Detox: Myth vs. Reality

Detox.  Just the word can conjure up a wide variety of images for most people.  For some they think of the “detox foot baths” that removes all the junk from their body and turns the water dark and gross.  Some picture the Lochness monster-like by-products of colon cleanses that pop-up as advertisements on some health websites.  Some may imagine the foot pads that go on clean at night and come off dirty in the morning.  There are books on detox using fasting, some with only juicing and others with cayenne pepper and molasses.  Suffice it to say…detox is a big issue and there is a broad spectrum of beliefs and opinions.  From the conventional practitioner that states it is all ‘hogwash’ to the extreme polar opposite that tries everything new under the sun…people have formed their opinion on what a detox is.

So, is detox important and is it scientific based?  I think the answer is yes to both questions.  However, I strongly believe there is a right way and a wrong way to detox.  I am very skeptical of many of the claims being made by practitioners regarding some “detox” products.  There may be some benefit, but they are most likely not doing what they are purportedly doing.  We will leave that for another discussion.  What I want to discuss today though, is the importance of detoxification in our daily life.  Detoxification is defined as any process of decreasing the negative impact of xenobiotics (toxic substances and non-toxins) on bodily processes.  The process of detoxification involves biotransformation of endogenous and exogenous molecules into excretable metabolites.  The term detoxification is often used to refer specifically to the intracellular biotransformation process.

Each year, I choose to do a thorough detoxification to jump-start my health. I support my detoxification pathways with diet and supplements on a daily basis.  This year I have chosen to use a 20 day detox program developed by Dr. Alejandro Junger in his book, “Clean”.  Dr. Junger is a medical doctor trained as a cardiologist, that began practicing functional medicine after losing his health to conventional medicine and using natural therapies to regain it.  His book is a great reference source that identifies the importance of detoxification, some points that we will discuss in this posting.

Dr. Mark Hyman in his book, “UltraMind Solution” indicates that there are two things that most physicians never learn in medical school.  They are (1) the role of nutrition and food in health and disease; and (2) the role of toxins and the importance of detoxification in health and disease.  These are two neglected items in standard medical education, yet they are probably the most important things we need to know to cure disease and create health.  We have been affected by the decline in our food quality and by the increased number of chemicals we are exposed to each day.  Since the 1800s, more than eighty thousand new, largely untested chemicals have been introduced into our environment.  We find them in our food, our water, our air…the toxins are ubiquitous.  A simple look at the Environmental Working Group’s ( findings on toxins in newborn umbilical cord blood, serves as an outstanding reminder of the levels of toxins we are exposed to…even in the womb.  The EPA estimates that in 1994 alone, over 2.2 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment in the US.

Our bodies must convert fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble forms so they can be excreted and eliminated.  This conversion takes place in primarily two major sites: (1) the liver and (2) the intestinal mucosal wall.  So proper functioning and health of the entire digestive system is paramount for adequate detoxification.  A toxin is simply something that interferes with normal physiology and negatively impacts our bodily functions.  Toxins can come from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat, the things we put on our skin and the by-products of our gut flora and digestive by-products.

Toxins accumulate over time and as they accumulate their deleterious effects become more pronounced.  People may experience hormonal imbalances.  For women this may mean PMS, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibriods or ovarian cysts.  For men this may lead to decreased testosterone, prostate dysfunction.  This can lead to stress on the body and alterations in thyroid function, cortisol function and insulin function…three very important hormones acting in our body.  Toxins can lead to headaches, joint pain, muscle aches, weight gain, decreased libido and fatigue.  Since detoxification is a nutrient-dependent process, without adequately addressing the nutrient needs of a patient, these problems get worse and worse.  Conventional medicine begins stacking on medications which must be detoxified by the liver.  So now you have a vicious cycle of a problem being made worse by the treatment being provided!  Why?  Consider Dr. Hyman’s comment above…they weren’t trained to consider toxins as a source of dis-ease in the body.  People are tired because their cells aren’t working, they don’t have enough energy to keep their cells healthy, let alone keeping their detox systems running smoothly.

There are scientific and logical ways to support detoxification.  There are simple lab tests that objectively determine your toxic load, your ability or dysfunction with detox, and overall health.  Then after treatment you can see these markers improve!  In our practice we offer a variety of detoxification protocols that are tailored to the patient’s individual needs.  The order of detox and gastrointestinal support is important, and that is why it is wise to work with a practitioner that is knowledgeable about detoxification and can track / monitor your progress.  There are simple things you can do around your home, your lawn, your workplace and in your own body to help keep your toxic body load low.  It’s not realistic to expect to be 100% toxin-free but we can do our best to make sure our bodies can efficiently and effectively remove toxins, reduce our toxic exposure and make healthier choices.

The nutrients you ingest are used for three things, and primarily in this order: (1) toxin elimination; (2) nutrient absorption; and (3) cellular repair.   If you are not addressing your toxic load and improving nutrient status, then you aren’t even getting enough nutrients to repair the cellular damage that occurs on an ongoing basis.  This fact, along with the increased oxidative damage associated with toxins is one proposed mechanism for cancer development.

I’ve chosen the Clean program for my annual “detox kick-off” because it incorporates five essential functions of detoxification:

(1) Reduces the workload of digestion

(2) Restores the 12-hour window for digestion and detox

(3) Rebuilds the inner environment

(4) Supports the liver

(5) Enhances elimination

More about the clean program can be reviewed by reading Dr. Junger’s book.  There are many ways to detoxify.  In our office we use a 7 day, a 10 day, a 20 day or a 28 day detoxification program, depending on the patients’ needs and main health concerns.  I feel that it is very important to establish baseline levels to monitor your individual progress and to only detoxify when it is safe to do so.  We offer simple tests such as our in-office diagnostic profile…the Integra Panel, as well as other specialty labs which can be collected in the comfort of your own home and measure hormones, gastrointestinal health, and detoxification markers.

I invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow my video blogs describing my experience with the 20 day Clean program.  You can also follow us on Facebook and leave comments on our discussion board.

What experiences have you had on a detox?  Leave comments below.

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