Showing posts with label detoxification techniques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label detoxification techniques. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

What the Heck is Detoxing Anyway?

Have you ever been approached by someone advising you to get a detox?  Perhaps your first thought was, What is detoxing?  Before you agree – or disagree – with their assessment and take action, use this detoxification introduction to help you understand and decide if a detox is right for you.

Water with lime

What is a detox?

Detoxing or detoxification can best be understood by looking at its root meaning; it’s about becoming removing toxins – poisonous substances in our bodies that can cause diseaseThe word “detoxing” is popularly used to mean one of three things:
  • Overcoming alcoholism or drug addiction through a treatment program;
  • The human body’s natural and ongoing self-cleansing mechanisms for removal of toxins, also known as metabolic detoxification;
  • The alternative medicine practice of either using (or applying) methods or substances in (or on) the body to eliminate bad stuff and replace it with good stuff, or simply to lose weight.
In this article, we are focusing primarily on the third definition – taking actions to purify your body from the toxic substances of life and diet.

Detox arguments

Detoxing is a hot button in the medical community.   On one side, many medical professionals insist that detox diets and detoxing bowel cleanses are unnecessary, or even quackery – unproven and potentially dangerous.  Their  arguments are usually two-fold: that the human body naturally does its own detoxing, in organs and at the cellular level, and doesn’t need any external assistance.

On the other side, proponents of detoxing methods argue that, while the body is capable of neutralizing or eliminating toxins, some people are inundated with more environmental or dietary toxins than the human body can handle, or that some people’s bodies are less capable of handling toxicity than others.  They argue that the body can benefit from a “leg up” toward getting organs cleaned up and able to function better. 

How does one do a detox?

The answer to that question depends on who is answering and what service or product they are selling.  If you want to try detoxing, the hardest part can be weeding through the jungle of options and claims to find the most reliable, effective, and safe methods.  
The more common methods for detoxing that are most widely accepted as effective and safe include:
  • Changing your diet – reducing the influx of toxins from the foods you consume by switching to a more “pure” diet that emphasizes natural foods and the absence of processed foods and additives.
  • Flushing toxins from your system – eliminating excess toxins from the bowels by performing enemas, colonics, or other bowel elimination methods.
  • Taking dietary supplements – boosting your body’s ability to detoxify by taking herbs or vitamins to support your dietary efforts.
As for dietary changes, proponents contend that many of the foods consumed in the standard American diet stress the body because of the processing methods (such as high-temperature cooking that can destroy phytonutrients or vitamins) or because of unhealthy additives (sugars, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, chemicals, etc.).  Common dietary detoxification techniques that practitioners may advise include:
  • A juice fast – eliminating all forms of food from your diet except unprocessed, uncooked fruit or vegetable juices
  • A plant-based diet – eliminating all foods that do not come directly from a plant, with an emphasis on foods that are high in fiber
  • A raw food diet – taking the plant-based diet a step further, choosing only those fruits and vegetables that have not been cooked
Many of the dietary recommendations for detoxing are period-based – something you are advised to do for a limited period of time – such as a juice fast. Other diets are encouraged to be a periodic process or even a lifestyle change to reduce the intake of toxins.

Many detox practitioners encourage bowel cleansing based on the theory that our lower intestines are capable of getting clogged up with literally pounds of excess matter, usually from inadequate dietary roughage, that can negatively affect the entire  body’s health.  A bowel “flushing” via enemas or a therapeutic colonic irrigation is therefore advised to aid in the body's ability to absorb nutrients.

For those who may advise you to include supplements for detoxification, the supplements often contain natural substances that promote bowel elimination or organ purification (particular liver and kidney). 

Detoxification side effects and Detox risks

There are many side effects with a detox – many of which are unpleasant but not dangerous – and there are also potential risks with detoxing.
Weight loss and detoxification
While weight loss is almost an inevitable side effect of an effective detox, be cautious of fad detoxes that are designed for weight loss.  Several of them claim extreme weight loss.  But any extreme and sudden weight loss can stress the body beyond that which is safe.  Most of those detox diets are too low in calories to be sustainable, which means that the weight loss will not be sustainable.  Attempting to maintain such extreme detox methods can be downright dangerous, leading to muscle damage and vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Detox elimination side effects
When you rapidly eliminate toxins from your body, the sudden change can create many uncomfortable side effects.  For example, if you regularly drink coffee, expect a caffeine withdrawal headache until your body adjusts.  Because of the increase in roughage that usually accompanies a detox plan, you may experience diarrhea.  Because diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte loss, you need to be sure to counterbalance those losses with plenty of fluids.  If you don’t increase fluids while increasing fiber, you can suffer from constipation.  Many who do high fiber intake or bowel flushes will also experience hunger, weight loss, irritability, indigestion, nausea, and lethargy.

Do I really need to detox?

If you are unsure if you need to detox, there are some scientific ways to measure the levels of toxicity in your body.  For example, it is possible to get your liver enzymes measured by a doctor to determine if your enzyme levels are elevated, which could indicate that your liver is stressed – having difficulty handling toxicity.
Of course, before undertaking any substantial dietary change or other detoxification method, you should consult with your physician, who can advise you based on your unique physiology.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer