You’ve likely seen a lot of marketing and products geared towards ‘detox’ or ‘cleanses’ recently. While I’m all for supporting healthy change (obviously) my concerns with spring cleanses or detoxes are the following: skipping/ignoring the basics, unsustainable/radical diets which may impose health risks, use of products (price and quality), and the lack of individualization.
A brief background
Detoxification is the process of the body ridding itself of anything that is useless or harmful to cell function. ‘Toxins’ include things from our environment that we’re exposed to like air pollution, endocrine disrupting chemicals found in plastics, pesticides, etc. It also includes our body's waste products - for example, byproducts of hormone metabolism. Our body is literally detoxing every second.
Specifically, our liver, lungs, skin, intestines, and kidneys are the main organs that break down and eliminate waste from the body. Translation: sweating, exhaling, urinating, and defecating is how we get rid of things.
So why do a ‘detox’ if our body naturally detoxes?
This is controversial. The argument for detoxes is:
1. Our modern world is full of more synthetics and chemicals than ever before which places excess burden on our organs of elimination.
2. We spend most of our time indoors, at home and at work, in buildings that are becoming more tightly sealed. Pollutation is much greater indoors vs. outdoors.
3. Our produce is heavily sprayed (notably, with some pesticides that are banned in European countries) and most meat/dairy is treated with hormones and antibiotics . To buy more quality, organic food is expensive, making it unaffordable for most of us.
4. Most people don’t sweat regularly and in addition, wear underarm anti-perspirants which blocks the release of sweat.
5. It feels good – many people report improvements in mood and energy after doing some sort of cleanse.
Overview of My Cautions & Concerns:
1. Skipping the basics:
a. Sluggish Elimination – This needs to be in tip top shape a.k.a you need to be having a bowel movement at least 1x/day, urinating and sweating regularly before considering the addition of detox products. If your elimination is sluggish, then you’re not clearing waste effectively, and there’s no point adding a detox product unless it specifically works to increase transit time. On that same note, if you're making a dietary change, you need to make sure it doesn't reduce the frequency of your bowel movements.
b. Not addressing exposures –The most preventative thing you could do is to minimize your daily burden by making lasting lifestyle and dietary changes ex. replacing plastic Tupperware with glass. We know our bodies are capable of detoxification (unless you have a genetic polymorphism) so do it a favour, and decrease the amount of work it has to do.
a. Health risks – Here I’m talking about extreme diets ex. juice cleanses that last for weeks. I came across a few case reports of patients with reduced kidney function consuming spinach-based juices and experiencing oxalate-induced nephropathy. The roughage and fibre normally neutralizes oxalates, but these parts get removed with juicing, putting these susceptible people at greater risk. Roughage and fibre is also very important for stool bulking, removal of waste, and food for our microbiome, so I’d caution this type of ‘spring cleanse’- especially if you have reduced kidney function.
b. Healthy replacements – If you do intend to do an elimination diet, make sure that you get organized and have whole food replacements lined up. Avoid reliance on store bought, processed products that are devoid of nutrients and loaded with fillers.
c. Duration - I'd argue it's more beneficial to make a small, lasting change (like removing sugar from daily coffee) vs. doing something more extreme (like removing all forms of sugar) that can't be maintained long term.
3. Detox products
a. Price – For someone wanting to do a spring cleanse for the first time, I don’t think spending money on a detox product is a good use of resources. I’ll discuss more next week, but my first steps are focusing on the basics: increasing elimination, emphasis on healthy diet, and use of targeted tinctures/teas if necessary. These little changes go a long way.
b. Quality – I’d be cautious of the use of products/kits that are picked up at the grocery store or Shopper’s. Professional brand natural health products place an emphasis on quality/accuracy of ingredients, make sure they have clinical research to support its use, and do third party testing.
c. Safety – It’s always important to be aware of herbal/nutrient interactions with medications. For example, some detox products use herbs that have anti-platelet actions which can increase the risk of bleeding in susceptible patients.
4. Lack of Individualization.
a. Addition of lemon water is one of the most common detox tips that people try. For most people, this is fine. But for others, it can irritate underlying gastritis, can trigger heart burn, and long-term can disrupt tooth enamel. It's not for everyone.
Each person’s plan will look a little different depending on medical conditions, medications, exposure history, goals, motivation, current supplements, etc. If you're ready to take your spring cleanse to the next level, work with a practitioner who can provide knowledge, guidance, and supervision.
It may seem like I painted a negative light on spring cleanses or detoxes, but I actually think they’re great at spurring healthy habits and making people more mindful of their bodies. A person's current state of health, frequency of elimination, and goals will dictate how I plan an individualized spring cleanse in interested patients. Stay tuned for next week’s post on safe/general detox tips!