Detoxification: What Is Real and What Is Snake Oil?
Detoxification can have positive effects on many health challenges, such as allergies, weight gain, digestion, and any sort of inflammatory situation. Unfortunately, there is a lot of snake oil out there claiming detoxification.
The number one myth of detoxification is “mucoid plaque” in the colon or large intestine. This is a myth perpetrated because of what people pass from their bowels doing a colon cleanse; but it is in fact an artifact of the clay and psyllium fiber that is a big component of these cleanses.
Keep in mind that clay is a proven topical detoxifier, so having clay pass through your intestines could have a positive benefit regardless of the lack of mucoid plaque. More on this later.
Many of the benefits of detoxification come from severe reduction of caloric intake, giving the body a break from the task of processing all these calories, allowing it to use those enzymatic resources to “clean house” so to speak.
Unscientific Detoxification Methods:
The ultimate detoxification using the caloric restriction idea is the water fast. It’s most famous promoter was Arnold Ehret, who conducted public water fasts as long as 49 days, and claimed many benefits including strength and endurance. He once rode his bicycle 800 miles from Algiers to Tunis to prove his point. I am not a fan of water fasting for more than a day or two. I have noticed that it’s proponents Sonavel tend to look prematurely aged, with early white and grey hair, which to me indicates mineral deficiency.
Another approach to detoxification is juice fasting. I am not a fan of fruit and carrot juice fasting because removing all the fiber from your fruit increases the rate at which the sugars enter the bloodstream, and you miss out on fiber’s many proven health benefits. Definitely a bad idea if you have blood sugar or insulin issues. Dr. Joe Mercola recommends using a masticating juicer that maintains the fiber content on green vegetables (not fruits) and eating the resulting puree. This makes a lot more sense to me.
A healthier variation of the fruit juice fast is to only eat fruit for a period of time, this way you get the whole food benefits. The downside to this approach is that you maintain your carbohydrate intake relatively high while drastically reducing your protein intake. I have noticed that many people using this approach are overweight. If you are fasting, you should reduced your carbohydrate intake, not maintain it. Still, there is some value to this approach.
An exception to the no-juice rule would be cereal grass juices, such as wheat grass, barley, and kamut grass juices. Alfalfa juice would fall in this category as well. Cereal grasses are extremely nourishing, and worth consuming, but only in juice form with all the fiber removed. Grasses have a fiber structure akin to barbed razor blades which are extremely irritating to us non-ruminants. Make sure that any cereal grass supplement that you does not contain any whole grass with it’s razor-like fiber. Since ground up grass is about a twentieth the cost of the juice, many formulators like to add this as a cost reduction strategy. The taste, texture, and odor do not compare to 100% juice.
The most common approach to detoxification is to “colon cleanse” which usually involves an approach to remove the mythical “mucoid plaque” we spoke of earlier. I have seen some benefits from this approach, usually with people who are quite toxic. These people would improve with just about any approach where they make a serious reduction in their caloric intake. The major downside to the colon cleanse approach comes when the formulators look to add anti-parasitic ingredients and they sell this to someone with Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis, and all of a sudden this person is passing bloody stools and bleeding from their rectum. Not to mention the fact that these formulations are based on a myth.