September 26, 2022

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Does social media have you thinking you need to detox—a.k.a cleanse your body of nasty, disease-inducing germs and parasites? If so, you may want to keep reading before proceeding.
While this buzzy “cleanse” trend has been touted for years as a way to lose weight fast or squeeze unwanted parasites out of our organs, the reality is, in most cases, the human body can do a pretty good job detoxing itself on the regular. No crazy regimen required.
“As humans, we have a built-in detoxification system that operates seamlessly on a cellular level,” says pharmacist Nayan Patel, Pharm.D., an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and author of The Glutathione Revolution: Fight Disease, Slow Aging, and Increase Energy with the Master Antioxidant. “If you treat your body well, it will detox naturally, without any detox treatments.”
That being said, there are things you can do to optimize your body’s natural detoxification capabilities. But none of them require drastic dietary measures, teas, pills, colonics or elixirs. Here’s how to detox right.

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Often used interchangeably, both “detox” and “cleanse” are terms that describe either a program, or a variety of approaches, to promote health. While one specific type of detox called chelation therapy is an approved procedure by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for removing toxic metals, almost every other cleanse or detox is independently labeled by private health centers, naturopathic practitioners or product marketing.
With all these protocols on the market, it begs the question: What are toxins, and are they truly dangerous?
Toxins are technically defined as substances that negatively affect your health. They can be the result of environmental exposure—both unintentional (e.g., drinking contaminated water) or intentional (e.g., cigarette smoking). They can also be a byproduct of essential biological processes like breathing polluted air.
“Our bodies come equipped to handle these challenges through our own liver, kidneys, digestive system, respiratory system and skin,” says Michael Fenster, M.D., an adjunct professor of medicine at the Kansas Health Science Center and editor-in-chief of The Journal Of Culinary Medicine. “There are, of course, exceptions—like individuals who may require chelation therapy to deal with mercury poisoning from overconsumption of certain types of seafood—but currently, the general consensus is that an otherwise healthy person does not require a detox regimen.”
There are situations, though, that can disrupt the body’s natural detoxification systems—as is the case for people with liver or kidney disease/damage. In those situations, affected individuals will absolutely require help clearing toxins from their bodies, notes Dr. Fenster. However, what is needed is not a detox or cleanse, but rather medical treatment under the guidance of a medical professional.
The short answer is, it depends. If you’re experiencing distressing symptoms, talking with a doctor who’s trained in integrative medicine may provide clarity and methods for a safe, effective protocol. However, if you aren’t experiencing anything out of the ordinary, you really don’t need to do anything special to detox.
“The human body is always trying to find balance, and has countless built-in mechanisms to neutralize, process and eliminate toxins,” says naturopathic physician Charles Tabone, N.M.D., lead practitioner at Pause Studio.
While there are many natural substances and activities that can assist the body in its detoxification efforts (we’ll get to those in a minute), most can be obtained simply by following a healthy diet/lifestyle. In some individuals, however, vitamin and mineral supplementation may be recommended to ensure the body has the building blocks necessary to support its natural detoxification processes.
But don’t confuse the need for vitamin and mineral supplementation to mean that all detox “supplements” you see on store shelves or promoted on social media are helpful.
Supplementing with vitamin D due to a deficiency is one thing, but things can get very tricky when certain combinations of vitamins, herbs or laxatives are marketed as supplements, and fall outside the rigors required for FDA approval, Dr. Fenster explains.
By not having to meet the same FDA standards as medication, these supplements can be especially enticing to manufacturers, given the fact that the detox market was estimated to be worth over $51 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $75 billion by 2026[1]. The lure of rapid results and unrealistic promises is strong, but there is little scientific support to back up most detox product claims.

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“Some detox regimens can call for the consumption of excessive quantities of juices or teas which can promote electrolyte disturbances and even kidney damage,” says Dr. Fenster. “Detox regimens that involve the use of laxatives can induce severe diarrhea, dehydration and other medical complications.”
Overly restrictive diets can also lead to a lack of essential nutrients. And for those already suffering from medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, certain detox routines may even exacerbate their underlying illness, continues Dr. Fenster.
“It is never a wise choice to force the body to do anything, but supporting the body in natural processes is highly encouraged,” says Dr. Tabone. “There will be times where more extreme detoxes will do more harm than good.”
