Detoxing and Cleansing

The science of toxins, called toxicology, is very complex, but the simplest definition of a toxin is any chemical compound that can damage your body. A toxin can be a chemical that is swallowed directly, such as alcohol or a strong acid, or a substance that is produced by a bacteria, sometimes called an endotoxin, and can even be a chemical compound produced by our body that needs to be eliminated before it builds up and causes damage. Toxins are dangerous, and the sophisticated systems that protect us from them are critical to our survival.

The human body uses numerous sophisticated mechanisms to prevent toxic substances from hurting our bodies. Before toxic compounds are even absorbed from our gastrointestinal tract many are modified and detoxified by gastric acid and intestinal enzymes while others are simply prevented from being absorbed by intestinal mucus. Once absorbed, numerous systems kick into action to detoxify toxic compounds and poisons and to kill harmful bacteria. Many of the threats to our system are neutralized by our liver through the cytochrome P-450 system and numerous other systems.

Unfortunately, what we normally eat can be toxic to our body, and can even damage our body’s ability to protect us. Examples are caffeine, carbonation and alcohol. Caffeine is a relatively benign stimulant but if too much is taken, agitation, tremors, an irregular heart rate and even seizures can occur. Popular energy drinks have a lot of caffeine, and can be dangerous. Many carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid that results in our body to losing calcium and this can cause bone demineralization called osteopenia, resulting in older, weaker bones called osteoporosis. And although there are beneficial effects from small amounts of alcohol, drinking a lot of alcohol is toxic to your intestine, liver and other organs. In fact, you can have alcohol damage to your liver long before your doctor can detect it in blood tests, and this damage will decrease your liver’s ability to detoxify other harmful compounds.

One ingredient that is particularly harmful to our body is vegetable oil. Polyunsaturated fat in vegetable oil causes inflammation by increasing substances in our body called “pro-inflammatory mediators” which damage our organs, our blood vessels and decrease our ability to fight off cancer.

Many people get confused by the term toxin, and this confusion results in ridiculous attempts to eliminate all toxins from our body. The popular goal of detoxifying our bodies has generated an entire industry of fad diets, detox diets and cleanses. Call them what you will, but at best, a “detox diet” is simply a radical short term diet designed to give your body a rest from all the “bad” stuff you eat every day. The question is, are detox diets necessary or even safe?

Our body is already designed to cope with many naturally occurring toxins. If we don’t have an unhealthy eating pattern, don’t drink too much alcohol, and don’t take unnecessary drugs, then there is really nothing to “detoxify.” Of course, many of us don’t have healthy eating habits and overindulge in sweets, high-calorie drinks, salt, greasy food and alcohol making us feel tired and uncomfortable, in other words, polluted. Polluting our body increases our stress and damages our body’s ability to function normally. An unhealthy diet can definitely cause problems but the short-term “detox diet” is not a quick fix.

Many commercially promoted cleanses or detox diets involve one concoction or another that the promoters claim will rid the body of evil chemicals. You may want to believe that these “cleanses” are flushing out toxins from your system, but experts in modern medicine know this is a scientifically ridiculous concept. Over a short period of time certain types of fasting may, in fact, help you feel better by breaking a cycle of poor eating behavior. But the fact is, developing a healthy eating pattern is the best way to keep dangerous “toxins” from damaging your body.

Think of a healthy eating pattern as a permanent dietary “cleanse” and stop pretending that an intermittent, radical regimen can reverse the effects of an unhealthy life style. It can’t. The answer is not to “cleanse” your body with a detox diet intermittently, only to “trash” your body with poor eating habits the rest of the time. Instead, follow an eating pattern that maximizes your health and your feeling of wellbeing every day for the rest of your life.

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