Do Cleanses Work?Aug 03, 2023
Detoxes and cleanses have been buzzwords for a while now. There are so many variations of them, and each one is advertised with many health claims and compelling testimonials. The question is: Do they really improve skin and digestion, boost the immune system, increase energy, reduce inflammation, or cure diseases? The answer, in a nutshell, is it depends.
The thing is, our bodies have an amazing detoxification system built right in. The issue arises when these mechanisms become sluggish from toxin overload or health challenges.
Even though our body knows what to do, many times, we may need to give it a bit of a nudge to kickstart the process. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can use nutrition to support your body’s detoxification processes (and overall health).
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is your body’s own process for breaking down and eliminating toxins. We are all exposed to toxins every day through food, water, and the air we breathe. Toxins include those naturally found in tiny quantities in foods (e.g., methanol naturally occurs in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables—which are very healthy). There are also synthetic toxins found in medicines, pesticides, and preservatives (e.g., sulfur dioxide is used to preserve some fruits and vegetables).
In fact, the body makes its own toxins through normal everyday processes like digestion, metabolism, and physical activity (e.g., urea which is excreted in the urine).
The good news is that your body does a great job breaking down toxins and eliminating them.
Fun Fact: A toxicant is either a natural toxin or a human-made substance that produces negative effects. A toxin is a natural toxicant produced by living organisms like plants and animals. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the common word toxin, but we are, in fact, referring to toxicants (which are natural or synthetic).
Because the world is full of toxins that can affect us, we’ve evolved some pretty sophisticated detoxification systems. Detoxification systems are mainly in the liver but are also located in the kidneys, gut, etc. They help to make toxins less dangerous and allow them to be excreted mostly through urine and stool but also through breathing and sweating.
What does this have to do with nutrition?
These detoxification systems are made from many biochemicals in our bodies, such as enzymes. Part of what makes enzymes work are key essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. So, getting quality nutrition helps your body maintain all aspects of your health—including detoxification.
What are “detox diets” and “cleanses”?
Search the internet, and you’ll find thousands of website pages and posts on these topics. There are so many different types of detox diets and cleanses being advertised. Many make bold promises of weight loss and improved health.
Detox diets and cleanses often include at least one of the following:
- Eating more nutritious foods
- Reducing processed foods
- Avoiding alcohol and/or caffeine
- Eliminating some common allergens (e.g., wheat or dairy)
- Replacing meals with smoothies, juices, teas, or powders
- Short or long-term fasting
- Only eating/drinking a handful of recommended foods/beverages
- Taking several dietary supplements and/or laxatives
- Getting “colon cleanses” (enemas)
Some of these recommendations seem reasonable and healthy. It’s hard to argue that eating more nutritious foods or reducing processed foods isn’t a good step towards better health. However, some of the more extreme recommendations can pose a risk to people, including those with underlying health conditions, children, adolescents, athletes, older adults, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As you can imagine, the more foods you eliminate from your diet, the fewer nutrients you will get, so it’s important to not keep on a detox or cleanse diet for the long term, as one of the risks are nutrient deficiencies. It’s counterintuitive to cut out too many foods because there are critical nutrients scientifically proven to be necessary for your body’s natural detoxification enzymes to work efficiently. Nutrition is key for optimal health and wellness.
Another risk with certain detox supplements or teas is serious side effects. If you are going to go this route, be mindful of the source, the ingredients and consult with a medical professional before taking the plunge.
Overall, there is a lack of good-quality research into detox diets and cleanses, as most studies have been conducted on animals, not people.
Some people claim to feel better and more energized when they’re on these diets. This may be because they’re eating more nutritious foods and less junk food, foods that are high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
Having said this, there may be medical conditions for which eliminating certain foods is recommended. For example, if you have a food allergy or intolerance or if you need to be on a low-fiber diet due to digestive issues, you have a valid reason for eliminating certain foods. Before jumping into a detox diet or cleanse, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider first.
Nutrition plays a vital role in your body’s ability to detoxify and eliminate toxins naturally.
How to use nutrition to support your body’s natural detoxification
You probably don’t need to eliminate a long list of foods from your diet. In fact, getting enough of your daily nutrients is what can help ensure your detoxification enzymes have what they need to keep up their ongoing, very important work.
Here are a few simple things you can do every day to “detox” yourself:
- Don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to toxins in the first place. Avoid things like tobacco and alcohol.
- Stay hydrated by drinking enough water (this promotes excretion via urine).
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
- Include a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. These contain compounds that help support detoxification pathways.
- Get enough dietary fiber by eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Promoting bowel movements regularly helps to eliminate toxins from the body via stool.
- Enjoy some naturally fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These promote digestive health and support your gut microbiome.
- Consume lean protein. Protein is needed for many things, including maintaining optimal levels of a “master” detoxification enzyme called glutathione.
- Consult with a nutritionist or medical provider to see if you may be lacking in any key nutrients. Follow recommendations to eat more or less of a certain food or nutrient or take high-quality supplements. If you have recent labs and are interested in functional analysis, you can check out my Premiere Goal Setting Session.
Nutrition is a key aspect of detoxification. Your body’s own natural detoxification pathways in the liver, kidneys, etc., include many enzymes that require vitamins and minerals to function optimally. By getting enough of your essential vitamins and minerals, you’re supplying your detox enzymes with what they need to work.
We can support our body to detox with nutrition support, but it can be helpful to allow a “reset,” if you will. Our digestive system is at the core of all these mechanisms, and as humans, we put the most biological stress on this system. By giving it a bit of a break, we can rest and reset our natural detox abilities while getting in tune with what may or may not be serving our bodies.
A short elimination diet cleanse can help kick things off. You can grab my 5-day plan here.
I recommend speaking with your healthcare professional before embarking on a detox diet or cleanse. If you are looking to lose weight, consider a nutritious and varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduced portion sizes, and be active every day.
If you have questions about supporting your health and wellness and desire personalized advice and plans for your health, lifestyle, and goals, I would love to connect on socials or book a FREE 20-minute strategy call here.
Love and Light,
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