“Detox diets” are short-term programs that remove toxins from the body, improve health, and help you lose weight. “Detox diets” cover (juice) fasting, mono diets and super low-calorie diets. Often, these diets are reinforced with diuretics, “cleansing products”, all kinds of dietary supplements and laxatives. But these are Internet interpretations. Traditionally, the term “detox” was used by doctors who treated people with life-threatening addictions to alcohol or drugs.
Apart from internet promises, in the last 20 years the word “detox” has migrated to food and supplements labels. Health claims without scientific grounds are not allowed within EU, but in many countries, you can still find all kinds of detox products. These products are supposed to help us get rid of the toxins that have accumulated in our bodies.
Back in 2009, British scientists from Sense About Science contacted the manufacturers of 15 detox products. The products were very different, from dietary supplements and cocktails to shampoos. When scientists asked manufacturers to define what they meant by detox, no manufacturer was able to provide a definition. What toxins are, manufacturers also could not explain.
How our body is cleansed
Our body is constantly cleansing itself with the help of various organs that expel unnecessary or harmful substances. Let’s have a look.
Skin is a natural protective barrier through which very few chemicals can penetrate. The popular “detox foot patches” have no effect on our internal systems. Manufacturers of “detox patches” claim that feet turn brown overnight due to the toxins they seem to remove from your body. But in fact, it is nothing like that: the substance in the pads turns brown if mixed with sweat.
Kidneys can be compared to a filter through which unwanted chemicals are filtered. These substances are naturally excreted in the urine.
The gut is a natural hostile environment for many harmful bacteria entering the body. And one of the functions of the colon is to remove unwanted solids from the body (such as berry seeds). Colon hydrotherapy, a popular “cleansing” procedure in certain circles, can damage the beneficial intestinal flora, which is a natural barrier to enemy bacteria. This process can also cause mechanical damage to the inner surface of the intestine.
The lymphatic system can be imagined as a network of tubes (lymphatic vessels) through which lymph circulates. Lymph is a whitish, almost transparent liquid. Lymph removes harmful substances from tissues and returns them to the blood (without toxins). Bacteria and viruses are filtered from the lymph in the lymph nodes. This system circulates continuously. It cannot be stimulated by “detox products”.
The liver needs special attention, as it does a miraculous job of purifying our bodies.
The liver produces enzymes that convert toxic substances into less harmful ones. If the liver is not damaged, it is able to cope with the influx of harmful substances from everyday life.
However, many people still do a procedure called liver cleansing. Many of those who have tried liver cleansing are happy to share their experience: “So many stones came out of me, now I feel clean and healthy!”. The irony is that liver stones do not exist.
There are several varieties of liver cleansing, but the essence is the same. During the cleansing day, you need to consume a large amount of olive oil, washing it down with sour juice (apple, grapefruit, lemon). The next day, all the stones will leave your body.
As I said, there are no stones in the liver. But there may be gallstones. Perhaps that is why there is this confusion. But! The stones that come out with the excrement after the “cleansing of the liver” are not like gallstones. Gallstones are hard and heavy. The stones after liver “cleansing” are soft, they leave greasy spots on the paper. They do not contain the typical ingredients of gallstones (cholesterol, bilirubin and calcium). The so-called liver stones consist mainly of fat. If you heat them up, they will start to melt. In addition, they float on the surface of the water, while real gallstones sink in water. It looks like the “stones” in the liver are not stones at all, but half-digested olive oil.
Oil-juice cleansing does not get rid of gallstones either. Scientists say that both healthy people and people with gallstones produce the same amount of soft stones after cleansing. But the number of gallstones in those who suffer from them does not change. And they remain in the gallbladder.
Where is detoxomania rooted?
Detox is a marketing hit. A large number of manufacturers and distributors earn a fortune while using the word “detox”. Why is this happening? The information we need, whether consciously or not, we often seek selectively. For example, if we want to believe in the power of “detox patches”, then we type “detox patch benefits” in the search box, and not “detox patches + scientific articles”.
You can’t wash away your dietary and alcohol sins with a detox product, that’s wishful thinking. If most of us say the word “detox”, it usually happens after a period complicated by calories and alcohol abundance.
A true long-term detox is, as cliché as it sounds, a healthy lifestyle that includes a varied, plant-based diet, exercise, fresh air, smoking cessation, and withdrawal from alcohol consumption (bad news for many, I know). Although the liver can handle large doses of alcohol, the effects on some body systems will be long-term. For instance, a single intake of a large dose of alcohol (five or more alcoholic drinks) weakens the reproductive function of both women and men for three months.
So, do we need to detox? The answer is: no, we actually have to take care of our body every day by not over-consuming heavy foods and alcohol.
What about cleansing foods?
There are foods that are scientifically proven to contribute to the work of the liver. These products include edible cruciferous plants (all types of cabbage and radish such as cauliflower, kale, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, daikon), as well as onions, garlic and artichokes.
However, consuming these foods will only have a beneficial effect if you eat a balanced diet. A clean organism is one that functions in optimal or close to optimal conditions every day, and not one that alternates heavy feasts with fasting.