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Detox is probably the most misinterpreted term. Many misunderstandings surround the word detoxification. What is detox and how can you do it? The answer will differ depending on who you are asking.
The fact is that detoxification is a natural process for our bodies. The body has a good system of getting rid of unwanted materials and toxins; it’s the primary function of our body.
Why do we need to cleanse our organism?
Let’s see what the dictionary says about the word detoxification:
Detoxification is a process of removing harmful chemicals from something.
Note: from something
If our body has its own system, do we still need to undergo a detox diet?
Does detox even work?
Detox diets are popular, but they might not do what you think they should or would.
If you look at a typical detox diet, you will see that it usually starts with a period of fasting, followed by a diet – a strict diet with fruit, vegetables, fruit juices, tea, water, and supplements.
If (or when) you follow the rules and the diet program, the detox diet should help with certain health problems, such as digestive problems, allergies, obesity, weight loss – to name a few.
But, almost every study concludes:
Further research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of these approaches.
“There is preliminary evidence to suggest that certain food such as coriander, nori and olestra have detoxification properties, although the majority of these studies have been performed in animals. To the best of our knowledge, no randomized controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans. This is an area that deserves attention so that consumers can be informed of the potential benefits and risks of detox programs.”
Moreover, it seems that the detox diet program can rarely identify the specific toxins in the body.
Can a combination of food push the toxins out? Or, can elimination of certain food help to eliminate toxins? Perhaps, only if you think in terms of fast and processed food.
But that’s not all: no study confirms that our body needs to be cleansed. There’s no scientific evidence that backs this claim.
What about weight loss?
A few studies are presenting insufficient evidence to confirm that detox diets can contribute to weight loss. The most common conclusion of the studies is that you can have positive results but for a short period of time as you can easily gain weight once you go back to your “normal” eating habits.
Some people do report to have more energy. They are also claiming to be more focused and alert, but this might be due to eliminating processed food, or alcohol. Another reason for weight loss might be the result of water loss.
One study investigated a “lemon detox diet” in overweight Korean women. The results showed significantly reduced body weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, waist to hip ratio and waist circumference.
“We suppose that the lemon detox program reduces body fat and insulin resistance through caloric restriction and might have a potentially beneficial effect on risk factors for cardiovascular disease related to circulating hs-CRP reduction without hematological changes”.
This is the first study that showed more precise positive results. However, is it healthy to undergo a severe calorie restriction detox diet? Moreover, we know nothing about long-term results.
But, let’s say you start a strict detox diet and shed a few pounds. What about side effects? Some studies showed that a 3-week period of reduced calorie intake may increase the levels of stress hormones. There’s not a single study that would back up the claim that it’s healthy to be under stress while on a diet.
What about fasting?
By definition, fasting is willing abstinence from some food or drinks for a period of time. If not abstinence, then reduction, to say the least. Is this how you imagine a “good detox diet”?
Whether we talk about severe calorie restriction, short- or long-term fasting, the results seem to be the same – energy loss and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which in turn can lead to many health problems such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, weaken the immune system in general, and even bad breath. On the other hand, colon cleansing methods can cause dehydration, cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting.
If you follow a restrictive detox diet, you may experience fatigue and dizziness and lack of energy. Furthermore, you might lack essential nutrients and feel an increase in cravings, which can backfire and ruin all your “healthy” eating efforts.
What about supplements?
Detox products sometimes do not match their labels; there’s no regulatory body that can set rules when it comes to detox diets.
The devastating thing is that supplements can, in fact, lead to overdose or death.
What about a detox tea?
Losing water weight can make you think you are losing body fat – that’s how detox diets play tricks on us.
A detox tea usually contains caffeine and diuretics or plants that have a natural laxative effect. An example is senna. When you drink a tea that contains senna, your body is pressed to eliminate waste from the GI tract and you will feel lighter. The potential side effects of drinking tea with senna are abdominal pain and discomfort, cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, although detox tea is a stimulant that may suppress appetite and help you shed water weight, it can interfere with your sleep. L
Sleep deficiency can impact your health in various ways.
What’s happening in your body?
The way toxic chemicals impact your body depends on the condition of your detoxification system.
If you have a healthy body, toxins will get out naturally.
Every day we are exposed to harmful substances, directly or indirectly. We call these substances harmful because they are considered to cause physical damage.
Toxic chemicals are transported through the five detox organs:
The chemicals are being removed from the organism through the blood and lymph system.
We expose our organism to harmful substances, consciously or unconsciously, in many ways:
- Car fumes and other air pollutants
- Household products
- Perfumes, makeup, hair dyes, and other cleansing products
- Heavy metals that can be found in water
- Cigarette smoke
- Additives found in food
- Food preservatives and sweeteners
Some of these harmful substances are largely flushed out of the body, such as water and alcohol, but when taken in large amounts and frequently they pose great risks to our health. And some of these substances tend to get stored in the body’s fat tissue.
