The term “detox” gets thrown around a lot! There are hormone detoxes, liver detoxes, lung flushes, and colonics 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 (I love the rhyming, you’ll see more of that), So here’s a breakdown 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 fiber 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 that 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. Bacteria cultivate that pH balance in the colon, producing the 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 beforehand. 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 it is unnecessary and unproven, it can also have negative consequences. For more information, visit gastroendonews.com.
I feel 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 juice 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 bodies.
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 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 lose 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 a 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.
This diet detoxes lower toxin intake and relieves the pressure on the body to 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 many nuances when implementing lifestyle diet therapies. Here are just three 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, and 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 troubleshoot carbohydrate intake.
- Patient 2: Irritable Bowel Syndrome – some patients with IBS can react very negatively to increased raw vegetables or fibers 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 beforehand can help guide the speed, duration, and intensity of a dietary detox strategy. It might seem counterintuitive, but patients who 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 occasionally quits 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 sledgehammer 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 who know very little about cars and end up with a big mess.
Googling, taking dietary advice from your gym trainer, etc., Dr. Oz and our friends and family are the same. We’d never put our cars through that because they 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. A Bespoke Clinic, we are super passionate about using diet appropriately to address your unique health needs and get your only body running like the Lamborghini it is.
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.