Do Detox Diets Work?

Many people I run into are convinced that they need to do a detox of some sort. Detoxes are very hip right now. From health and wellness experts like Ben Greenfield promoting colonics and hydrotherapy, to all fruit diet cleanses.

I started out my health journey about 6 years ago with one of the most cliche detox diets you could think of: a juice cleanse. That’s right, I was buying huge amounts of fruits and veggies and spending an hour every day preparing enough juice to drink for every meal. I had become suddenly interested in health and picked up a book called The Power Of Juicing by The Juiceman. I tried his protocol of drinking mostly juice for every meal. I did mostly vegetable juices with some fruit mixed in. After a day I felt about the same, if not hungrier than I did that morning. I tried to keep up with this regime for a couple months and slowly began to get tired of spending more than an hour each day using and cleaning out my juicer. A short while after the juice experiment I had 8 cavities drilled and a root canal done. Coincidence? Hey, at least I was cleansed.

People Do Cleanses To Rid Themselves Of Toxins

I know many people who have done countless repeats of these sorts of cleanses. There is the lemon and cayenne pepper water cleanse. There is the apple cider vinegar cleanse. There is the myriad of kits like this one that have mixes of herbs. The point for the most part is to get rid of heavy metals and toxins that build up in the body. I can’t deny that this is a problem. Everything from the municipal water supply, to conventional food, too polluted air we breath is filled with heavy metals and toxins. Cleansing protocols promise to detoxify the body of these compounds.

The problem with any cleaning protocol or product is that there is virtually no evidence to support any of it. While some foods do stimulate the detoxification pathways more than others (we will get into those down below) there has never been any permanent benefit shown from following a detox protocol.

Say you buy a tea or herbal mix like the one I linked to above. After looking up a handful of the names in PubMed, I see that each of the herbs has a medicinal benefit of some sort. Yes some are anti-inflammatory or anti-carcinegenic. Herbs definitely do something. That is why we have used them as medicine for thousands of years. The problem is that there is zero evidence in the efficacy of taking any such blend or product or protocol. It is all sold to you on ancedotal evidence and weak studies on individual ingredients.

Do Detoxes Fix The Root Issue?

Here is the important part to think about. Are these protocols, whatever benefit they have in the short term, going to fix the root cause of why toxins are building up in your body? Why can’t your body deal with the toxins by itself? After all, we have organs who’s full time jobs are the removal of waste and toxins from the body. A short term protocol may have short term results, but you cannot detox forever. You can’t drink juice or take massive doses of herbs forever. We can go on and on about cleansing ourselves of environmental toxins, but what about the toxins we willingly put into our bodies?

We can clean our body as much as possible, but if we are living in such a way that toxins are building enough to warrant constant cleansing, what is more important? The cleanses or the daily habits?

How Our Body Detoxes

Two organs do most of the detoxing in the body. The liver and the kidneys. These organs have evolved over millions of years to deal with the toxins we are exposed to and the ones we make endogenously. The kidneys are in charge of filtering excess water, urea, and other wastes out of the blood. These products are then flushed out in our urine. The liver prevents organisms from entering the bloodstream, gets rid of excess nitrogen from protein breakdown, and detoxifies environmental toxins.

Instead of doing outlandish detox protocols, why don’t we just live in a way that supports our bodies detoxification systems and limits the amount of toxins we are exposed to? This will get you the same results of a detox and save you a lot of money on proprietary herbal blend.

The liver can be damaged easily by omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Stay away from fats like canola, sunflower, soybean, peanut, safflower, and cottonseed oil. These fats are highly unstable and oxidize in the bloodstream, creating free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to the liver, inhibiting its detox pathways. Don’t eat refined sugar. Stay away from high-fructose containing foods. We have a pandemic of fatty liver disease, even in children. This is due in no small part to the excess consumption of fructose loaded drinks and foods. Stay away from alcohol, not having more than a few drinks a week at most.

To help the liver do its job we can do a couple things. One: stay away from foods that actively harm it. Our liver also needs much more choline than most are getting in their diet. Choline is necessary for optimal liver function and can be effective in treating fatty liver disease. The liver needs choline to process fat. Eat plenty of egg yolks and try some liver every now and then.

Our kidneys also respond deleteriously to sugar intake. Stay far away from fructose, as it inhibits kidney function and therefore the detox pathway.

I think that the main reason detoxes have any benefit is the removal of the very foods that cause a buildup of toxins and the breakdown of our detox pathways. If we go on a cleanse that is only juices, think about what you aren’t eating. No polyunsaturated seed oils. No high-fructose drinks or foods. No refined sugar. It isn’t about what you are eating but what you aren’t.

Why not take that concept and apply it to your everyday habits? Ditch the inflammatory seed oils and replace them with animal based saturated fats and olive, coconut, and avocado oil. Get rid of the sugar laced drinks and foods and opt for naturally sweet fruit or some keto style desserts when you need one. Eat plenty of nutrient dense animal foods like eggs, meat, and organs. Your whole life should be a detox from harmful foods and products. A week long cleanse won’t fix the root issues.

Thats it for this week everyone. Thank you for reading, and make sure to subscribe to our Wellness Wednesday newsletter for weekly musings and updates on health, wellness and personal development. You even get a free copy of our ebook, 3 Elelements To Lifelong Health for signing up!

Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA.  He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed  practices.  This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits.  Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!

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