It’s that time of year when people are setting new goals and resolutions, and for many, that includes a renewed focus on health. Indeed, January is a popular time to start a new diet, and there is no shortage of cleanses and detox diets from which to choose. But what is the truth about cleanses and detoxes? Can they be helpful for those seeking better health or are they simply a scam?
The word “detox” has many different meanings depending on the context in which it’s used ranging from spiritual to scientific in nature. From a physiological and biochemical perspective, detoxification is defined as a metabolic process by which the body rids itself of toxins. This is a natural process that is necessary for survival—every single minute of every single day that you are alive, your body is performing detoxification.
In general, there are two types of toxins that your body must eliminate or detoxify. Xenobiotics are foreign substances that introduced into the body. Examples of xenobiotics may include chemicals found in personal hygiene products, toxins present in the air inhaled, medications consumed, or pesticides on fruits and vegetables that are consumed. Endotoxins are the other type of toxin that your body must detoxify, and these are waste products that are produced by the body as part of natural metabolic activity.
Your body eliminates both xenobiotics and endotoxins by converting fat-soluble molecules into water soluble molecules that can be excreted through urine, sweat, bile, or feces. As such, there are many organs involved in the detoxification process, including the kidneys, skin, liver, and intestines. The liver is the main organ of detoxification as it has the burden of breaking down the toxins so that they can be eliminated through the various pathways.
The liver performs detoxification in three phases referred to as Phase 1, 2, and 3. The biochemical processes involved in these liver-specific pathways can get rather complex, but it’s important to know that specific nutrients are known to activate and support the phases in the detoxification process. The ability of the liver to function optimally depends upon a combination of genetic and environmental factors (including diet, sleep, movement, stress), but the bottom line is that the food you are eating does make a difference in the ability of your liver to perform detoxification at an optimal level.
Some health and medical professionals argue that there is no need to go on a cleanse or a detox diet because detoxification is a natural process that your body is already performing every minute that you are alive. While that is true, the world in which we are living is increasingly toxic and there may be times when the body needs a bit of support to enhance the natural detoxification process. In the next article in this series, we will discuss how to know when you may need to go on a detox diet. Stay tuned!