When it comes to the subject of cleansing or detoxing, you probably think either:
“Detoxing is hocus-pocus! I would sooner choke on a chicken bone than undergo a juice cleanse.”
“Detoxing is brilliant! I feel bright, bushy-tailed, and bursting with energy after a good cleanse. You should try it, too.”
Cleansing, it seems, doesn’t just potentially “clear out our toxins”, it also brings out our extreme opinions.
But, as with most areas of nutrition — and life — rigidly clinging to any extreme position may blind us to some important information. And when it comes to cleansing, I wanted to discover the truth.
In fact, I was so curious that I actually engaged in a three-day juice cleanse
What’s a detox, anyway?
The word “detox” is kind of like the word “moderation.” When it comes to detox diets, there’s no universal definition.
Cleansing means different things to different people. My daily diet might seem detoxifying to you, while someone else would view it as toxic.
That said, detox diets typically include certain foods, juices, teas, or colonics — while ruling out others.
Other detox regimes consist of nothing at all – as in fasts.
The point of detoxing is to get rid of toxins.
That may sound obvious, but what is a toxin?
The liver metabolizes hormones; does this mean hormones are toxic?
The brain processes thoughts; does this mean thoughts are toxic?
Electromagnetic frequencies come from a cell phone; are cell phones toxic?
You see the problem.
Now, in the case of drugs, the whole idea becomes easier to understand and measure. The goal in drug detox regimens is simply to eliminate the damaging substance from the body.
When we talk about detox diets, what, exactly, are we trying to eliminate from the body?
Why? And can it even be measured?
When it comes to food and nutrition, we can’t eliminate every toxin. That’s because, at some level, nearly everything we consume is toxic.
Meanwhile, small amounts of specific toxins might actually be good for us, so we probably don’t even want to eliminate those.
In other words, the real question is not: How do I eliminate all toxins from my body?
The more important question is:
Is this potentially toxic substance causing harm?
How damaging is it? And what can I do about it?
To make this clearer, let’s look at a few examples:
Example 1: Alcohol
Most people can safely drink one glass of wine with a meal. Alcohol is toxic, but the body can metabolize it in small amounts.
However, if you try to drink fifteen glasses of wine within an hour, you might end up in an emergency room with blood-alcohol poisoning.
Example 2: Bok choy
I know what you’re thinking: Everybody knows that alcohol can be toxic! So let’s look instead at a food that most people would consider healthy: Bok choy.
Along with high amounts of Vitamin A and other important nutrients, bok choy contains glucosinolates, which have been shown to contribute thyroid problems.
Most of us could safely eat a cup of raw bok choy every day (if we wanted to). Our bodies would metabolize the glucosinolates and we’d enjoy the vegetable’s benefits.
But if we tried to eat fifteen cups per day, we could end up with hypothyroidism. The bok choy in those amounts would be toxic.