On the other hand, small amounts of toxic substances found in alcohol or coffee (caffeine) can increase an energy level in the body. However, if you continue to drink it, the body becomes saturated with it, and sometimes even small amounts can be fatal.
When actually the problem arises?
The problem with toxic exposure is even bigger when you consider that we are in fact surrounded by them. Heavy metals can be found in car and cigarette fumes and in household paints. When our cleansing organs cannot remove toxins because they are damaged from the toxic load, the body will eliminate toxins through the mucous membrane.
When the membrane cannot remove the toxins, we start to store the toxins in tissues. And this is where potential problems can begin.
Several symptoms are usually associated with toxic overloads, such as diarrhea, excessive urination, and vomiting. When toxins are accumulated in the body, you can see different indications of the accumulation that may be detected only by blood tests.
Toxic substances can also impact your weight loss plan because toxins from unhealthy food can impact hormone functions.
Even though toxins are being removed from our body every day, if you are having processed food on your menu every day, toxins are more easily stored up in the body. Consuming a lot of processed food means you are consuming a lot of pesticides, preservatives, and chemicals.
So, back to the question, do we need to cleanse our organism?
The answer is relative because it mostly depends on how you live your life.
Our body is completely capable of removing most toxins on its own.
Note: most toxins
There seem to be a few chemicals that our body may not easily remove – heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, phthalates, bisphenol-A.
Coriander, the algae called Chlorella, and several types of fruit acids and pectin may help eliminate organic pollutants and metals, but this evidence is from animal studies.
Yet another assumption is that our body will need a longer time to eliminate them because these pollutants accumulate in fat tissue or blood. However, there’s no evidence that our body can, in fact, remove these chemicals, and yet, there’s no firm evidence that it cannot.
What can we do?
There are a lot of ways you can decrease exposure to toxins and improve the health of your body and mind.
You might not have to follow any detox plan. You can make changes to your eating habits and lifestyle.
A few aspects of detox programs that may have health benefits:
- Exercising and sweating regularly
- Eating whole, nutritious and healthy foods.
- Avoiding processed food
- Drinking water and green tea
- Limiting stress and getting good sleep
Don’t you think that when you change your habits and incorporate these pieces of advice, you are in fact living in a healthier way?
- Eliminating “toxins” from body fat by losing excessive fat,
- Avoiding heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants
To fulfill these two requests, you will have to make an extra effort.
This brings me to a conclusion:
Detoxification can be rejuvenating, if or when you decide to make small changes every day. The changes you make won’t make you undergo a detox diet.
With these healthy habits, you will see many benefits for sleep, skin, and weight. You will strengthen your immune system, and increase your energy throughout the day.
Before you start to incorporate introduce new habits, there are a few things you need to know.
To repeat once again: our body eliminates waste on a daily basis, and there’s, in fact, no scientific evidence that self-imposed detoxification is necessary.
Are you eating too much sugar?
Are you drinking too much coffee?
This is important to know if you want to stay on the right path. If you are not sure why you need to reduce coffee intake, you might not stay persistent and might only see temporary results.
You need to have reasonable expectations and to be cautious.
Are you in good health?
Unhealthy food – carbonated drinks, snacks and sweets – are poisons to our body because they contain a lot of additives, colors, preservatives and artificial flavors. This is a perfect ground for free radicals to further pollute our organism.
Before you start introducing new types of food or eliminating processed food from your diet, get a checkup.
It’s best to consult your doctor and ask for advice.
Don’t seek a fast result
It’s wise to start small. You might not be a heavy smoker, but if you suddenly quit you are putting your body and organism through a shock. Proper nutrition is crucial, but unfortunately, too much fresh, healthy food too suddenly can bring certain problems. Your body does not know why you are eliminating certain food. It can only react when it does not receive the usual fuel. You don’t want to shock or stress your body; give your body time to get used to new eating habits.
Always listen to your body
Remember: fasting, detoxification, and healthy eating are different things.
Giving up sugar, carb or caffeine can have many unpleasant effects. Headaches and irritability, dehydration and problems with the digestive system – these are all side effects that might happen if you don’t listen to your body.
Be honest with yourself and trust your instincts.
When you think about detoxification, you can think about it in a way of introducing healthier eating habits.
How can you start with healthy habits?
Protect your brain and body from pesticides.
If you aren’t eating organic, you should start.
Consumers and nutritionists still fight the battle on whether organic food is healthier or not. The fact is that more and more people have are becoming concerned about the quality of food and its nutritional values, and logically, the toxic effects of ingredients.
