The Myth of Detoxification

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

There are few limits to the types of products claiming they can detoxify your body, getting rid of unknown toxins and supposedly keeping your body working optimally. From soaps to spa treatments to yoga practices, they all want to help you detoxify.

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And they’re all making unsubstantiated claims. Detoxification, at least as popular health gurus promote, is a myth. No matter how much you pay or what promises they make, a fancy fitness retreat or special foot soak will not result in your body releasing a flood of toxins. A colon cleanse will not flush your system of toxins. You cannot have them washed away with a colonic.

Even before you were born, your body was working to eliminate waste. From your digestive and urinary system, through your lymph nodes and liver, out of your lungs, and even from your sweat glands, your body has a variety of ways to filter and eliminate anything you put in it. Your body is already the perfect detoxification machine, with its own system to keep you healthy and “detoxified.” Only if this filtering system fails will you experience a toxic build up – and then you’d better seek emergency medical care from a doctor.

Understanding the Meaning of Detoxification

Some people falsely believe the medical community supports “detoxification” because they hear the term used by doctors or other health care providers to describe the medical process of detoxification. When someone undergoes detoxification, they receive treatments that help their body deal with dangerous levels of poisonous substances. Often, you hear this is connection with drugs or alcohol.

Unless you have ingested poison though, medical detoxification is unnecessary. Not only does your body do a fine job on its own of preventing any toxic build up, there is no reason to believe any of these products could provide any type of detoxifying effect.

How About That Cleansing Enema?


“Cleansing Enemas” are not much more than psyllium fiber mixed in water and inserted into the rectum through a small tube.  The enema is retained for a while and then expelled.  Wne expelled, the enema “therapist” will proudly and, with a sense of relief, show you all of the “spackle” that was removed from your colon.  The spackle is the supposed toxin.  In fact, the toxin is nothing more than the psyllium now congealed in the enema water.  But you will feel better, both physically (you have just had a large bowel movement), and psychologically (you just restored your physical health).  The therapist will be happy because you just paid for a night on the town.  A return appointment will most likely be recommended.

Your colon is a storage place for stool which is the non-digestible residue of your recent meals.  There are no toxins in the stool.  And, beware of that enema tip.  It can cause its own damage. Hold on to your wallet and to your rectum and avoid colon “therapy”.

The Potential Dangers of the Detoxification Myth

Many people take a “what’s it going to hurt?” attitude toward detoxification. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is difficult to answer. Because there are so many products and experiences claiming to provide detoxifying benefits, it is difficult to comprehend all the ways a simple “detox” could be dangerous.

Unless you have an allergy and develop contact dermatitis, using a detoxifying soap probably won’t do much harm. Consider the raw goat milk detox recently touted by a popular celebrity, though. There is a reason California law requires commercially sold raw milk to undergo inspection, and why it cannot be sold in more than a dozen states at all. Unpasteurized milk is not a magic potion. It can contain microorganisms that wreak havoc in the gastrointestinal system and lead to stomach cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly dehydration and more serious complications. Other types of detoxification products or plans could pose even more serious dangers.

How Can I Ensure My Body Is Working Optimally?

Instead of worrying about detoxifying products that make unsubstantiated claims, consider investing in the foods that keep your body’s digestive system – and other important waste eliminating functions – healthy and strong. While there is no medical evidence to support detoxification, many studies confirm the importance of eating a healthy diet and getting even moderate amounts of exercise.

Increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy grains can help you lose weight and have regular bowel movements. Taking a walk after dinner or going to a group exercise class can help you sleep better and build muscle. Quitting smoking and drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol can improve your skin and do wonders for your overall health.

Diet is just one puzzle piece to keep your body’s built-in detoxification systems working properly, but it is a very important piece. If you have any concerns about your health, see your doctor. You can even ask them to refer you to a registered dietitian if you have any special medical conditions or unusual caloric needs. In addition, make sure you have all recommended screenings, including annual checkups and colonoscopies beginning at age 50.

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