By Craig “Deuce” Doussett MPH, RDN
Much of the information and misinformation surrounding the concept of detox diets and supplements could only be murkier and more perplexing if it was written by William Shakespeare in unrhymed iambic pentameter. This may be due, in part, to the knowledge gaps that exist in the literature regarding how detoxification processes work in concert to keep us from acute toxicity. The science (often described as the meat of the matter a.k.a., the “steak”) certainly doesn’t exist in large enough quantities to justify the hype (or “sizzle”, to extend the metaphor). It may also be due to the lack of one dedicated detoxification “system”, like the muscular or cardiovascular system, further allowing speculation and “marketing” (a.k.a. effectively-targeted speculation) a megaphone for popular science. Popular science being any and all efforts to appease an impatient population with imprecise and “sciency” sounding jargon. Or it may be that the aversion one feels towards a word (CrossFit, Vegan, Paleo, Yoga, Microbrew, or Mandscaping) creates an antipathy that blinds one from exploring beyond first sight or sound. In any case, the desire to detox, to effectively assist the body’s efforts to gain or remain healthy is not a futile or fruitless endeavor. It is however an effort that must be governed with safety, prudence, and a boost in health literacy. To this end, the following questions must be asked:
- Can we assist or speed up detoxification through supplementation and elimination diets? Here it is imperative to note that the toxins being targeted are from outside (exogenous) sources. Chemicals found in foods (fertilizers, pesticides), cleaning products (dyes, softeners, and preservatives), and household wares (chemicals used to treat carpets, leather, and composite materials).
- Can we approach a “detoxified” state and is this state desirable above normal (read: healthy) levels? The goal of a well-thought-out detox may be more about what we remove (toxic burden) than what we include.
- Is “detox” a much maligned buzzword employed to avoid the use of trite words such as ‘resolution’, ‘goal’, ‘diet’ or ‘dedication’? Would we be better off using these words and making small and lasting changes to our diet (spoiler alert: Yes! This is the best way to achieve lasting health).
Now that our health literacy has been boosted, what supplements are worth our time? Aloe-Vera, Senna, Red Clover, Milk Thistle (unless allergic to ragweed), and insoluble fibers in powder form can be used judiciously. While these are the least harsh and safest “detoxifiers” on the scene, always seek the advice of your doctor and inform them of any and all supplementation.
Detoxification efforts receive the majority of their benefits from the following:
- Increase fluid intake (kidneys, bladder, skin, and fat cells)
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake i.e., increased levels of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber (digestion and colon health)
- Secondary emphasis on grass-fed and organic meats and reducing consumption of processed carbohydrates
- Tertiary emphasis on reducing food sensitivities, allergies, and trigger foods that feed the stomach but starve the brain.
Detoxification diets are fads in the classical sense i.e., the science has not caught up with the marketing machine which includes word-of-mouth and inspiring testimonials. Yet it is vital to remember that many common place approaches to life started out as a fad e.g., high fat diets have now been shown to improve the symptoms of epilepsy in children and insulin sensitivity in Type II diabetics, and high-complex carbohydrate diets are standard for some liver disorders. The goal is to engage in a behavior that is healthy, safe, sustainable, and above all eliminates deficiencies in lieu of creating them.