Can’t we all just detox?


Cutting up vegetables to make a healthy meal

Detox supplement kits often recommend eating a nutritious diet for best results.

By pH health care professionals                             

Boxes containing body “cleanses” adorn the shelves at every health food store. They contain everything from fiber to green tea to milk thistle. They promise to make you feel like a new person by coaxing all the toxins out of your body into your bowel movement or urine.  

It’s tough though to predict exactly how your body will react, whether good or bad, to these regimens. The scientific literature is just about silent on the issue. We already know that juicing can be harmful if done incorrectly. So how can we know if detoxing is a good thing?

First, what are toxins anyway?

They can include the following 

  • Drugs/medicines
  • Ingested nonfood substances like artificial food coloring or mercury from fish
  • Airborne particles
  • Waste byproducts of natural body processes

The body already has a pretty efficient system for getting rid of wastes and toxins. Urine and bowel movements eliminate much of what you do not need. This is why people often do not feel well when they are irregular.

The process of enterohepatic circulation, though, means that sometimes toxins get recycled! This occurs when substances in the intestine move back into the bloodstream and go visit the liver again. Vitamin D is an example of a “good” substance that gets recycled, while morphine and birth control pills stick around in the system longer because of this phenomenon. These drugs have to undergo changes in the liver to be finally excreted for good.

Detox kits and cleanses usually contain a laxative or fiber. Be warned, though, that taking too many laxatives can lead to diarrhea and dehydration.  Fiber bulks up the stool and can help make bowel movements easier. If you have difficulty with bowel movements, this could be very helpful. However, taking a lot of fiber without water can lead to bad constipation. So it is important to drink enough water with the fiber for these reasons. The weakness people experience with cleanses is far more likely to be low blood sugar and dehydration than “toxins leaving the body.”

Milk thistle, a frequent cleanse ingredient, actually interrupts enterohepatic circulation. It has been shown to help with liver failure from mushroom poisoning, as well as help prevent chemotherapy patients from having liver problems due to the treatment. If your liver has been getting a workout, whether from alcohol, drugs or prescription medications, evidence indicates that milk thistle may be helpful.

Finally, detoxes often have an ingredient like cilantro to help with getting rid of heavy metals. Assuming you already did your blood tests and know you have heavy metal problems (like too much mercury), these ingredients might help. However, some of the ingredients have only shown an effect in mice, or they were tested only with one metal. If cilantro worked for lead, do we know that it will help with mercury too? Time and more research will tell.

So is a detox cleanse right for you?

For most people who are generally healthy, cleanses can be tried out safely. Your body is unique, and the only way to know whether a cleanse will leave you with better skin or more restful sleep is to try it for yourself.

While we do not recommend cleanses for people with serious illnesses or moderate to severe digestive problems (like chronic opiate-induced constipation, bowel obstruction or diarrhea), they can relieve discomfort for people with mild irregularity or constipation and may be helpful in people who consume a lot of alcohol or prescription medications.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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