Experts weigh in on detox practices
By Jaclyn Bauer
When it comes to spring cleaning the body, detoxification tends to be the default mode of de-cluttering. The word “detox” though, is loaded with a host of speculations, preconceptions and misconceptions, all of which seem to run counter to one another. Health enthusiasts are left confused as to the best means by which to attain optimal health and rid the body of toxins.
How does the body detoxify? And what is the safest, healthiest way to go about achieving balance in your body?
Some of the most common forms of detoxification are juicing, fasting, exercising (particularly sweat-inducing movement) and food-based cleanses (such as eating a strict diet of rice and beans). A few of these seem more extreme than others, and each of them works differently based on a person’s mind- body constitution. Opinions vary drastically though when it comes to determining the most direct means of detoxification.
Some argue that extreme detoxifying is not effective and may even be dangerous. “The liver needs taurine, glutathione and other amino acids to detox. If you’re not getting them in your diet, “[then] your body will break down muscle tissue to find them,” Pam Vagnieres, a Boulder, Colo.-based nutritionist and exercise physiologist, told “Better Nutrition,” “You also need antioxidants from food to combat the free radicals that are created when you detox.”
The main issue is the “starvation” aspect often associated with cleansing. Health journalist Lisa Turner suggests that a person make lifestyle changes in order to fully detox the body, rather than follow short- term extreme cleanses that can often leave the body feeling weak. Turner proposes decreasing portion sizes, drinking more water as well as exercising to sweat and burn fat (which is the primary home of toxins).
David A. Bender, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at the University
of London, says “the body’s ability to deal with toxins” precludes the need for extreme detoxifying approaches. In an article in “The Biologist,” Bender claims that many detox methods and supplements on the market today are backed, not by scientific evidence, but by consumerism and trickery.
Bender asserts that “the human body processes and removes toxins very efficiently” on its own. Bender says that in the presence of toxins, the body undergoes a dual-stage process, in which a chemical combines with the toxic compound in order to create soluble matter that is then excreted through urine or feces. He argues that the more toxins present in the body, the more of this particular chemical will be produced to make up for that excess.
Ayurvedic practitioner John Joseph Immel claims though that “cleansing [particularly]
in the spring supports the body’s natural instincts to purify and renew.” Immel is particularly partial to juice fasts, arguing that “detox juice assists the body in the process of releasing fats, sugars and toxins.”
Immel also references particular foods that aid in rebuilding a person’s digestive fire, such as raw garlic and black pepper. He argues that incorporating juice fasting and additional healing foods into the diet could reverse the effects of reflux, sluggishness and irritability.
While Vagnieres and Bender hold that intense, deep cleansing is unhealthy, and Immel argues that cleansing is healthy, Neal Barnard falls somewhere in the middle. In a 2008 interview with “Vegetarian Times,” Barnard says that a “short fast is like a punctuation mark.”
However, Barnard stresses that a fast is only “a start on a new and better path,” not something to be sustained for any length of time. Barnard also argues that “some people shouldn’t even consider [fasting]” or extreme cleansing, such as those with low blood pressure or a history of eating disorders. Further, Barnard admits that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that cleansing or fasting actually eliminates toxins from the body.
If you are looking to shed pounds, a cleanse might be a way to kick-start your body into gear and put you on a path toward healthier eating and a more sustainable lifestyle. As Barnard points out, though, “fasting can often be followed by feasting” if you deprive yourself too much of needed nutrients.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more spiritually-oriented cleanse, detoxifying practices like juicing and fasting can aid in overcoming mental hurdles and recognizing the capacity of the human mind and body. Bender points out that “most religions practice periods of self-denial regarded as a means of freeing oneself from the concerns of the body to concentrate on prayer and reflection.”
Either way, the most important aspect of any cleanse is to identify your intention and find a plan that fits that intention. Whatever your intention, let it involve self-love and kindness. There is no sense in causing harm or feeling anything less than love for the one and only body that you will occupy in this lifetime. It is your life to live, and the body that you inhabit is the vehicle by which you will live that life. Don’t sacrifice either for someone else’s ideals of perfection.