One of the New Year considerations in our endeavours to cleanse, reduce or motivate our bodies is a detox. Although it is a buzzword of the times, the idea of detoxing goes back many hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

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It is found in many ancient healing traditions. India’s Ayurveda medicine describes cleansing and purification processes, while traditional Chinese medicine has a host of procedures for jie du, or removing toxins. Detoxing is also at the heart of naturopathic medicine, which maintains that a ‘toxic load’ may be the basis of many diseases.

However, just like homeopathy, detoxing is another of those absolute no-go demarcation lines between the sceptics and alternative therapies. Embraced by celebrities like film actress Gwyneth Paltrow, as an essential part of their health regimes, detox is equally derided by sceptics, who say it is a quick way for charlatans to make easy money.

Its proponents say it is an effective way to cleanse the body of toxins that would otherwise affect health and even cause chronic diseases such as muscle and joint pain, headaches, depression, gut problems, heart disease and cancer.

The opposing camps include doctors, dieticians and sceptics. Some doctors believe detoxing is only used to clear the body of drugs when addicted. Sceptics claim it is an unnecessary process as the body is quite capable of getting rid of toxins by itself. They say that if our body wasn’t capable of getting rid of toxins, we would be dead. That is true up to a certain extent.

One study of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients discovered that they had far higher concentrations of polychlorinated biphenylpesticides (which have now been banned) in their blood than did healthy people, which increased their risk of this cancer of the immune system (Lancet, 1997).

The US National Human Adipose Tissue Survey found 20 toxic compounds in 76 per cent of the fat samples being tested. While five compounds were discovered in every sample and at high levels. This suggests that the body cannot always rid itself of toxic agents.

There are many excellent studies covering this subject, but let’s get on with practical solutions. What most people ask is, how long do I detox for?

There is no clear answer, as it depends on the person and issues you are dealing with. Detoxing programmes can last for anything from two days to a 10-day programme, during which all processed foods are stopped and the focus put on eating fresh vegetables and fruits and detoxing proteins such as fish and eggs.

An elimination diet (all known allergens are removed) traditionally lasts for four weeks. However, if a person wishes to overcome a chronic health problem, a 16-week programme may be required, with the support of a qualified practitioner.

While the liver and kidneys can cope with many toxins in our food and environment, there is a danger of accumulation and overload – which can especially be a problem in people who have a particular sensitivity or an occupation (farm work, hairdressing or dentistry) with daily exposure.

There are several factors that determine whether or not you can naturally rid your body of toxins, according to nutritional medicine biochemist DeAnn Liska. The belief is that the immune system’s natural detoxification process can be compromised by age, genetics, lifestyle and the build-up of toxins from diet, occupation or habits like smoking and excessive drinking.

If the body cannot eject toxins naturally, what can be done to help the process? The many arguments include the evidence that detoxing works. If you speak to anyone who has been through a correct detox programme, the first thing they will tell you is how much more energetic they feel, how their skin looks different and how they feel better generally. This is usually followed by a period of withdrawal, in some cases, where cleansing the body can give headaches, flu-like symptoms and tiredness.

Finding evidence that detoxing works is mostly a reflection of the trials. Most trials are sponsored by drug companies and it is hard to find funders for studies where there is no obvious financial benefit.
Next week we will look at what works with a detox and the various ways in which you can detox on your own.

We will also look at the poisons in our lives that should be avoided if we wish to keep the body clean and free of toxins.

While this is never going to be fully achievable, we should be aware of what to avoid.

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