Debunking the detox:
The term “detox” gets thrown around a lot! There are hormone detoxes and liver detoxes and lung flushes and colonics all claiming to rid the body of toxins. In the first part of this three part blog on detoxification I wanted to lift the veil of the spin and dig in, (love rhyming, you’ll see more of that) So here’s a break down of some of the most common detox strategies and what’s really going on.
Detox in a box:
There are so many products in a box claiming to “detoxify” the body but when I look at the label they often contain therapeutic plants that have been taken out of context. They usually increase urination and act as laxatives which in certain situations these effects are useful. However, under the label of a “detox” they make you think you are detoxing because you can’t leave the washroom but they’re not really detoxifying the body. Other detoxes in a box often include large amounts of soluble fibre that stick together and end up in the toilet. This is not something that has been stuck inside you, it is the detox kit. How’s that for great marketing? “Every time I use this detox I end up with all this stuff coming out of me, it must be working!” Nope.
Colonics involve using water to “flush” toxins out of the colon may make you feel lighter (most of us have a few lbs of poo in us) but the science doesn’t support this claim. Furthermore, the colon has a very specialized pH balance. That pH balance is cultivated by bacteria in the colon and they produce byproducts we need for our body to function properly. “Flushing” the colon disrupts the pH and the bacteria. The idea that stuff gets stuck in our colons is false for most people. Endoscopy and colonoscopy involve inserting cameras through the throat or the rectum to gain a view of the insides of the intestines. Colonoscopy involves having a laxative treatment before hand. Both procedures show no stool or food remnants “stuck” to the walls of the intestine. If you’re into visuals google can help. Besides the fact that is is unnecessary and unproven it can also have negative consequences. For more information visit gastroendonews.com.
I have a feeling most readers have heard about the Master Cleanse where you drink lemon water with cayenne and maple syrup in it for up to 10 days. There are juicing cleanses, water cleanses and the list goes on. Many of these approaches have a dramatic effect but is it really the effect of the “detox” or is it something else? Basic biochemistry can help us understand some of the most drastic effects of the calorie restriction approach. The short story is that there are two states in the body, we are burning or saving energy. When we suddenly drop our calorie intake in cleanses like these we burn the energy stores we have in our body. This energy store is called glycogen. It is made up of many many many glucose molecules stuck together. When this glycogen is burned water is a byproduct. It takes an average person a few days to use up all their glycogen in their cells and when that has happened they usually have lost about 5 lbs of what is loosely termed “water weight”. This also explains why people gain so much weight back right away when they start eating their normal diet again, more calories (especially carbohydrates) equals more glycogen and therefore more water weight. On top of that, starvation states induce euphoria so you loose 5 lbs and feel great on these detoxes but not for the reasons you think. There are other risks especially for diabetic patients, patients with kidney disease, fatigue and other conditions to these types of detoxes. I’ll cover a post on calorie restriction and intermittent fasting in the future as there can be some benefits in certain situations when properly supervised by an naturopathic doctor.
The premise of diet detoxes is often to remove inflammatory and hormonally disruptive foods and toxins to give the body a break/reset. They often are used for a few months at a time or some people adopt them for longer for various reasons. Some people need this more than others. Examples of these diets include things that are called elimination diets, hormone balancing diets like in Dr. Natasha Turner’s books and paleo diets. These diet detoxes do lower toxin intake and relieve the pressure on the body so that it can function easier and more optimally with optimized nutrients, decreased inflammation and improved hormonal regulation. These diets involve lifestyle changes that go along with them. While they do have wonderful results for some people, many people need a customized approach as there are a lot of nuances when implementing lifestyle diet therapies. Here are just 3 examples of many of how a naturopathic doctor overseeing your diet approach is needed.
- Patient 1: Type II Diabetes – these patients are often on medications to reduce their blood glucose levels. Providing they are in the early to mid stages of Type II Diabetes, blood glucose is very sensitive to diet changes. Dietary detox approaches tend to regulate blood sugar so quickly, within a few days, that it is very important that the patient is checking their blood sugars and is in contact with their medical doctor (even pre booking an appointment) so that if their sugars drop quickly they can have their medications adjusted. If the patient has already been trained how to adjust their medications we can work with them as they adjust and trouble shoot carbohydrate intake.
- Patient 2: Irritable Bowel Syndrome – some patients with IBS can react very negatively to increased raw vegetables or fibres in whole grains and legumes so undertaking these types of diets while it can be helpful can be harmful because the underlying situation hasn’t been addressed.
- Patient 3: Heavy Metals and other toxins – some patients have been exposed to or accumulated more heavy metals and toxins in their system than others. Testing before hand can help guide the speed, duration and intensity of a dietary detox strategy. It might seem counter intuitive but patients who have have chemotherapy for example often feel more ill from detoxing quickly than the average person as they have more toxins stored in their fat and thus need to avoid flooding their liver and over running it with toxins.
Nothing is as simple as it seems when it comes to health and detoxes. I often explain it this way. Say your car wasn’t running as well as it used to, it has some weird noises and groans, doesn’t start easily, is leaking fluids and quits occasionally at intersections. The first thing you think (if you’re not a mechanic) is I have to get this car to a mechanic! For some reason, when it comes to our bodies, we often do the equivalent of running into the garage with a sledge hammer and few other tools. We unplug things and attempt to rewire and we patch holes without knowing what we are doing. So we ask a few people around that know very little about cars what to do and end up with a big mess.
Googling, taking dietary advice from your gym trainer etc, Dr. Oz and our friends and family is the same. We’d never put our cars through that because they are something we need to get us from point A to point B. But what’s more important and way more complicated than your car? Your body, mind and spirit. Unlike cars, you can’t get another one.
In Part 2 I’ll explain what detoxification really is and Part 3 will have some daily tips that can help you support your 24/7 detoxification efforts.