Detoxification is the process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins from thebody. By eliminating harmful toxins, it seeks to enable the body to heal itself and return to health.
One of the oldest known medical treatments, detoxification historically was achieved by fasting--deliberately abstaining from food for a time. In modern times, with concern over environmental contaminants, detoxification is advocated by some as a necessary means of staying healthy. Naturopaths, who hold that illness can be healed by the natural processes of the body, are the most vigorous supporters of detoxification, since they believe the primary cause ofdisease is accumulation of uneliminated wastes.
A toxin is anything that causes an irritation in the body or has a harmful effect on it. In addition to the effect of pesticides, industrial chemicals, food additives, and heavy metals, many people add to their toxic intake by ingesting legal and illegal drugs. Naturopaths and other alternative medicine practitioners fear an epidemic they call bioaccumulation--a buildup of toxic substances in the body that weakens the organs of elimination as well asthe immune system, gradually eroding health. Naturopaths and practitioners of traditional medicine agree that the body has its own natural processes for eliminating and neutralizing toxins (via perspiration, urination, exhalation, and bowel movements). However, they disagree on whether those processes are capable of handling the nature and amount of toxins in today's world. Those who believe that the body's systems are unable to cope with these dailypoisonous assaults argue that toxins are the primary cause of disease.
Proponents of detoxification say everyone should detoxify at some point. Benefits, they say, include increased vitality, reduced blood pressure and bloodfats, and improved assimilation of vitamins and minerals.
Among the several therapies available for detoxification, some are more intrusive than others. It is recommended that professional advice be obtained whenselecting a particular program. The major detoxification therapy categoriesare: fasting, specific diets, vitamin therapy, colon therapy, chelation therapy, and hyperthermia.
Fasting is the least expensive and easiest therapy, but it should always be preceded by a visit to a doctor or qualified health professional. Fasting is generally done for a limited, specific number of days. All fasting regimens permit water to be consumed to prevent dehydration. Others allow juice as well,although purists consider this a food. The main rationale for fasting is that since far fewer toxins are taken in, the body is able to rid itself of those already present.
As opposed to fasting, detoxification diets can be undertaken for extended periods. Although there are many different types of `detox' diets, most are based on eating organic rather than processed foods, minimizing meats and maximizing fruits and vegetables, and drinking filtered water. Advocates of traditional Chinese medicine also hold that certain foods (including radishes, turnips, soybeans, swiss chard, and vinegar) can counteract toxins.
Some feel that vitamin therapy (for example, vitamins C and E) can neutralizecertain toxins called free radicals.
Colon therapy (cleansing the large intestine with purified water, herbs, or other cleansing agents) is sometimes combined with fasting to flush toxins from the body. A step beyond a simple enema, this procedure is performed by a trained therapist who introduces from 5-25 gal (19-941 l) of water, or other cleansing agents, directly into the rectum using a tube and nozzle. This technique is supposed to remove toxic stool that remains in the folds of the intestine. If performed improperly or too frequently, it can be dangerous.
The most common type of chelation therapy involves using a chemical agent totreat heavy-metal poisoning (such as lead or mercury). The synthetic drug ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is administered intravenously or orally and binds to heavy metals in the blood. The toxic metals are then flushed outnaturally through the kidneys. Doctors also use natural chelating agents likezinc, garlic, vitamin C, and amino acids like cysteine. Oral chelation, while less expensive and more convenient, has been reported to be considerably slower than the intravenous method. Chelation therapy has also been used to treat artherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. It has been theorized thatchelation removes calcium, which is part of the plaque that coats arteries.While some patients have reported remarkable results with this treatment, noreliable scientific data exists to support these claims. Research is also needed to confirm reports of success with treating heart and cancer patients with chelation therapy.
Hyperthermia, also known as heat-stress detoxification, uses a sauna or a steam bath to sweat toxic chemicals from fat cells.
Detoxification therapies should not be undertaken without medical supervision. There is limited research data available to prove that detoxification therapies work, and more scientific studies need to be done to demonstrate that particular therapies are beneficial.
Some detoxification methods are potentially dangerous, with side effects ranging from dehydration to bowel perforation. Unsupervised detoxification shouldnot be tried by anyone who is underweight, pregnant, recovering from substance abuse, nor by those suffering from diabetes mellitus, thyroid problems, oran eating disorder.