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Does Detoxing Really Work?

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Does Detoxing Really Work?

By Catherine Guthrie, Natural Solutions

Few concepts are more ubiquitous in the lexicon of alternative medicine than detoxing. Peruse the shelves at any health food store and you’ll find detox teas, detox herbal blends, detox tinctures, and detox kits complete with all of the above–everything you need to purge your body of its chemical stockpile. Not sure you want to tackle your toxins alone? Just pick up the phone and dial an alternative-minded spa. Colonics and multiday juice fasts are nearly as commonplace as hot stone massages and reflexology.

Detoxing is a booming business, and why shouldn’t it be? What person in her right mind wouldn’t want to lighten her toxic load? (No thanks, I just topped off my mercury level at the dentist yesterday.) Besides, Americans are easy targets. With so many other things beyond our control–terrorists, snipers, cowboy economics–at least we can take comfort in being the masters of our own Superfund sites.

And according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)–informally known as the “body burden” study–our bodies are full to bursting. Between 1999 and 2000, CDC scientists tested the blood and urine of 2,500 people for 116 different chemicals. Not one man, woman, or child tested squeaky-clean.

“We’ve known that toxins in the environment could potentially wind up in humans, but this is the first time we’ve actually been able to see it,” says Jim Pirkle, director of the CDC’s environmental health lab and the study’s lead investigator. “This is not what might have gotten into you, this is what did get into you.”

Detox devotees are convinced environmental toxins are to blame for a range of ills–everything from fatigue to cancer–and that our number one priority should be to get rid of them. But is there any truth to the notion of humans as toxic waste disposals? And, if so, is detox really the answer?

The CDC’s report is one of the first scientific papers to spell out the sheer variety of toxic residues lurking in human bodies. But people have been ceremonially cleansing themselves long before the advent of dioxins and PCBs. Native Americans use sweat lodges for religious and purification rites; in India, an age-old system of healing, called ayurveda, is built around ridding the body of toxins. “Detoxing has been an integral part of traditional systems of healing for millennia,” says James Gordon, a physician who is founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. “Common sense would suggest that maybe it does some good.”

But is common sense enough? Scientific evidence that detoxing can prevent or treat disease is lacking. In fact, it’s not even easy to prove that a person’s average exposure to chemical cocktails is detrimental to his or her health. “Just because you can measure something in people doesn’t mean it’s dangerous,” says Pirkle. “Certainly lots of levels we’re measuring are perfectly safe.”

However, proponents cite circumstantial evidence, such as the parallel rise of environmental contaminants and rates of some diseases. Cancer rates, for example, have risen between 20 and 50 percent since 1970. Asthma diagnoses have jumped 75 percent since 1980. And the number of children diagnosed with autism leaps 17 percent each year.

Next:  Can we successfully reduce our toxic load? (Click through to end for printable version.)

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10:07AM PST on Feb 14, 2014

Gee lets see is Detoxing real and is there any health benefit to it. Mmmmm I will look at my own life to answer this one. And no I do not have any medical evidence or some scientific study to give to you or to prove to you if it works or not. I am just looking back at my own life . More then 2 decades ago I was clinically obese weighing in at 240 pounds. I only stand 5 foot 4 . And trust me on this . I know and remember how I felt the symptoms that hung on to me. And what my lab work readings looked like. Not a pretty picture.

So after my discharge from the hospital laid up for almost a month I decided to change my whole life to just eat right using Natures Whole Foods and moving my body and the taking of Herbs . After 14 months my weight was cut in half and all my 12 clinical disease diagnoses just went away . I do not have to prove anything to any body or show evidence that it works. I just look in the mirror and know that it works . Thank You and End of Story Kindest Holistic Chef Barry Anderson

5:23AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012


1:19PM PDT on Sep 23, 2010

very interesting

9:55PM PDT on Jul 13, 2010

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6:19PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

@Kelly C, "Where science has not proven a therapy, it does not mean they are totally useless..." and your other comments, all right on time. Well said!

6:18PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

Some great posts here. Detox surely does work, and how! Hundreds and hundreds who I've seen get benefit. Hundreds and hundreds just in the past few years.

6:57PM PST on Dec 29, 2009

Where science has not proven a therapy, it does not mean they are totally useless.

For example, recently science proved Gingko Biloba is ineffective to those with Alzheimer's. But in another study, it's proven to handle hard-to-rid neurological pains and migraines.

Also, steam and sauna may be used in spa as therapies etc. Do you know that steam and sauna encourages the body to kill flu viruses, the same way a fever actually is trying to kill flu viruses. Fever is needed whereas conventional medicine get rids of the fever!!

I don't know how effective "liver flushes" are. But it makes sense not to top the body any more food (fasting) while the body works through, possibly, layers of toxic that may be stuck to the walls of your intestines.

10:15PM PST on Dec 27, 2009

@Edwin; GOOD post. Nice and succint. You are a good writer.

10:15PM PST on Dec 27, 2009

Starts out good. Six pages? That's just rude, so, no more pages turned on this one. Geez Louise.

4:56PM PST on Dec 2, 2009

"Before taking aim at your toxins, it’s important to suss out which methods you can try on your own and which ones require professional guidance. Fasting and juice therapy books, brochures, and retreat centers recommend juice fasts to soothe a variety of ills, including colon disorders, allergies, and asthma." -- Catherine Guthrie

And may I add: These guidelines might help you decide which method of body cleansing to choose.

1. Cleanse your bowels of harmful body toxins

2. Promote good digestion

3. Improve your small intestine's absorption of nutrients

4. Strengthen your immune system

For me personally, I prefer to have a colon cleanse at home.

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I would like to try St Johns Wort but owing to those drug reactions I can not.

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