The Guardian recently published an unbridled attack on the “detox industry” and supplements and dietary habits for detox. Among the comments were that detox was a “scam” and “pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things … Much of the sales patter revolves around ‘toxins’: poisonous substance that you ingest or inhale. But it’s not clear exactly what these toxins are.”
While I have some concerns about people who obsess about detoxing, the writer of the article ignored some important facts. Chief among them is that we live in a highly toxic environment, with daily exposures to industrial chemicals (including known carcinogens) and hundreds of food additives. Many of the food additives have been tested for safety, but few have been tested for their collective effect – which is probably not very healthy.
Our liver and kidneys do most of the body’s work in terms of breaking down these substances, including harmful byproducts of normal metabolism. There’s ample research showing that natural substances can aid the liver’s detox ability. N-acetylcysteine (NAC, an antioxidant), the herbal extract silymarin, and selenium all play key roles in supporting liver detox. So do antioxidants, as do many vegetables. In fact, NAC is stocked in every hospital emergency room to help the liver and body recover from acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose.
Given the thousands of chemicals to which we are exposed, it can be hard for our liver to successfully break down everything. Ironically, the author of the article noted that excess alcohol consumption can stress detox mechanisms and lead to liver damage. But that’s just one of the thousands of chemicals we face.
Some people go on an occasional fast to detox, and they often report feeling great after about four or five days. That’s because by that time they have excreted the remnants of foods to which they are allergic or sensitive to.
In addition, many people have inherited defects in their liver enzyme production, which interfere with normal detoxification. Some of these people cannot eat fava beans and others cannot take certain drugs.
Over the past few years, supplements and natural therapies have faced one attack after another. The science behind supplements and most natural therapies is solid. There is nothing wrong with helping your body detox.
By Jack Challem
Leading US health and nutrition commentator
Jack Challem is one of America’s most trusted commentators on health and nutrition. Widely known as ‘The Nutrition Reporter’ he is the author of several best-selling books.