No need to do a juice cleanse ever again. Here is the reality of a ‘detox’.
- Toxins are everywhere and that is (mostly) OK
Chemicals make up everything around you. Everything that you can see, touch, taste and smell. Organic cold-pressed juice is made up of chemicals, in the truest sense of the word. Some of these chemicals are toxic. The food you ate for breakfast contained everything from pollutants to pesticides and natural toxins. If you tested your blood right now you will find very small traces of heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins. Completely natural plant foods contain compounds that have the potential to end life. Oxalic acid in spinach, caffeine in coffee. Should you be worried about any of this? Not in the slightest.
- Your body is a toxin processing machine
It turns out your body is essentially a cesspit of dubious chemicals. And that is mostly just fine. ‘Detoxing’ is not something that happens during a juice cleanse. Our bodies are in a constant state of detoxification. Our kidneys, livers and digestive systems are exquisite molecular machinery that is the end result of many millions of years of evolution. The large majority of toxic chemicals we happen to ingest are excreted or broken down within hours.
- Detoxing is actually making it worse
There are a few particularly nasty chemicals that can hang around in our bodies for months to years. Generally, these are fat soluble chemicals. The typical ‘detoxing’ cleanses have no effect on these stored toxins. Absolutely zero exposure for prolonged periods is needed to give the body time to process these. But unfortunately low levels of pollutants are simply everywhere.
Intensive fasting or calorie restriction can actually lead to the increased release of fat soluble chemicals into the blood. And that is not a good thing. Once in the bloodstream these potentially harmful chemicals, that were tucked away in your fat, now can travel around in the blood to affect other tissues and organs. And even though these chemicals were released into your blood, the chances are they can end up back in storage rather than being excreted.
- There is a difference between a toxin, a poison and an allergen
They all sound unpleasant. Poison is the umbrella term and means any chemical that harms living things. Toxin means a poison that is also made by a living thing, i.e. biological in origin. Then there are allergens. Even our body’s own detoxifying mechanisms won’t help when we’re faced with an allergen. This is something that kicks off our immune response. There are three main ways that poisons (and toxins) can harm us:
Outright toxicity, the chemical interferes with biological processes to cause harm.
Allergenic, this generates a response from your immune system. Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous and extreme allergic response where your airways can become restricted.
Carcinogenic, these poisons can damage the DNA inside your cells. This means problems when they try to grow, can potentially lead to cancers.
- The most important thing about toxins — the dosage matters.
Way back in the 1500’s a wise old Swiss doctor said ‘All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.’ And it’s still a great overview of how toxicity works. An all-natural product, unarguably healthy, right? Plants actually contain all kinds of crazy phytochemicals, in low levels. Often these phytochemicals can prime our immune systems to work better, some however are unhealthy in large dosages.
If you were capable of eating 5 to 10kg of spinach, you would consume enough oxalic acid to cause kidney damage or death. The same is true for some other well-known things, salt, water, oxygen. All of these things have the potential to harm in excess.
- You’re probably worrying about the wrong things
Maybe you buy organic foods only, purchase BPA free drink bottles and ‘detox’ bi-monthly with a juice cleanse. Perhaps you’re also fond of biodynamically grown Pinot Gris and agave sweetened Fairtrade chocolate. Sorry to burst your bubble. Ethanol (wine) and fructose (agave, sugar, honey etc.) are among the most prevalent, accepted and disease causing chronic toxins we ingest daily. While many of the more traditional toxins we breathe in minute part per billion quantities, these elephants in the room we are happy to swig away in relatively huge dosages. Ethanol and fructose have negative effects on our livers and metabolic functions. If fructose and ethanol were introduced today as new food and drink items, they would likely not get FDA approval when held to the same rigorous testing as new food additives for toxicity.
What can you do?
Eat healthily, i.e. eat real and least processed foods. This life long habit is better than any ‘detox’ plan. It is a good idea to avoid the more dangerous chemicals in industrial workplaces. Even the toxicology experts don’t offer much salvation. A common line being that only government level regulatory action will reduce environmental toxin exposures, and the individual’s avoidance tactics amount to a drop in the ocean.
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