In the past, the term detox was reserved for drug and alcohol addiction, which is a topic for another article. Drugs and alcohol have an effect on the central nervous system. Detoxing in this case requires medical supervision and other support systems in order to manage the detoxification safely. However the terminology and meaning around detox has shifted to include all kinds of so-called cleansing and flushing treatment plans. The trend in the past fifteen years or so – has been to unscientifically transfer the concept of detoxing from drugs and alcohol, to using supplements and diets to detox random and unknown toxins from the body.
Some of the detox regimes invented in recent years are extreme and potentially damaging. Others are outright scams. Some people believe they can flush their bodies clean by drinking excessive amounts of water, which can lead to severe electrolyte imbalances. Concentrated herbal supplements can overload and damage the liver. In some cases people are buying unregulated supplements with unknown substances in them, making it very difficult to trace adverse reactions.
Last night I listened to a guy talk about how he and his girlfriend dislodged and excreted hundreds of gallstones overnight. The concoction they used, was a cup of olive oil, combined with a cup of lemon juice, to be ingested all at once. He said he could feel the gallstones moving and rolling around as they fell out of his liver and gallbladder during the night. Really? That’s amazing!
First of all, a young, slender, fit man is the least likely to have gallstones. The old adage for gallstones is geared toward women and is known as the triple F – fair, fat and forty. The other thing is to be careful what you wish for. If there are asymptomatic gallstones languishing somewhere, and they suddenly get disrupted, which can happen with rapid weight loss or surgery itself – they can go from being unnoticeable to plugging a major bile duct. When gallstones clog a bile duct or large ones pass through, the person gets very ill, to include severe nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain, which often radiates to the shoulder.
Another naturopath described a similar brew, but added things like wrapping your waist in saran wrap, with a hot water bottle over top your abdomen, and laying on one side with your knee up. According to him, the position, and even some abdominal massage would facilitate dislodging the gallstones. A word of caution – if a person is prone to appendicitis, the last thing you want to do is apply a hot water bottle to your abdomen. It sounds like bad advice, even for gallstones. Hot water bottles are for your back, feet and joints, and should be used with caution on the abdomen.
If you have ever experienced or witnessed a severe gallbladder attack, you know the high level of distress it can cause. The likelihood of passing hundreds of gallstones in one night, without incident, is very hard to believe. Somewhat similar and equally intense, is the passing of kidney stones. It also causes extreme pain, because the stone is moving through a narrow lumen. Agony is probably the best term to describe the passing of rock like substances through bile ducts or ureters.
Another health guru was telling people to drink a high concentration of epsom salts! Bad idea to take high doses of salt for any reason. Sodium is one of the main electrolytes in the body, and must be kept in the normal range. If sodium levels are too high or too low – a person can rapidly become confused and disorientated, and if it is not corrected immediately, will convulse and die.
There is nothing wrong with the idea of detoxing the body by stopping or cutting down on harmful substances. To stop drinking alcohol or taking over the counter medications for a period of time to give your body a break is a good idea. Anything that reduces toxins might be called detox, in a much milder but healthier sensibility. Many of us don’t drink enough water, so to adjust water intake to normal healthier levels is a good idea too.
Initially the whole detox trend was more about taking away what is harmful for a period of time, or going on a healthy organic diet kick. But now it is literally all over the map; from coffee enemas, to oil and lemon concoctions, epsom salts, and high doses of supplements. This is the part that should trigger red flags and sound warning bells before you swallow any of it. You risk disrupting the homeostasis of your body and adding a potentially toxic load on the liver and kidneys, instead of improving things.
Our bodily systems are too complex for us to interfere with in extreme manners other than fasting. Fasting does not involve adding anything harmful to the system – and the body is naturally equipped to tolerate it. Although it is an individual choice how to go about doing a fast, fasting cannot be called fasting if a person is drinking juice.
Juice and other beverages top the list of hidden calorie culprits in everyday life. A juice fast can easily add a thousand to fifteen hundred calories a day to the system, without the fibre that should go with it. It is better to go on a high fibre calorie reduced diet than it is to do a juice fast. Some vegetables are too high in natural sugars to be taken in highly concentrated doses. Ask yourself if you would eat twenty beets or carrots in one sitting. Probably not – and even then it would be healthier because of the fibre, and the fact you would probably feel full after just a few.
Fasting truthfully means water only. It means you do not take in any calories at all. The body does not go through a state of ketoacidosis if there is juice being added. The whole idea is to avoid concentrated sugars, and allow the glycogen stores in the liver to be used up. In my opinion the only worthwhile and true fast is a water only fast. It is difficult to do physically and emotionally – but it is an effective way to re-set the immune system and get rid of rogue cells. The complex bodily systems work together to do the sorting and cleansing, as it converts fat to fuel and burns it. It is the only thing that can give the liver and gut a complete rest from digesting food and additives. If the diet is changed for the better after a fast, the entire system has a chance to improve, including the bacteria in the gut.
A word of caution, don’t go to Costa Rica or some other exotic location to do a prolonged fast. There are horror stories about health retreats without any knowledgable medical supervision. In one case a young woman had ulcerative colitis and then got an infection from the water she was drinking at a retreat in Costa Rica. It was a dreadful and near fatal experience for her. Ultimately it was a very costly trip as well, because she needed to be hospitalized and then had to have family members from another country fly to Costa Rica in order to accompany her home.
Other than nutritious food, be wary of adding anything to your body in high doses. This includes oil, salt, laxatives, enemas, apple cider vinegar, supplements, concentrated protein, excess fluids, and excess juices. Avoid them! Ironically, they are probably toxic – meaning the cure is worse than the disease you probably don’t have.
The things that do help detox the body would be along the lines of taking away alcohol and refined sugars, avoiding OTC medications like Tylenol and Ibuprofen, stop taking antihistamines and cough medications. Avoid sugar substitutes and processed meats. Be cautious with regards to what you are putting on your skin. Many lotions including sun screen, and especially spray on tans, have a host of chemicals in them. Our skin is our largest organ. Some of the most expensive beauty products are also the most toxic.
The things you can add to help your gut, liver and kidneys – a healthy intake of water, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in water each day, fresh squeezed lemon or grapefruit diluted in water, lots of fibre, exercise, non-toxic soaps and skin care products. Saunas and steam rooms help the skin to eliminate toxins by opening and cleansing the millions of pores on the skins’ surface, as well as having a relaxing effect on the muscles.
Monitor and reduce your caloric intake if you need to lose weight. Don’t put too much trust in what other people tell you to do, no matter how they try to qualify themselves. Put on your quack filter, then the profit motive filter – before buying into any of it. A non-quack would never tell a person to ingest large amounts of strange concoctions, especially things that can skew the electrolytes. Healing is the one aspect of life where we cannot drum up instant results. The notion of doing a rapid housecleaning within the systems of the body, without respect for the fact our bodies have the capacity to heal without such intrusions, is not wise.
Be patient. Trust your intuition – and do your level best to keep the good, and turf the bad! Day to day habits are the things only we as individuals really know about. Generally when we get off course, we can do a lot of good by taking small steps, in order to change direction. The original meaning of therapeutic is healing gradually, and with care.