The main difference starts with farming methods. Unlike conventional farming that uses chemical fertilizers to influence the growth, organic farming methods do not allow chemical ingredients produced for the sole reason to increase the production. Farmers that produce organic food use only natural composts, and manures.
Conventional farming uses harmful pesticides and herbicides to manage insects and weeds, while organic farming methods are based on prevention in a natural way using beneficial insects for killing the harmful ones.
The premise for healthy food, after all, is healthy soil and chemicals kill minerals from the earth, fungi, worms, bacteria, and insects that prepare the soil for plants to use.
You have probably heard of the dirty dozen list, the list of fruit and vegetables that are most exposed to harmful chemicals. The latest report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found pesticide residue in 68% of the food they tested.
Let’s take a look at the list:
- +EWG’s Dirty Dozen Plus:
Hot Peppers +
You are probably eating on a daily basis at least half from this list. Buy these fruit and vegetables organic whenever possible.
These fruits and vegetables is ok to buy conventional (not organic):
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet peas
This list is known as Clean 15.
Organic food – What does the science say?
A 12-year German study concluded that organic food contains higher levels of minerals, in particular potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C.
According to a study published in the journal Environmental Research, when you eat mostly organic food for at least one week you “can reduce pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent.”
“Conventional food production commonly uses organophosphate pesticides, which are neurotoxins that act on the nervous system of insects — and humans — by blocking an important enzyme,” explains lead investigator, Dr. Liza Oates.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona found that organically grown tomatoes contained higher levels of polyphenols than tomatoes grown with pesticides. These natural plant antioxidants are associated with reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and degenerative diseases.
Go smoke-free (and stay smoke-free)
Researchers from the University of Arizona found that one cigarette significantly impairs blood flow in the heart. Another study done by Norwegian researchers found that women who smoked one to four cigarettes a day tripled their risk of dying from heart disease and saw a fivefold jump in the risk of dying from lung cancer.
If you are exposed to secondhand smoke, it’s not less threatening. One way to fight it is to include broccoli and cauliflower in your diet because these veggies contain sulforaphane that is linked to lower disease risks, that is, lung cancer, according to studies.
Be careful when fish is on the menu
Remember the heavy metals we talked about earlier? Unfortunately, we can get heavy metals from fish. Mercury, a metal found naturally almost all around us, can increase risks of heart attack and is present in fish. It is used in farming and manufacturing, and because it circulates in the air, water and soil.
When in water, mercury changes in methylmercury and fish absorb the new form of the metal. When you eat fish you absorb it too, but it will be removed through urine and feces. However, it can also be removed through breast milk. When the levels of mercury are high, consequences on health can be big.
This does not mean you should not eat fish, because all fish contain traces of mercury. Moreover, fish and shellfish contain important nutrients we need.
However, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury, such as Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, and nursing mothers to avoid eating these fish. Young children should also avoid fish high in mercury as it can damage the nervous system.
When you eat fish, you should eat 2 average meals a week.
FDA also concluded that:
- Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
Avoid processed food
You already know this but I will repeat it nevertheless. Avoid processed and fast food because it contains additives and other chemicals, preservatives, colorants, flavor and added sugar.
We are not only talking about calories. Sugar can be harmful in many ways, after all, it is one of the major causes of many dangerous health conditions. It is directly associated with risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Sugar can also increase levels of cholesterol and contribute to fat accumulation in the liver. Are you aware of how much sugar is in your coffee?
You can even develop an addiction to processed junk food.
It’s not going to be easy to cut down on snacks you love, but you should still do it. Take one step at the time.
Regular exercising helps your lymphatic system and removes toxins through the skin. Any kind of movement is beneficial, even walking or jumping on a trampoline.
When you don’t exercise, fluids can easier accumulate in your body and thus affect your heart and lungs. Walking in nature, stretching, running, yoga – pick your like and help your body to stay healthy.
Avoid sweet-smelling air fresheners
Are you having frequent headaches? Do you feel like there’s something in the air that irritates your eyes? Aerosol cleaners can be culprits.
Avoid using air fresheners to cover unpleasant smells. Open the windows and let some fresh air into your house and pollutants out. Add plants that purify the air such as Boston ferns or Areca palms.
That’s it. Turn your bad habits into good ones. Try to thinks outside of the box and spend more time in nature. Do little things that can help your body stay healthy.
An official cleanse program may not be the right move for you.
Think about what you eat and drink. Detox diets can limit nutrient intake and decrease your energy.
We encounter toxic substances all the time. Make the smart choice and opt for a healthy lifestyle.
Image credit: DepositPhotos.com
Last article update: 12/19/2019