To Detox or Not to Detox…Is Not the Question

By Etta Hornsteiner
water and lemons help to detox the body by removing toxic substances

My first one was many years ago. The product cost me a pretty penny, but after the sales pitch by the health representative, I was looking forward to becoming like the Six Million Dollar Man: I’d be better, stronger, and faster. I decided to try the detox because so many people were telling me that it would help relieve my two chronic complaints: joint pain and fatigue. After three days of detox, I was much the same, though a few people did comment that my complexion had improved.

Health stores and agents continue to promote detox as an effective way to improve health.

Detox, or detoxification, is the process of removing toxic substances from the body. That simple explanation raises three important questions:

  1. what are these toxic substances and how did they get into my body?
  2. don’t I have at least one organ that can do the detoxing for me?
  3. do I really need to do a detox?

My mission in this blog is to answer these questions.

What are toxic substances?

Medlineplus.gov describes toxic substances, or toxins, as “substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans.” Toxins come from several sources: bacteria, fungi, algae, and plants.  

Toxins may also include medicines that are helpful in small dosages but poisonous in large amounts, and metals, such as lead.

Certain chemicals that are used in the workplace or in household products can be toxic, for example:

  • synthetic fragrances and perfumes
  • furniture containing formaldehyde
  • nonstick pots and pans
  • cans
  • vinyl shower linings
  • antibacterial hand soaps containing Tricolosan

The point here is that toxins are everywhere. Anything can be a toxic substance, even water. What, then, makes a substance toxic to the body? As a blogger put it, the “body tolerates a limited amount of anything; being it a chemical substance (pure water), a biological entity (bacteria) or inorganic physical matter (asbestos).” According to the Department of Labor and Industries, Washington State, it is the substance’s ability to cause harmful effects in the body at the level of a cell or group of cells, organ, or the entire body that makes it a toxin. The toxicity of a substance depends on three factors:

  1. its chemical structure,
  2. the extent to which the substance is absorbed by the body, and
  3. the body’s ability to detoxify the substance (change it into less toxic substances) and eliminate it from the body.

How do toxins get into the body?

Toxic substances enter the body through inhalation, skin or eye contact, and ingestion. The most common points of entry are the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs. And if the damage caused by the toxin affects only the point of entry, the toxin is said to have local effect. If, however, the toxin travels in the bloodstream to internal organs, its effect is systemic and the internal organs most commonly affected are the liver, kidneys, heart, nervous system (including the brain) and reproductive system.

This brings us to question number 2.

Can the body naturally get rid of these toxins?

The answer is yes. The main organs that work to remove toxins and waste from the body are:

detox for seniors, room representing toxic substances
  • liver
  • kidneys
  • colon
  • skin, and
  • lungs

The liver eliminates toxins by producing enzymes that inactivate toxins and prevent them from harming the body. According to blogger Aninda Dutta, enzymes can also break down compounds in the blood or modify them so that they stay dissolved and can then be excreted, via the kidneys or other methods.  No matter how a toxin gets into your bloodstream, it is the liver that is going to process it.

The kidneys eliminate toxins by filtering the blood and producing the urine that flushes them from the body.

The colon, or large intestine, is a major player in the digestive system, eliminating toxins through faeces. Doctors describe it as “a self-cleaning oven that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. After your small intestine absorbs the nutrients from what you eat and pushes them into your bloodstream, your large intestine gets rid of whatever remains.”

The skin eliminates toxins through sweat. I can still hear my eighth-grade general science teacher: “The skin is the largest excretory organ of the body.”

The lungs eliminate toxins by expelling carbon dioxide and pushing out contaminants through “little fibers called cilia …. So if you breathe in any particles that shouldn’t be there, they get trapped by mucus in the cilia and you cough it up or swallow it, and it goes away.”

Some common behaviors such as blowing one’s nose and spitting also eliminate toxic substances that entered the body.

It’s quite clear that the body is fully equipped with organs to naturally eliminate any substances that have entered the body in a form or quantity that would cause damage to the body.


Now for the six-million-dollar question.

Do people such as seniors really need to detox?

The short answer is no.

Detox products and programs include:

  • colon cleanses
  • enemas
  • Ayurveda therapies
  • Juice fasts
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Salt baths
  • Detoxifying face masks 

These products and programs are not able to rid the body of any type of toxins. They certainly cannot do a better job than the organs that were designed to cleanse the body of harmful substances. Besides, some of these cleanses, for example colon cleanses, can be harmful.

Therefore, our primary health aim should be to keep our detoxification organs healthy and functioning optimally. That means doing the things that make for a healthy liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and digestive system. Here are some important things you should and should not do if you want to improve your body’s natural detoxing capacity.

The Do nots

  • Do not smoke. Smoking damages the cilia of the lungs.
  • Do not consume alcohol other than occasionally and in moderate amounts. Too much alcohol can damage your liver.

The Do’s

  • Do Exercise until you work up a good sweat. Sweat is toxins on the run!
  • Do Exercise until you raise your heart rate and your lungs expand to take in more clean air.
  • Do Drink water regularly, especially first thing in the morning when you break your overnight fast. Let water be your drink of choice.
  • Do Eat balanced meals that are rich in fiber and probiotics. Minimize processed foods, especially processed sugars, in your diet. A good diet that’s rich in fiber and probiotics supports your colon.

So, if you’re feeling out of sorts and want to rebalance yourself, or you just want to improve your feeling of wellness, the question is not whether you should detox. Take a few minutes to assess what you are doing, or not doing, that might be handicapping your natural detoxification system. What can you do to help your detoxing organs function better? Then embark on those behaviors and eat the foods that would support your body’s capacity to detoxify harmful substances and eliminate them from the body.

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