Since the New Year recently began, you might be thinking about whether or not you should “detox” if you haven’t already started one.
Is detoxing really worth it? Many doctors claim that it’s not necessary because your body is naturally designed to detox via built-in detox pathways. That is in fact true; we do have built-in detox mechanisms. If we didn’t, small amounts of alcohol or other poisons would leave us dead or severely sick rather quickly. However, who is to say our detox pathways are functioning optimally? And who is to say our detox pathways are meant to easily withstand the onslaught of chemicals in today’s industrialized environment without a little rest and cleansing? In my opinion, detoxing is a good thing. However, whether or not it winds up being good for YOU depends on the type of detox you choose. In this article, I’ll explore a few different types of detox regimens and give the pros, cons, and my opinion as to their use and whether or not it’s worth embarking on this challenge.
THE MASTER CLEANSE
First, I’ll begin with the popular Master Cleanse. This involves drinking a solution of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne. Also, a laxative or salt water flush is recommended in conjunction, along with herbal tea if you so choose. Proponents recommend it for at least 10 days, and say you can expect weight loss and cleansing while resting your digestive system.
Pros: “easy” (doesn’t require any food preparation), cheap, and allows for rest and recovery of the intestinal tract and immune response
Cons: harmful to hypoglycemics (people with low blood sugar) and potential unhealthy weight loss
Dr. Rob’s commentary: Frankly, I find it too extreme for most of my patients; therefore, I only use it in extreme circumstances. This cleanse can be helpful for people who are extremely overweight and/or can’t get their high blood sugar or insulin resistance (soon to be diabetes) under control. When I do recommend it, I have patients avoid using the cayenne because it can be too irritating and some can be sensitive to it. Additionally, it’s important that you sip the solution every 10-15 waking minutes to prevent blood sugar from going too low. I would typically recommend it for 3-5 days, though in some extreme circumstances it can be done for as long as 4 weeks.
The main reason I don’t often recommend the master cleanse because many people tend toward having low blood sugar (at least my patients). Symptoms of this include: sweet cravings, irritability and/or lightheadedness if meals are missed, depending on caffeine to “keep going” or “get started,” feeling shaky or jittery, noticing that eating relieves fatigue, being agitated or nervous, having a poor memory, and bouts of blurred vision. If you have low blood sugar and embark on this cleanse, chances are that you will create an even more unstable blood sugar pattern because of the lack of calories. If someone decides they MUST do the Master Cleanse, again, I always recommend taking sips of the solution every 10-15 waking minutes to prevent steep drops in blood sugar.
Another reason I’m not a huge fan of this cleanse is because it can often be too harsh. When one restricts him/herself to this type of cleanse, toxins will begin to purge at a very rapid rate. If one or more of your detox systems/organs (liver, GI tract, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic, immune and/or skin) is compromised, you can very likely get a so-called “healing crisis” or “detox reaction.” This can include headaches, skin outbreaks, foggy-headedness, fatigue, digestive disturbances, etc… A crisis for sure! Many people consider this a good thing and evidence that the cleanse is “working.” It may be “working” by dumping toxins in the bloodstream, but if your detox pathways are “not working,” these symptoms will arise and are an indication that you’re overloading your system and causing more harm than good. You’re essentially just moving toxins from one organ/cell to another while causing an acute immune system response. A good detox would never include symptoms as described above, aside from some minor ups and downs that can easily be rectified.
Next, we have “juice cleanses.” As the name implies, it involves drinking fresh or bottled vegetable and sometimes fruit juices. These are usually recommended for 3 days up to a week. They seem to be the “in thing to do” with many companies colorfully advertising their own special formulas and regimens.
Pros: “easy” (everything is prepared, unless you make your own of course), allows for a sufficient amount of calories, provides nutrients important for detox, rests the intestinal tract and immune system
Cons: pricey, potential for unhealthy weight loss and low blood sugar
Dr. Rob’s commentary: Juice cleanses can be helpful if you “need” a major flush, drain and/or rest for your intestinal tract and immune system from overeating and/or making very poor food choices for a long time. These are still not necessary in my opinion, but will hopefully help to get you off to a good start on eating better and provide some needed rest to your intestinal tract. However, they come with the same risk of blood sugar imbalances as the Master Cleanse and also pose a risk of overloading your system with toxins, although less so than the Master Cleanse.
10-30 DAY DETOX DIET
Pros: provides sufficient calories, healthy weight loss, gentle detoxification
Cons: lengthy, socially-challenging
Dr. Rob’s commentary: These programs involve major dietary restrictions (although they do allow for solid food) and general detox/cleansing supplements. I prefer to use these with patients and recommend at least 14-21 days. My patients (and I) have found this approach to be the most successful. The purging of toxins occurs at a much slower pace that’s more bearable for the body, and it also helps engender healthy weight loss and healthier eating habits. Additionally, it’s the “gold-standard” for determining which foods you might be sensitive to after reintroducing the foods you’ve been avoiding. This is critical for anyone seeking optimal long-term health and the prevention of chronic, degenerative diseases. One drawback to these longer programs is that, well, they are long. Social engagements can be a big impediment. Additionally, the detox supplements are not tailored toward the individual’s needs. They often include a fiber powder/capsules, green/super foods, probiotics, general herbal cleansing supplements, and a protein shake. I don’t find anything “wrong” with these types of supplements; I simply prefer to address patient’s particular needs.
Before going on a detox, you should ask yourself what goal you’re trying to achieve. We are ALL toxic because of living in today’s day and age. There’s no question that we all have unfriendly microbes, chemicals and toxic metals that we’d be better off without. But remember, you’ll still be exposed to those same toxins and microbes after the detox. Hopefully your system will be better able to remove them after a detox, but I propose a different, more specific approach.
DR. ROB’S PREFERRED APPROACH
I prefer to treat all my patients as individuals and never go with a “cookie-cutter” approach to addressing symptoms or named conditions. I sometimes use a standard 21-day detox but still tailor it to you, the individual. I recommend finding out exactly which organs/glands are under-functioning that need specific support via lab tests and the in-office tests I use that you’re all familiar with. I also recommend finding out if there are particular microbial imbalances and/or particular toxic metals or chemicals that need addressing. By doing this, you are addressing the most important areas of your health, which will yield the best results. These general pre-planned detoxes don’t address specific microbial imbalances (e.g.: bacterial, parasitic, viral, or yeast/fungal), and they probably won’t be enough to take care of any toxic metal or chemical burden to the degree you need. You typically won’t have to be concerned with food toxins because any fairly decent detox program of this nature will have you eliminating the major culprits (i.e. grains, dairy, nuts, nightshades, caffeine, etc.).
In conclusion, if you’re looking to start off 2014 the best way possible, I recommend you find out exactly what organ(s)/gland(s) need support, which microbes need balancing, which foods to avoid, and if you need to purge chemicals and/or metals. It is always advisable to be under the supervision of a qualified, licensed healthcare practitioner when embarking on any detox program.
My best to you in this New Year!
Dr. Rob D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Diplomate and Board-certified teacher of the International College of Applied Kinesiology