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The Truth About Detox Diets

Forget fad detox diets. Follow these nine down-to-earth strategies to support your natural detoxificaton systems.

| March/April 2014

  • 1. Eliminate processed foods, refined sugar and simple carbohydrates from your diet as much as possible. 2. Eat organic vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and hormone-free meat, eggs and dairy products. 3. Limit alcohol consumption and eliminate smoking. 4. Manage medications, supplements and over-the-counter drugs by talking with your doctor. 5. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. 6. Use natural body-care products and household cleaners. 7. Remove shoes when entering your home. 8. Use a water filter to limit potential contaminants. 9. Consider supporting your liver with an 80-percent standardized concentration milk thistle supplement.
  • Low Toxin Foods
    Choose organic vegetables, fruits and whole grains to lower your intake of toxins.
    Photo by iStock
  • Milk Thistle
    Milk thistle is among the most effective herbs for strengthening the liver.
    Photo by iStock
  • Woman in Field
    Our bodies’ natural detoxification systems center around the liver and kidneys, and we can take many actions to keep these vital organs healthy.
    Photo by Veer
  • Whole Fruit Smoothie
    Blend whole fruits and vegetables to receive all of the nutrition.
    Photo by iStock

  • Low Toxin Foods
  • Milk Thistle
  • Woman in Field
  • Whole Fruit Smoothie

Have you been thinking wistfully about a healthier lifestyle? Maybe it’s time to detox. If that sounds appealing to you, a quick Internet search will yield a ton of suggestions for how to go about it. Numerous plans for detox diets and cleanses are right there, ready to help you, and some make very appealing claims: Flush chemicals from your system! Lose weight! Have more energy! Look years younger!

Don’t take all these claims at face value. The body’s natural detoxification systems center on the liver and kidneys, and in fact, we can take many actions to help keep these vital organs healthy. However, this is an area of health and wellness where unproven claims abound. Before buying into any particular detox plan, it’s a good idea to do a little research and ask a few hard questions. (For a few suggestions, see Questions to Ask about Detox Diets, later in this article.)

Feeling Toxic

People try detox plans for many reasons, but here’s one of the most common: When you start looking at detox books, many begin by talking about chemical body burden. It’s a well-documented fact that we all carry around a lot of pollutants in our bodies. The average person’s blood and urine contain measurable levels of numerous chemical contaminants including the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), flame retardants and other industrial chemicals. One group that does extensive investigation into and reporting on these issues is the Environmental Working Group. You can also read detailed reports on human exposure to environmental chemicals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Knowing all that to be true, who wouldn’t want to detox? The trouble is that when you start reading about proven medical therapies for removing pollutants from our systems, the options look pretty limited. One of the few established medical options is chelation therapy for removing high levels of heavy metals from the blood, for people with lead poisoning, for example. (And even here you need to be cautious—this treatment should only be done under medical supervision. The FDA has issued advisories about over-the-counter home chelation products.)

What’s much more likely to be effective, according to those working in the area of toxins, is avoiding these chemicals in the first place. Fortunately, there are many great ways to go about this, including eating organic food to avoid pesticide exposure and choosing nontoxic products for our homes, including natural cleaning and personal-care products.

A few resources that can help you find less-toxic products are the Environmental Working Group—it offers guides to identifying and avoiding potentially harmful chemicals in personal-care products, household cleaners and produce—and the Organic Consumers Association. It’s quite simple to make your own nontoxic household cleaners and beauty products; for our recipes, visit our Guide to Homemade Cleaners and Homemade Beauty Products.

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