Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is Detoxification Necessary for Good Health?

I've noticed that a lot of natural health advocates mention detoxification quite a bit.  The thought seems to be that humans are exposed to so many toxins in our current environment that we need to take extra steps to reduce the toxins stored in our bodies.  On the surface, there might seem to be something to this. After all, our ancestors weren't exposed to auto fumes or some of the pesticides and chemicals that we are now. Let's take a closer look at this idea and the detox therapies available.

Toxic substances can occur naturally in nature.  Venom, arsenic and a variety of substances secreted by living organisms are toxins. Asbestos, PCBs, mercury, and like substances can be found in our environment., at least in small quantities.

In the human body, the liver helps to remove foreign substances from the body by working as a filter.  It filters our blood for unwanted substances and releases them into urine.  Companies who market detoxification programs would like you to believe that the liver isn't going to be able to remove all the toxins in our bodies and that we need to use their product or follow their directions to remove the remaining toxins.

There are tons of products available that promise to provide a regimen to remove toxins from your body.  They are either single- or multi-step processes that involve fasting along with the ingestion of various pills or solutions to "clean out your colon" and/or "clear out your liver".  Most of these kits seems to run from $10 to almost $60.  It seems like the more steps involved, the more they cost.

Colon cleansing seems to be a standard goal so let's examine that idea a little.  There was a theory that was widely believed to be true around the turn of the twentieth century called autointoxication.  It was thought that, over time, the walls of the colon would become caked with toxins that could be absorbed back into the body. Doctors thought that this build up would have to be cleared away to avoid problems.  This was refuted later on as surgical observation showed that there was no build up on the walls of the colon and as we learned more about how the digestive tract works.  Turns out that the small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients from the food we ingest into the blood stream, not the colon.  The colon mostly transports waste to the rectum to be eliminated. It seems, therefore, that it is not necessary to cleanse the colon at all as it seems to work fine without intervention for the most part.

There is the idea I hear that we occasionally need a whole body detox.  I'm not entirely sure where this comes from but if I have toxins throughout my body, I think I'd be very ill if not dead! I suppose that there is the possibility that such toxins are, in fact, present in our bodies in smaller quantities that don't make us ill so let's look at how it's supposed to work.  There are two schools of thought - a process involving a diet and drinking large amounts fruit juices and fasting with only water. Sometimes a simple change in diet is all that is recommended and sometimes a visit to a sauna is also part of the regimen. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any scientific studies that show that any of this is effective.  I'm not saying that it won't make you feel better as it might.  There just seems to be no scientific basis to it.

I guess from what I see, there is little to no proof that we need to take steps to remove toxins from our bodies in most cases.  Our livers are excellent at doing this job by themselves provided they are functioning correctly. I guess I see no harm in an occasional fast to remove toxins but I certainly wouldn't be spending money on special herbs or pills to help me cleanse my guts. I would recommend that you check with your doctor before you undertake any major diet changes or fasting just to be sure that you won't do yourself any harm.

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I found some information for this post from the following sources
Skeptic North
Sense About Science
Quackwatch

I was unable to find a photo to represent detoxification so I chose one that represents cleansing.  Okay, yes. It is Bernardino Mei's Cleansing Of The Temple but it's an excellent representation of the narrative that appears in all four gospels in the Bible and is much more appealing than a picture of a soapy sponge or such.

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