There’s no such thing as ‘detoxing’.
In medical terms, it’s a nonsense.
Whether it’s cucumbers splashing into water or celebrities sitting next to a pile of vegetables, it’s tough not to be sucked in by the detox industry.
The idea that you can wash away your calorific sins is the perfect antidote to our fast-food lifestyles and alcohol-lubricated social lives.
But before you dust off that juicer or take the first tentative steps towards a colonic irrigation clinic, there’s something you should know:
Detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs clean – is a scam.
It’s a pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things.
Let’s be clear, there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.
The respectable one, is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions.
The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.
If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention.
The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as you read this.
There is no known way, certainly not through detox treatments, to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.
Much of the sales talk revolves around “toxins”: poisonous substances that you ingest or inhale.
But it’s not clear exactly what these toxins are.
If they were named they could be measured before and after treatment to test effectiveness.
Yet, much like floaters in your eye, try to focus on these toxins and they disappear from view.
In 2009, a network of scientists assembled by the UK charity Sense about Science contacted the manufacturers of 15 products sold in pharmacies and supermarkets that claimed to detoxify.
The products ranged from dietary supplements to smoothies and shampoos.
When the scientists asked for evidence behind the claims, not one of the manufacturers could define what they meant by detoxification, let alone name the toxins.
Yet, inexplicably, the shelves of health food stores are still packed with products bearing the word “detox” – it’s the marketing equivalent of drawing go-faster stripes on your car.
You can buy detoxifying tablets, tinctures, tea bags, face masks, bath salts, hair brushes, shampoos, body gels and even hair straighteners.
Yoga, luxury retreats, and massages will also all erroneously promise to detoxify.
You can go on a seven-day detox diet and you’ll probably lose weight, but that’s nothing to do with toxins, it’s because you would have starved yourself for a week.
Then there’s colonic irrigation.
Its advocates will tell you that mischievous plaques of impacted poo can lurk in your colon for months or years and pump disease-causing toxins back into your system.
Pay them a small fee, though, and they’ll insert a hose up your bottom and wash them all away.
Unfortunately for them – and possibly fortunately for you – no doctor has ever seen one of these mythical plaques, and many warn against having the procedure done, saying that it can perforate your bowel.
Other tactics are more subtle.
Some colon-cleansing tablets contain a polymerising agent that turns your faeces into something like a plastic, so that when a massive rubbery poo snake slithers into your toilet you can stare back at it and feel vindicated in your purchase.
Detoxing foot pads turn brown overnight with what manufacturers claim is toxic sludge drawn from your body.
This sludge is nothing of the sort. It’s a substance in the pads that turns brown when it mixes with water from your sweat.
It’s a scandal.
It’s criminal exploitation of the gullible man on the street and it sort of keys into something that we all would love to have – a simple, quick fix remedy that frees us of our poor lifestyle choices, so to speak.
It’s nice to think that it could exist but unfortunately it doesn’t.
When most of us utter the word detox, it’s usually when we’re bleary eyed and stumbling out of the wrong end of a heavy weekend.
In this case, surely, a detox from alcohol is a good thing?
It’s definitely good to have non-alcohol days as part of your lifestyle. It’ll probably give you a chance to reassess your drinking habits if you’re drinking too much.
But the idea that your liver somehow needs to be ‘cleansed’ is ridiculous.
The liver breaks down alcohol in a two-step process.
Enzymes in the liver first convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, a very toxic substance that damages liver cells.
It is then almost immediately converted into carbon dioxide and water which the body gets rid of.
Drinking too much can overwhelm these enzymes and the acetaldehyde buildup will lead to liver damage.
Moderate and occasional drinking, though, might have a protective effect. Population studies, have shown that teetotallers and those who drink alcohol excessively have a shorter life expectancy than people who drink moderately and in small amounts.
We know that a little bit of alcohol seems to be helpful, maybe because its sedative effect relaxes you slightly or because it keeps the liver primed with these detoxifying enzymes to help deal with other toxins you’ve consumed.
That’s why the government guidelines don’t say, ‘Don’t drink’; they say, ‘OK drink, but only modestly.’
It’s like a little of what doesn’t kill you cures you.
This adage also applies in an unexpected place – to broccoli, often found in the high-street “superfood” detox salad.
Broccoli does help the liver out but, it is nothing special.
Broccoli, as with all brassicas – sprouts, mustard plants, cabbages – contains cyanide.
Eating it provides a tiny bit of poison that, like alcohol, primes the enzymes in your liver to deal better with any other poisons.
Most people think that you need to use detox products at worst or take drastic measures with your nutrition at best.
But, this is totally not needed!
The ultimate lifestyle ‘detox’ is not smoking, exercising and enjoying a healthy balanced diet.
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?
Close your eyes, and imagine a Mediterranean diet.
A table with with meats, fish, olive oil, cheeses, salads, wholegrain cereals, nuts and fruits.
All these foods give the protein, amino acids, unsaturated fats, fibre, starches, vitamins and minerals to keep the body and your immune system, the biggest protector from ill-health, functioning perfectly.
So why, then, with such a feast available on doctor’s orders, do we feel the need to punish ourselves to be healthy?
You need to look at our social makeup over the very recent past.
In the 70s, you had all these gyms popping up, and from there we’ve had the proliferation of the beauty and diet industry with people becoming more aware of certain food groups and so on.
The detox industry is just a follow-on from that.
There’s a lot of money in it and there are lots of people out there in marketing making a lot of money.
We are susceptible to such gimmicks because we live in a world with so much information and we’re happy to defer responsibility to others who might understand things better.
To understand even shampoo you need to have PhD in biochemistry, but a lot of people don’t have that.
If it seems reasonable and plausible and invokes a familiar concept, like detoxing, then we’re happy to go with it.
Many of our consumer decisions, are made in ignorance and supposition, which is rarely challenged or informed.
People assume that the world is carefully regulated and that there are benign institutions guarding them from making any kind of errors.
A lot of marketing drip-feeds that idea, surreptitiously.
So if people see somebody with apparently the right credentials, they think they’re listening to a respectable medic and trust their advice.
Anyone who says, ‘I have a detox treatment’ is profiting from a false claim.
At Mark Personal Training my clients follow my healthy nutrition guidelines, tailored to their requirements.
No dieting or giving up foods they enjoy, nor calorie counting or weighing foods.
Most people don’t need extreme measures to lose weight or improve their health.
If you’re looking for an uncomplicated, gimmick-free, detox-free, dieting-free solution to your problem, then don’t hesitate to reach out to me for some guidance.