If the body is primed to detox itself, then why are so many people still promoting detoxes or cleanses as miracle fixes?
Well, one reason is that people can actually lose weight fast by cleansing or detoxing—but that doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective for the long-term. Keep in mind that any weight lost from a detox or cleanse is temporary, and merely the result of severe caloric restriction. Yes, you might lose a few pounds of water, but these programs are generally unsustainable. Especially since you’ll probably be lightheaded, nauseous, weak and irritable while “detoxing.”
And as soon as you stop the detox, the weight typically comes right back.
Habitual detoxing or cleansing may also lead to larger issues, explains Dr. Tabone. “Unfortunately in the health and wellness space, there are many individuals who become overly fixated on body image and use their natural lifestyle as a way to justify unhealthy habits,” he says.
Orthorexia is a pattern of disordered eating involving a fixation with healthy food consumption, and many individuals may experience emotional stress and nutrient deficiencies under the guise of wellness. “Other individuals may be masking more traditionally extreme eating disorders (i.e. anorexia nervosa) through engaging in detoxification, fasting and other trendy buzzwords,” says Dr. Tabone.
If sustained weight loss is your goal, a better move would be to consult with a health care professional and engage in a balanced eating program with that specific objective in mind.
“Our modern world is full of excess toxicity,” says Dr. Tabone, from heavy metals to synthetic chemicals to emotional stressors.
As a result, there are many detox programs being sold today that purportedly rid the body of said toxins. These include coffee enemas, colonics, oxygen detoxes, ionic foot baths and more. The problem is, the research supporting these claims is generally lacking.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the manufacturers of these products harp on the concept of toxins being something you have to work to get rid of, when the fact is most healthy bodies have an innate ability to expel unwanted substances and metabolites organically.
Dr. Tabone suggests you imagine a bucket (or body) being filled up with toxins. This bucket naturally has a hole in the bottom (lymphatics, liver, bowels, skin) draining toxins as they come in, but if filled quicker than drained, there is risk of overflow. Therefore, reducing the rate of filling the body with toxins is the most important step—not trying to detox after the fact.
“Some individuals may have extreme levels of exposure (to environmental molds, heavy metals, workplace exposures, etc.) and truly need support to safely clear the body,” says Dr. Tabone. “For the general population, most people would likely be better served avoiding exposures and supporting natural detoxification pathways with diet and lifestyle versus jumping on the latest and greatest detox trend.”
While most doctors agree that the body can do its own detoxing as long as you treat it with care, there are some ways to give yourself a helping hand. Consider trying some, or all, of the following methods to naturally boost your inherent detoxification abilities
When it comes to natural detoxification, consumption of alcohol will set you back. Alcohol and its byproducts (e.g. acetaldehyde) are toxic to the body. Therefore, when you imbibe, the liver kicks into high gear—as the liver is the main organ responsible for processing alcohol—to further break down acetaldehyde until it’s ultimately carbon dioxide and water, which can be expelled from the body.
The issue with regular drinking is that if you continuously keep your liver busy trying to clear alcohol and its byproducts from your system, it’s less available to clear other toxins. Not to mention that excessive drinking can damage your liver function over time, thus further reducing your body’s ability to naturally remove waste.
“If someone is looking to aid their body by decreasing the burden of naturally occurring toxins, decreasing or even eliminating alcohol consumption for a period of time could be beneficial,” says Dr. Fenster.
“Increasingly, the amount of ultra-processed foods consumed directly correlates with the risk of chronic disabilities and diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and, especially disturbing—an increased risk of early mortality,” says Dr. Fenster.
Ultra-processed foods by design and definition contain many types of preservatives and additives. The more of these over-processed edibles you have in your daily diet (think sodas, hot dogs, packaged cookies and fast food), the higher your chances of developing a condition that may hinder your body’s ability to naturally detoxify. In other words, cutting out junk food is a type of “detox” you can undertake with only positive repercussions.
Dr. Patel also recommends consuming foods low in mercury and always washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consuming. “These actions all play a role in limiting the body’s exposure to toxins,” says Dr. Patel. “Bolster your diet with wholesome, nourishing food and leave out harmful foods with preservatives and chemicals that stress the body.”
