What works—and what doesn’t—to eliminate toxins from our bodies
Each New Year finds people flocking to their local gyms and health food stores, vowing to get healthy and fit, promising to give up junk food, pledging to eat less, exercise more, drop the extra weight, and get back into size whatever jeans. So it’s no surprise that advertisements for fresh-start detox cleanses and weight-loss programs bombard our television screens and radio waves during this time. We’re desperate to look better, feel better, and be better than last year—and we’re willing to try just about anything to attain that elusive goal.
Detoxification, as defined by Wikipedia, is the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism. The liver is the organ most responsible for ridding the human body of toxins, and unless one is suffering from a major disease, it does its job remarkably well.
Yet a simple Google search on detox cleanses yields a staggering 4,690,000 results, making it appear that Americans are in a detox frenzy. It seems that you can find a detox program for just about anything, including the very organs responsible for the process, the implication being that stress, parasites, sugars, toxins, and even heavy metals (the list goes on and on!) either prevent our organs from functioning properly or are so overwhelming that it doesn’t matter how well they work.
These programs promise to clear everything from brain fog to bad skin, bloating to irritability. But are they really effective and necessary?
According to the 14th edition of Healthy Healing by Linda Page, Ph.D., and Sarah Abernathy, detoxification is “... the normal body process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins through the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph and skin... Our bodies detoxify naturally everyday... It’s one of our most basic automatic functions.” Just like our hearts beat and our blood flows, our metabolic processes are always at work disposing of accumulated toxic matter.
So if detoxification is a natural, automatic process in our bodies, why do we need to do anything extra? The authors state that a detox program aims to remove the cause of disease before it makes us ill, in other words, before it begins to stress our organs. But what is potentially making us ill? Experts say that many factors can prevent us from achieving optimal health, the main contributors being the chemicals in our food sources, household cleaning and body/beauty products, environmental toxins, pollution, and stress.
Dr. Mark Hyman presented some disturbing statistics about toxins in his 2015 article, “Helpful or the Latest Fad? The Truth About Detoxification,” writing that, “we are exposed to 6 million pounds of mercury and 2.5 billion pounds of other toxic chemicals each year.” Additionally, “Eighty-thousand toxic chemicals have been released into our environment since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and very few have been tested for their long-term impact on human health.” He further cites that, “According to the nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group, the average newborn baby has 287 known toxins in his or her umbilical cord blood.”
In his article “Should You Detox To Get Rid Of Chemicals?” Dr. Joseph Mercola champions the recommendation of Dr. Tanya Edwards, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, to start their detox by changing their diets. Eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and low in sugars is as effective a method as taking herbal detoxification products, which in most cases are really just laxatives.
In fact, says author and primal health expert Mark Sisson, “Little scientific evidence exists for the efficacy of many detox diets and cleanses.” Perhaps the alleged success of these products comes not from whatever herbal concoction is in them but rather by what one eliminates from one’s diet during a cleanse. Sisson does, however, advocate consuming things that support the major detoxifying organs (liver and kidneys) by “eating foods that contain supportive compounds and avoiding foods that contain stressful ones.”
Programs and plans aside, how do we best maintain a healthy, happy balance within our amazingly designed bodies? The bottom line is that while there are no quick fixes, no miracles in a box, there are effective, low-cost ways to minimize toxins, look more vital, and feel more energetic.
The best way to begin detoxifying is to follow the advice of experts like Sisson and Dr. Hyman and clean up our diets. Consume real, whole foods, preferably organic. Eliminate processed foods, sugary foods and drinks, and unhealthy fats. Drink more water, increase vegetable intake, and eat high quality meat, chicken, seafood, nuts, and seeds.
“When you take out all the junk,” Hyman writes, “your body resets very quickly.” By fueling our bodies with real, nutrient-dense food, we will begin to crave it. Our bodies were designed for the good stuff, and when given the proper nutrients, it’s amazing how well they perform, how good we feel, and how clearly we can think. Bodily processes will be enhanced and we will naturally detox—keeping only what is beneficial and discarding what is not.
A holistic approach to any restorative practice is essential for longevity, so there are also some mind and bodywork techniques that can help us in this process. While we can’t always control our circumstances, we can be mindful of what goes into and onto our bodies, how we think about our health, and how we move and interact in our environment. Some modalities that detoxify the mind as well as the body include:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing
- Overheating therapy
- Dry brushing
- Baking soda baths
- Epsom salt baths
- Restorative yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi
- Therapeutic massage
- Energy bodywork
- Meditation/quieting the mind
- Quality sleep
- Float tanks
- Mini-trampoline for lymphatic system health
- Slow eating
It also helps to remember that detoxification is not an event; it’s an ongoing process that we need to intentionally support for the long term. We only get this one body—if we want it to sustain us, we had better take good care of it!
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