Detoxes and Cleanses: The Role of Micronutrients

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The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines toxins as, “Substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans.” These include substances like pesticides, pollutants, heavy metals, alcohol (in large quantities), molds, xenobiotics, and various synthetic chemicals.

Plenty of research has shown that chronic exposure to these substances can be detrimental to health and longevity by increasing risk of many diseases.[1],[2],[3] Therefore, maintaining proper liver function, and function of organs that detoxify the body, is crucial for keeping the body free from harmful chemicals/substances. Read on to learn the science behind detoxification and whether or not you should buy into detox diets.

How Micronutrients Help the Body Detoxify Itself

The liver is arguably the most important organ involved in the detoxification process in the human body; its primary duty is filtering blood incoming from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and then sending it to the rest of the body.

The liver is also responsible for metabolizing chemicals and drugs by changing them into substances that can be safely excreted. It deactivates toxins that we ingest, as well as extracting residues and metabolic waste products from the blood so that they can be removed from the body by the kidneys, intestines, and bladder.

There are numerous essential precursors and cofactors that support the liver and other vital organs involved in the detoxification process. Studies shows that plant-based foods such as broccoli, grapes, tomatoes, and many others, contain key phytonutrients that support healthy liver function.*[4],[5],[6]

Furthermore, a healthy environment in the GI tract, which contains many enzymes and bacteria that assist the removal of waste material from the body, is highly important for keeping the body free from toxins.*[7] Healthy immunity is also crucial as a weakened/”backed up” GI tract can give rise to a host of major health problems.[8] While it would take seemingly forever to cover all the specific micronutrients and their role in helping the body detoxify itself, know that plant-based foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables) tend to be rich with them.

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Are Detox Diets/Cleanses Necessary?

In reality, if a substance is truly toxic and building up in your body, an intermittent “cleanse” is not going to fix the situation. Acute toxicity, like mercury poisoning, is a serious medical emergency; you would likely be vomiting and feel extremely ill (the last thing on your mind would be heading to the store to buy some crazy “lemon-pepper juice” concoction). Moreover, toxicity in the long-term is best taken care of through a healthy diet rather than a few days of proprietary vegetable smoothies.

As this article discusses, our bodies have vital organs, such as the skin, liver, kidneys, bladder, etc. that work around the clock to keep the body free from toxic substances and waste products from metabolic reactions. If you eat several servings of plant-based and micronutrient-dense foods , your body will likely have the essential nutrients it needs to rid your body of harmful compounds.

To backup the preceding statement, A publication from 2005 found that notes that not even one company was able to provide any type of evidence for the efficacy of their “cleanse” protocols.[9] What’s even more egregious is that these companies had no identification process for toxins, nor could they concur on a technical definition for the term “detox”.

Imagine yourself being a scientist searching for the cure for cancer; how do you suppose you would remedy this disease without having any sort of cellular/biochemical target? Surely, it would be impossible.

Sadly, cleanse protocols and detox diets are still highly popular thanks in large part to prestigious entities that back them, such as celebrities; these individuals often boast that cleanses/detox diets are what help them stay in good health. Needless to say, there is literally no scientific evidence that supports such claims. Anecdotes are not empirical evidence and tend to cover what is true. A healthy diet plan and proper exercise routine will always eclipse the minimal benefits you’ll see from a short-term detox diet.

Take-Home Point: The Difference is in the Dose

A classic axiom in science goes, "The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose". Every single chemical/substance known to man can be safe in one amount and lethal in another.  It doesn’t make a difference whether it’s natural or synthetic either. At this very moment, you could inhale chlorine gas in a small enough quantity to not notice much harmful effect (note: Do not do this as an experiment).

On the contrary, you could also drink enough water at this very moment to intoxicate yourself to death. Yes, hydrating yourself to death is very possible if you chug an exorbitant amount of water in a short time span. Obviously, you need to consume a practically incomprehensible amount of water to do so, but it’s still plausible (and has happened to people in the past).

Therefore, don’t buy into claims when a company or some commercial tells you that “X” ingredient is outright toxic to your body and you should never consume it. Chances are they are just trying to sell you some product that supposedly cleanses your body anyway.

 

 

 

[1] Mulware, S. J. (2013). Trace elements and carcinogenicity: a subject in review. 3 Biotech, 3(2), 85-96.

[2] Mishra, K. P. (2009). Lead exposure and its impact on immune system: a review. Toxicology in Vitro, 23(6), 969-972.

[3] Hendryx, M., Fedorko, E., & Halverson, J. (2010). Pollution Sources and Mortality Rates Across Rural‐Urban Areas in the United States. The Journal of rural health, 26(4), 383-391.

[4] Kaczmarek, J. L. (2016). Preventative Effects of Broccoli on Liver Cancer in Young Male Mice.

[5] Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N., & Capasso, F. (2010). Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytotherapy Research, 24(10), 1423-1432.

[6] Cetin, A., Kaynar, L., Koçyiğit, I., Hacioğlu, S. K., Saraymen, R., Oztürk, A., ... & Sağdiç, O. (2008). The effect of grape seed extract on radiation-induced oxidative stress in the rat liver. The Turkish journal of gastroenterology: the official journal of Turkish Society of Gastroenterology, 19(2), 92-98.

[7] Liska, D. J. (1998). The detoxification enzyme systems. Altern Med Rev, 3(3), 187-98.

[8] Choi, W., Yeruva, S., & Turner, J. R. (2017). Contributions of intestinal epithelial barriers to health and disease. Experimental Cell Research.

[9] Dixon, B. (2005). “Detox”, a mass delusion. The Lancet infectious diseases, 5(5), 261.

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