Busting The Detox Myth: Risks of the Craze

20 Minute Fitness Podcast #20

On this week’s episode of 20 Minute Fitness, we get behind the science of “detoxing”. Although it is a very popular topic amongst many health enthusiasts, does detoxing actually work? Here we are going to figure out whether it is possible for your body to accumulate toxins. While also understanding how your body’s natural elimination process deals with toxins and waste.

The Tea-tox Trend: Is tea-toxing dangerous? 

Listen on for more on the effects of juicing. Although these antioxidant-packed liquids are promising is there any science behind if they work to remove “toxins” from your system? Also, we talk about the popular “Master Cleanse”.  We look into the science behind the extreme liquid cleanse along with where it came from.

Listen to this week’s episode to find out more! Enjoy!

Show Notes

Your Body’s Ability to Absorb Chemicals

Can your body actually accumulate toxins? What are people referring to when they say things like flushing out toxins? We are going to be referring to a CDC toxin study on the human to exposure to environmental chemicals.
Within this study, they found that “on average there 212 foreign chemicals in people’s blood and urine.” And 75 of which have never been measured in the US population.

These chemicals include:

  • Arsenic, found in many home-building products
  • Environmental phenols, including bisphenol A (found in plastics, food packaging and epoxy resins) and triclosan (used as an antibacterial agent in personal care products such as toothpaste and hand soap)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), found in paints, air fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, upholstery fabrics, carpets, dry-cleaned clothing, wood preservatives, and paint strippers

Our bodies can pick up these toxins through a variety of ways and it is based on factors such as the industry that you work in and chemical you may encounter on a day to day basis. But you can also come in to contact with these chemicals via the air you breathe or water you drink.

Your Body’s Ability to Eliminate Toxins

Your body does have a natural ability to get rid of toxins. In reference to a Harvard Health article, the immune system s is designed to recognize foreign substances and eliminate them from the body.

One of the main detox systems is your liver. Acting essentially as your body’s principal filter. The liver not only metabolizes dietary nutrients like copper and zinc but also neutralize harmful metals like lead and mercury.

Also, last but not least your kidneys have a very big impact on your bodies ability to eliminate toxins. The fact that urine tests are used to screen for drugs and toxins is a testament to the kidneys’ effectiveness in filtering out waste.

Can These “Detox Methods” Benefit You?

Edzard Ernst says, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “if toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention.”

“The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” said Ernst. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

In my search for any scientifically backed detox methods what I was only able to find was that certain mineral supplements can aid in the reduction of heavy metals within the system. For example, cyanobacteria is a type of bacteria found in spirulina. It is an accumulator (also known as a “biosorbent”) of heavy minerals. It does this via a process called ion-exchange binding, and can significantly reduce heavy metal toxicity in tissue.

100 micrograms of spirulina hexane extract has been shown to remove over 85% of arsenic in tissue.At a does of 250-500 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, spirulina has been shown to prevent metal toxicity from occurring in pregnant rats’ offspring when the mothers were given fluoride, and it has also been noted to reduce lead accumulation in brain tissue, protect against heavy metal cadmium buildup, and attenuate mercury accumulation in the testes.

Granted, spirulina is one of the few molecules in existence that actually has a large body of evidence to support its detoxifying activity.

Juice Detoxing Method

The juice cleanses we are talking about is drinking a variety of pressed juices for a number of days in replacement of actual food. The idea is that when our bodies are freed from the burden of digesting solid food, they can more efficiently release the toxins in our system.

According to Dr. Grendell, the chief of the division of gastroenterology at Winthrop-University Hospital said that “It’s hard to understand juice cleansing because there is no good scientific evidence that a juice cleanse or any other food for that matter, is particularly relevant to removing toxins,”

This isn’t to say that drinking vitamin-rich, antioxidant-filled vegetable juice can’t be beneficial for one’s health, he added, or function as an effective tool for weight loss or resetting one’s habits.

So we established that long-form juicing detoxes do not have enough scientific evidence to warrant any clear proof that they work. However, there are some pros that juicing does offer you.

Pros of Juice Cleansing

In the 2014 Preventive Nutrition and Food Science study, results revealed that ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, content was higher in drinks prepared by juicing rather than blending. In particular, the juice of apples, pears, and mandarin oranges contained the most ascorbic Vitamin C. Thus, nutrient and antioxidant levels, such as Vitamin C, can differ based on juice extraction techniques.

A 2011 study published in Nutrition Journal found that individuals who drank 16 oz, or 2 cups, of carrot juice every day for 3 months significantly increased total antioxidant capacity in their blood plasma, which means there was increased antioxidant activity in their bloodstream.

Essentially the pros are that you may see increased absorption of nutrients.

Cons of Juice Cleansing

However, there are still some cons of juicing to keep in mind:

Since juicing removes the rinds of fruits and vegetables, it also removes fibers but keeps all the sugars. For example, consider a fresh, medium-sized apple that has 19 g of sugar and 4 g of fiber. In comparison, a glass of apple juice does not contain any fiber and may contain juice from multiple apples. Thus increasing the total sugar content.

Since fiber is necessary for regulating blood sugar levels, drinking fruit juice may result in blood sugar spikes. Furthermore, fiber is also necessary to activate satiety responses, so drinking a cup of fruit juice may not be as filling as eating a piece of fruit.

The fructose present in fruit juice can be problematic as it is associated with increased triglyceride formation in liver cells. Triglycerides are a form of fat that can result from the breakdown of fructose in the liver. Increased triglycerides can impair liver function and build up as plaque inside artery walls when released into the bloodstream. Since higher intakes of fructose are associated with obesity and heart disease, drinking fruit juice in moderation can limit these risks.

Therefore, the cons of juicing mostly weigh on the side of drinking your food instead of eating them. This removes the fiber and can increase your intake of sugar.

Weight loss and Juicing

The main benefit that many blogs and personal testimonials boast about is the weight loss aspect of juicing. You are likely to lose weight if you go on a cleansing regimen. “However, most of it is water weight,” says Marissa Lippert, a registered dietitian in New York City.

When you eat whole foods, especially carbohydrates such as bread and grains, your body needs to hold on to water to digest them properly. Take away the food and the water disappears. The problem: When you begin eating solids again, the water may come right back, leaving you where you started.

What’s more, for some people, the restrictive nature of a cleanse can cause carbohydrate and sugar cravings. “making it easy to spiral back into not-so-great eating habits once you complete it,” says Lippert.

Master Cleanse

The master cleanse is an all liquid diet. Essentially, dieters take a quart of warm salt water in the morning. Then consume a 60-ounce concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper throughout the day. Also, they finish with a cup of laxative tea in the evening. Proponents of the Master Cleanse diet recommend adhering to it for at least 10 days.

Evidence of effectiveness

There are no data on this particular diet in the medical literature. But many studies have shown that fasts and extremely low-calorie diets invariably lower the body’s basal metabolic rate. Once the dieter resumes normal eating, rapid weight gain follows. Much of the weight loss achieved through this diet results from fluid loss. Related to extremely low carbohydrate intake and frequent bowel movements. Weight regain happens when the dieter resumes normal fluid intake.

Master Cleanse was developed by Stanley Burroughs. Who published it initially in the 1940s, and revived it in 1976 in his books The Master Cleanser and Healing for the Age of Enlightenment.

Stanley Burroughs encountered a lot of controversy and legal issues that were related to his alternative health practices. At the criminal trial, he was convicted of the unlawful sale of cancer treatments. Along with felony practicing medicine without having a license, and second-degree felony murder. He was charged with the murder because the jury found that the death of a patient was the result of Burroughs practicing medicine without a license.

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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