What are toxins? Should you detox? Perhaps cleanse?

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Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and the content of this website was created for informational purposes only. Such content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.

So you’ve probably heard that something about detoxing or doing cleanses. Perhaps you’ve read about weight loss causing the release of toxins in the body. How about there being a link between obesity and toxins? Well, I don’t know about any of that, so lets take this slow.

A quick Google search for the terms “detox yourself” hands over some of the following results:

How to Detox, which is an amazing result since it contains the following quote:

While not scientifically proven to remove any toxins from the human body, many people claim feeling more focused and energetic during and after detox diets, most likely because of avoiding processed foods.)

10 Simple, Healthy Ways to Detox Your Body, another amazing result because some of its methods differ from our first result.

DIY Detox: 10 steps to clenase on the cheap, again, some of the suggested methods don’t match the ones in previous results.

So we still don’t know what a detox is, why it is necesary or how to properly carry one out, but apparently dieting is an important part of the process and 10-step lists are a good way to getting views to your site. Snide comments aside, let’s try to make heads or tails out of this mess.

What are toxins?

Straight from Wikipedia, a toxin is

a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; synthetic toxicants created by artificial processes are thus excluded. (…) Toxins can be small molecules, peptides, or proteins that are capable of causing disease on contact with or absorption by body tissues interacting with biological macromolecules such as enzymes or cellular receptors. Toxins vary greatly in their toxicity, ranging from usually minor (such as a bee sting) to almost immediately deadly (such as botulinum toxin).

In other words, toxins are produced by living organisms and they are poisonous, although their toxicity can vary from deadly to just annoying. You’ve probably had a taste of the toxin-experience due to bee stings and spider bites.

So what’s this this about detoxification?

As the name implies, detoxification (just detox for friends) methods are intended to eliminate or reduce toxins already present in an organism. Paradoxically, in the commercial detox community nobody goes into specifics on what the toxins are, how they got there or how they are being eliminated. Furthermore, because there is no mention of specific toxins, there seems to be an implicit division between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ chemicals. However, the reality is that most chemicals go from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ based on their dosage, and not the chemical itself.

It’s worth noting that in medical terms, toxins refer to drugs and alcohol, addictive substances to which detox methods exist. Those detox methods involve weaning patients off those substances by relying on pathways that promote the excretion of chemicals and their metabolites in urine, faeces, sweat or sebum. So in this case the toxins are identified, we know how they got into the organism, and there are proven methods to eliminating them.

As the links at the start of this post show, there are claims about different ways to detox: specific diets, fasting, avoiding sugar, drinking more water, exercising, sleeping more, drinking more tea, drinking vinegar, taking supplements, meditating (?), journaling (??), and creating relaxing rituals (???). From those different methods (especially the last three) you might get the impression that this detoxification thing is just quackery, little more than an improper use of the real medical detoxification.

Personally, I think that’s the case: the lack of consistent methods, with clear instructions and explanations on their goals and what substances are beign eliminated leads me to think that there is no basis to trust in the practice of detoxing. Consider the financial benefits that doctors and the larger health industry would tap into if such methods were proven and instituted. There’s no denying that there’s profit to be made in the detox industry, which is why I don’t understand how it’s rarely questioned. In a time of fake news, deep fakes and an obsession with narrative, perhaps it would be useful to speak of fake medicine or fake treatments.

In closing

I hope that this post has given you an overview of how little evidence there is in favor of current commercial detox methods. If you partake in detox rituals because you find joy in them, keep doing so. If you do your detox because you are convinced that toxins are being eliminated, then I’d invite you to take a deeper look into what it is that is actually going on. If you are so concerned with poisonous stuff in your body, why are you not so worried about the poisonous stuff in your mind?

Hope you enjoyed this post, if you would like to see more content like it, check our Rebuttals to Fatlogic section.

See you next week.

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