at the mythology (and do read the studies they provide as well…it’s worth thinking about). The nutshell version is this: the body is exceptionally well-designed when it comes to removing toxins. Toxic buildup just doesn’t happen in a healthy body, and when it does happen (such as with lead or mercury poisoning) aggressive medical intervention is necessary.
The truth of all this “detox” mumbo jumbo is that it’s pretty much nonsense. There is no buildup of environmental chemicals in your body. There’s no patch that will draw “toxins” out of the soles of your feet (no really, that’s a thing you can buy). There’s no rare biological process that cleanses your blood by passing coconut oil through the pores in your teeth.
Your body is designed with a very advanced filtration system already in place, and it works pretty damn well. Unless you specifically suffer from a deficiency like kidney or liver failure, you won’t find many herbs or skin patches or colon cleanses that will improve the efficiency of those processes. In fact, even if you do have these disorders, stuff you buy from the drugstore won’t cure you of them. It probably won’t even help a little.
The medical community (you know, the one your actual real doctor belongs to) only uses the term “detox” for one application: getting people off of their drug or alcohol addictions.
Really, that’s it. So when someone is going into detox, they’re in there kicking an addiction. You can’t detox from the environment, and there’s nothing stored up in your system that’s creating a toxic environment within your body.
But then again…
How can I resolve this reality — that “detox” is a myth — with the fact that I wholeheartedly recommend detoxing? Well, the answer is actually much simpler than you’d think.
See, I’m actually of the opinion that we as a society in the West eat way too much crap on a daily basis to be considered truly healthy. And since the number one culprit in our “toxic” diet is (ready for it?) sugar, which is plenty addictive in its own right, I’m not averse to saying that when we do a nutritional detox we are in fact going through a similar process as people who would be in detox for alcohol or drug addiction.
I recommend a nutritional detox, or a cleanse, not because I expect to see some mysterious release of toxic chemicals from your body, but because I want your body functioning optimally by eliminating things that are know to be a problem. This includes sugar and grains, alcohol, and artificial ingredients.
A good nutritional cleanse starts by doing two things simultaneously: providing all the nutrients you need for optimal health, and eliminating everything from your diet that isn’t food. The point, from my perspective, is to do a reset on your daily food intake. Get back to the essentials: protein, vegetables, healthy fats. Then your diet will be detoxed, and your food addictions will be cured (ideally).
The amazing thing about this process is that I don’t care one tiny bit about “toxins” that may or may not accumulate in your body. Yes, I know there are some that are a factor. But what I care about in a nutritional cleanse or detox (I’ll use the two interchangeably) is getting food intake stripped down to the bare essentials so you’re eating what you need. From there, you can adjust to a diet based on choice and need rather than on hooked and want.
If we’re going to throw the word “detox” around, let’s use it responsibly. It irritates me when people use it to make grandiose claims about the panacea effects of cleansing the body of dangerous…whatever. The truth is, there is a detox you should be pursuing, and it’s not a detox that rids your body of anything. Instead, it rids your lifestyle of things that stand in the way of your good health.
And that’s something I believe everybody needs to look into very seriously.