Among the many reasons to hydrate is the fact that water ushers waste products out of the body.
The human body is approximately 60% water, and it is the environment in which all transport systems of the body exist. “Staying hydrated is vital, so that the toxins in your body can be regularly flushed out,” says Dr. Patel. “Aim at drinking between 2.5 to 3.5 liters of water daily.”
While there is currently no strict consensus around this fact, sweating may be helpful for general detoxification, as the integumentary system (the fancy technical term for your skin, nails, hair, etc.) plays a role in the removal of waste from the body, says Dr. Tabone. Additionally, movement and light exercise may help promote bowel function, which in turn helps promote toxin excretion.
The lymphatic system is also an integral part of the immune system and is a major factor in the removal of metabolic waste and toxins. “Without an internal pumping mechanism, the lymphatic system relies on muscular contraction and body vibration to move fluids throughout the body,” says Dr. Tabone.
While some activities—like massage—can assist with lymph drainage, physical activity is essential for proper lymphatic function.
Sleep is extremely important. The exact amount needed may vary by the individual. However, the general consensus is that at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night is best for optimum health.
Studies have suggested that it’s during periods of sleep that the state of our brains undergoes physiological changes. “It appears that during this cycle of cognitive reprieve the cells of the brain rid themselves of toxins,” says Dr. Fenster.
Specific to the brain, the glymphatic system is responsible for the clearance of waste from the central nervous system. Sufficient sleep is a necessity for proper drainage of toxins from the brain, with deficiency being associated with many debilitating neurological conditions from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s disease.
The body works on sleep-wake cycles, and different organs will perform functions on a regular routine. Because of this, developing a regular sleep/wake routine (i.e where you are going to bed at a typical time at night and waking at a typical time each morning) is ideal, says Dr. Tabone.
It’s vital to address stress—both the kind that comes from within the body (such as worrying) and also from outside (such as working in an intense environment). “When stress becomes chronic that’s where negative health outcomes can present, and impaired internal detoxification pathways may be affected,” says Dr. Tabone.
Studies have shown that stress can divert energy away from important processes like hormone production and immune function when your body is in “fight or flight” mode. It can also impede proper digestion (robbing you of nutrients that will aid in detoxification) and is associated with changes in gut bacteria.
“To keep your stress levels in check, try meditation for three to seven minutes, two times daily to free your mind of clutter,” says Dr. Patel. “Or take a walk outside in nature or enjoy a long bath.”
As mentioned above, minimizing your toxic load before you even need to detox is your best bet. And one way to do that is to avoid toxins as much as possible.
“Be an alert and educated consumer and avoid products that contain substances we know are not good for us,” says Dr. Patel. The top offenders include bisphenol-A found in plastics and food packaging; phthalates found in plastics, solvents, personal care products and parabens found in cosmetics, body care products and more.
Ultimately, remember that a healthy body will generally detox itself, but it’s up to you to assist the process with smart daily choices, not passing fads or pricey supplements.
“Programs that promise everything like a total body cleansing, rapid and sustained weight loss and everlasting joy usually deliver nothing but a much lighter purse,” says Dr. Fenster.
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Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Women’s Health, Health, Cosmopolitan, Fitness, Prevention, Redbook and more. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism, and she holds certifications as an American Council on Exercise fitness professional, a certified life coach, a 200-hour RYT yoga instructor, and an Active Isolated Flexibility Technician. She is a top barre and dance instructor, a former National Competitive Aerobics Champion Bronze Medalist and a Broadway performer. She has also starred in 10 exercise videos. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com.
Dr. Elliot  Dinetz  is double board certified in Family Medicine and Functional Medicine where he understood early on that this is the true path for optimal health and longevity. After completing his fellowship, his practice focuses on targeting root cause health issues and customizing health plans based on decoding genetic risks and health strengths for each person. This has helped him deliver unprecedented care, proving to be the next step of evolution in our healthcare system. Dr. Dinetz now lives and practices in Miami, Florida where he started his practice, Timeless Health. He dedicates time outside of practice lecturing to other integrative physicians on leading edge clinical genomics and research, as well as community education on wellness, nutrition and lifestyle.  Dr.  Dinetz  is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), The Florida Medical Association (FMA) while holding medical licensure in the states of Georgia, Florida and California.

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