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The Great Detox Myth: And The ONE Thing You Should be Doing Instead


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:”

  1. First, squeeze fresh lemon juice.
  2. Then add rich maple syrup and Cayenne Pepper into Pure Water.
  3. Drink a minimum of six to 12 glasses throughout the day whenever one is hungry.
  4. Take a laxative before bed.
  5. 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).

Science has extensively studied the benefits of caloric restriction in regard to aging/longevity, cancer, and dementia.

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:

Standard american diet

Wikimedia commons

 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?


Wikimedia commons

“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:

Arsenic_contamination_areasWikimedia commons

… 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:

  1. Eat real foods – both for weight loss, and for their ability to fight disease like depression
  2. Detox from the stress of life – practice meditation, play more, exercise
  3. Get enough sleep – poor sleep (and not enough sleep) raises your risk of a variety of diseases and health issues
  4. 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.

Read this article to get my suggestions on what I consider real food.  And make sure to avoid food deception and marketing.

That’s how I would get started “detoxing” yourself for free, hype free, marketing free, BS free.

Leave your thoughts below.

– Alex

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.

Have You Read My New Book Yet?

  Read more about this in my book Master The Day. You’ll learn the nine daily success habits I learned interviewing people that lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in a healthy way – by changing their habits. Plus, you’ll get a free $100 bonus video course if you show me your receipt. You can get the audiobook here too.

7 comments… add one

  1. Alex, on a fast, you always knows when you’re detoxing because you feel sick before feeling better, as the crystalized toxins trapped in the joints (and maybe elsewhere) begin to release into your bloodstream. I can’t remember the name for these crystalized substances but they’re some kind of sugar compound. Sometimes, even a visit to the chiropractor can loosen them up and get them floating.

    After 5-7 days on a water fast, one can really begin to feel quite ill – I remember experiencing migraine headaches and aching muscles. This is a good sign. If you tough out that phase, the resulting health and energy is amazing! The thing is that digestion takes such an incredible amount of time and energy (especially for meat-eaters) that there isn’t much steam left over for cleansing and healing. That’s why fasting is recommended for serious issues. When the body doesn’t have to devote energy to processing food, it turns 100% of its energy toward cleaning out the machine and repairing whatever’s wrong.

    The main thing I’ve learned (but don’t necessarily practice) is to clean out the liver periodically so that it’s once again fighting for the team! A sluggish liver can only do so much to keep up with the continuous onslaught of crap. Once again, I’ve had personal experience with this. As you point out in your article, in order to clean out the liver, one needs to give up a lot of stuff – alcohol, caffeine, sugar, all chemicals and preservatives, most meat, and also gluten and dairy. After about three weeks of this (five years ago) I had so much energy I didn’t know what to do with myself! The diet itself was pretty depressing but I definitely felt stronger and healthier – people also told me I looked amazing.

    My intention here is not to be a pain in the ass, Alex, but just to share my own knowledge and experience. Keep up the wonderful work – your writing is so great. Love you!

    1. Definitely interesting Tiela! You’ll have to tell me more about this in person, as I’m pretty interested.

      Did you do any fast in particular?

  2. I’ve always thought that detox diets are just another method to rip money off of those who want a quick fix for their health/weight issues. Just like you said, the body is constantly detoxifying itself, and while it is true that eating lots of crappy food can “poison” it, the only thing you need to do in order to detox is to eat better. The body will slowly eliminate anything that’s not good for your organism and you’ll feel fresh and healthy without drinking water with lemon (or another version is with vinegar! Just eww.)

    1. Lina,

      As a whole, they pretty much are exactly that :). I think many people are looking to detox also to lose weight… in which case they’re just starving themselves by only going on a juice fast. It’s identical to just eating less and eating healthier haha.

  3. Thks for the interesting insights, I do agree with most of your take. One part of the equation you are missing though is in connection with mercury. THE worst exposure we have to it is from fillings in our teeth & the vapours they constantly release can do extensive harm throughout the body. Check out video “Smoking Teeth”. I can attest to the damage & am working on many levels to eliminate it, but it’s not an easy or quick job.

  4. Alex: I was recently reading a book by a colorectal surgeon, and he purported that we humans shed our intestinal lining every 4 to 5 days. Our colons do a great job of detoxing their self— You want catch me doing a coffee enema!!! I take my coffee by the mouth……Frank

    1. Hahah, Amen Frank :)


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