Detox – 21st Century Health Food Marketing Scam?
There – now I can save you $150 that you would’ve spent on the “master cleanse” guaranteed to give you the worst diarrhea of your life.
But in all seriousness, detox is a huge business now. Huge. And it makes “sense” to a lot of people. I mean, there’s stuff in there… right? And it’s bad for you… right? And all those environmental toxins must be building up in your body right?
It seems like every day you hear about someone going on a detox diet, or saying they “need to detox” after eating crappy food, or they’re doing a lemon juice cleanse or something like that.
But do we really need to detox, and if so, detox from what? I mean, many of you already know me well – I’m a huge proponent of integrative and alternative medicine, but this industry is filled with loads of BS.
The Funny Thing About Detoxing…
It’s kind of interesting. When you ask most people what they are actually detoxing from, or what this kind of stuff looks like, or how they know bad stuff is leaving their body… they don’t really have a straight answer to give you.
They say “oh, it’s environmental toxins. Pesticides. Negative ions from aliens and other airborne pollutants.”
There is no doubt that “bad stuff” accumulates in our body, for example, pesticides and other pollutants often collect in the fatty tissues of animals (including us!). And studies have shown that by shifting to a more organic diet, you can pretty quickly reduce the levels of pesticides in your body.
So why the heck are we detoxing in the first place, I mean how did this stuff get started?
Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Martha Stewart (among others) are partially responsible for making it feel cool (and worthwhile) to detox.
Beyonce, for example, was on the lemonade diet and lost 20 pounds for a movie role. Naturally, hordes (potentially hundreds of thousands of people) followed suit and it became a cool trend.
So Why Do People Feel Better on a “Detox” Diet?
“But Alex, I did a detox diet and I felt great! And everyone talks about how their “skin glows” and how they feel fantastic after. It must work, right?”
Welllll, not really.
Just look at the recipe for what’s called “The Master Cleanse:”
- First, squeeze fresh lemon juice.
- Then add rich maple syrup and Cayenne Pepper into Pure Water.
- Drink a minimum of six to 12 glasses throughout the day whenever one is hungry.
- Take a laxative before bed.
- Instead of the morning laxative, you can do the Salt Water Flush.
… If that’s what you’re consuming the entire day, you’re literally consuming about 1/10th – one TENTH – the normal calories you are.
So if you usually eat about 2,000 calories a day, or three meals of 650 calories, now you’re drinking about 300-1000 calories a day (depending on how much maple syrup you put in there).
One study even concluded: “To date, caloric restriction (CR) is the only method that has been consistently found to increase lifespan and delay the onset of age-associated diseases such as cancer and diabetes across multiple species.”
So, #1 You’re eating a heck of a lot less.
Let’s go on to the other reasons.
#2 You’re avoiding caffeine, alcohol, stimulants, and the typical standard American diet:
You’re avoiding things you know you should be cutting down on anyway. Aka, you’re eating a healthier diet and living a healthier lifestyle.
Especially if you’re shifting from the standard American diet:
Okay okay, people say “After juicing I felt amazing! look at how great my health is after juicing three days a week!”
The same applies – they are avoiding more of the bad stuff, adding more of the good stuff, practicing caloric restriction, they’re fasting, and they’re getting more of the inherently beneficial vitamins and minerals found in plant foods.
Oh, and if you’re using laxatives, that’s probably why you’re feeling so light and non-bloated
#3 You’re fasting.
We know that periodic fasting is good for you – for example, one study found that fasting therapy is beneficial in the treatment of rheumatic diseases, chronic pain syndromes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. In this particular study, 200-500 calories a day were consumed for 7-21 days, and aside from the above disease-reversing benefits I talked about, it also helped slow down the signs of aging.
… So “cleanses” and juicing are fasts. They’re caloric restriction. We know that these two practices are proven methods for periodically improving health.
The Science – or BS – of Detox.
With the exception of drug, alcohol, and heavy metal poisoning, your body doesn’t really need to be detoxed at all.
Your body has a built in detox system that is always working:
- Liver – breaks down toxins (like alcohol), and helps to work with the kidneys to make water soluble compounds the kidneys can then get rid of via urination
- Kidneys – help expel some of the nitrogenous wastes and other products from metabolism
- Skin, lungs, lymphatic system – expel toxins via sweating and breathing
- Intestines – digest food, absorb nutrients, and provide barriers that prevent toxins from entering your body, create and expel waste
Okay, so the body is naturally purifying itself all the time.
So what about all these methods like colon cleansing?
“Detox will help clear out all the junk sticking to the walls of your colon,” somebody once told me. And given my history with IBS (and my fix) it sounded intriguing.
Here’s the thing: stuff just isn’t sticking to your colon. Assuming you have somewhat regular bowel movements, and you don’t have any serious GI issues such as diverticulitis, there isn’t just “bad stuff” hanging out in there.
A doctor in the recent TIME issue on Alternative Medicine commented: “There really isn’t that much waste building up in the colon, as anyone who has peered through a colonoscope will attest.”
So the truth is that for most of us, unless you have a serious issue, bad stuff isn’t likely just hanging out in there.
What About Heavy Metals?
Aside from serious medical detoxes, like in the case of hard drugs and with alcoholics, there is heavy metal detox. Again, this is in serious cases of poisoning and not for ordinary people.
For example, the origin of this treatment (chelation therapy) dates back to World War I because of the use of chemical gases in warfare. In chelation therapy, chelating agents actually bind to the ions of the heavy metals, so that they can be somewhat harmlessly excreted by the body.
Do you need to worry about these?
The three most common are Mercury, Lead, and Arsenic… So let’s take a look at where you might be getting these in your system.
Sources of Mercury:
- If you live in a country strongly polluted by coal power with high levels of air pollution
- If you consume lots of tuna or swordfish
And unless you’re licking old lead-based paint, you probably don’t have to worry much about lead.
What about Arsenic? It’s primarily a concern in water contaminated with Arsenic, particularly in just a few select areas on earth:
… What I’m trying to say about all this heavy metal stuff, is that the majority of us probably don’t need to worry about them.
So what should you be doing instead?
What You Should do Instead
Obviously I don’t think detox is necessary. You don’t need a lemonade diet. You don’t need a master cleanse (plus, for $150, you can just buy a hell of a lot more healthy food or just go on a shopping spree).
So let’s state the facts:
A. There’s no proof that many of these detox diets actually detox anything.
B. If you do one, and you feel better, it’s most likely due to the fact that you’re eating healthier, you’re eating less, and you’re eating less often (aka fasting) – all of which have proven health benefits
C. Your body is always detoxifying itself.
Here’s what to do… Just focus on eating a real food diet. Many of you may want to lose a bit of weight, get more energy, and reverse chronic health issues or chronic pain – eating real food is that way!
Focus on the integrative lifestyle that helps you lose weight and reverse disease:
- Eat real foods – both for weight loss, and for their ability to fight disease like depression
- Detox from the stress of life – practice meditation, play more, exercise
- Get enough sleep – poor sleep (and not enough sleep) raises your risk of a variety of diseases and health issues
- Have fun, live a meaningful life, and make sure to cultivate happiness – health has innumerable intangible qualities. They are as important as the physical stuff.
That’s how I would get started “detoxing” yourself for free, hype free, marketing free, BS free.
Leave your thoughts below.
P.S. All this kind of stuff is in my Eat More, Lose More program. It shows you the essence (aka truth) about “what the heck to actually eat to lose weight.” The truth behind protein, fats, carbs, how to lose belly fat, busts all the biggest myths, etc.