The arena of health and wellness is surrounded by many diets, supplements and alternative medicines that claim to “detox” or “cleanse” the body. Many products claim to remove impurities from the body, but most of us don’t know how the body actually carries out the process of detoxification.
In this article, we discuss the science behind detoxification and bust some of the myths surrounding it.
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So How Does Detoxification Work?
Broadly speaking, the 2 main organs responsible for waste removal in the body are the liver and the kidney. Here is how each of them work:
The liver carries out a process called Xenobiotic metabolism, which is basically the process of breaking down substances that are foreign to the body’s biochemistry, like drugs and pollutants.
Along with foreign substances, certain hormones and fatty acids are also broken down in the liver. The liver has the highest concentration of metabolizing enzymes. The enzymes break down nutrients as well as waste products. The waste metabolized in the liver is sent to the small intestine using a fluid known as bile.
The small intestine absorbs trace nutrients in the bile, and the remaining waste products are then sent to the colon for final processing. The colon diverts certain substances it cannot process back to the liver for further treatment, and the remaining waste is processed and excreted as faeces.
Although there are many other sites for Xenobiotic metabolism in the body, due to its large size and high enzyme concentration, the liver becomes the primary organ in the body responsible for detox.
The kidney and the liver work in tandem when it comes to excretion. Waste products that can’t be excreted through the colon are transported out of the liver through the hepatic veins, and they are delivered into the kidney through the renal artery.
Basically substances with smaller molecular weights are first filtered out through functional units known as nephrons. Once smaller molecules are filtered out, the remaining waste material is sent to nearby capillaries to re-absorb water, glucose, minerals that may be present.
The final waste product, which is urine, passes out of the nephron and gets transported to the urinary bladder through a collecting duct. The major function of the kidneys is to clear nitrogenous wastes such as urea and uric acid out of the body
Other organs that help in waste removal – To some extent the lungs (mucus lining and little fibres called trap contaminants and particulate matter and exhale them out of the body through coughs and sneezes) and skin (helps remove excess salts and small amounts of urea through sweating)
Efficacy of detox products:
So as we can see, our body has the tools to cleanse and detoxify itself. So do we really need foods and supplements to detox? Are detox diets, products and supplements really effective?
In reality, there is very little scientific evidence to prove that detox diets help remove toxins from the body. Several blind studies have found that there is no difference between normal, balanced diets and detox diets (such as juice cleanses and raw food diets).
In fact, detox diets have been found to be deficient in essential nutrients like protein and B-vitamins, hence they can create complications if followed for many months or years. Supplements fare poorly as well, as many do not go through rigorous testing and make dubious claims.
What’s the solution?
The real way to detox your body is to make sure that your vital organs function properly. A healthy body will detoxify itself. Here are some tips to keep your liver and kidneys healthy:
- Hydrate yourself – It might sound too simple to be true, but drinking water is the best way to make sure your organs function properly. 2 litres of water per day will keep your kidneys healthy and prevent disorders like Kidney stones.
- Consuming tea and coffee has been shown to prevent liver cirrhosis and chronic liver disease. They also boost enzyme levels and reduce fatty deposits. But moderation is a must, 1-2 cups a day with 1 spoon sugar/cup is recommended.
- Bright red and purple fruits/vegetables, such as blueberries, raspberries, beetroot and bell peppers contain chemicals such as polyphenols. Consuming them can help protect liver cells from damage, and they help prevent urinary infections.
- Unsaturated fat sources such as nuts and olive oil should be taken in moderation, as they reduce fat accumulation in the liver, improve insulin sensitivity and boost liver enzyme levels
- Turmeric has been shown to reduce liver damage and bile duct blockages. Having it in moderation can help improve liver health. Alternatively, a tested and safe curcumin supplement can also be taken if preferred.
- One of the most effective supplements for the liver, that has been studied extensively, is artichoke leaf. Studies have shown that this supplement can effectively reduce fat deposits in the liver and boost enzyme levels. It should be noted that there are a lot of fraudulent supplements in the market, so always go for a clinically tested and formulated supplement from a reputed firm
- Last but not least, avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. They tend to put a lot of strain on the liver and accelerate liver damage.
Most fad diets and supplements that claim to “detox” or “cleanse” the body have very little validity, and it has been shown that if one follows a balanced diet with regular exercise, the body is capable of detoxifying itself without any special foods or supplements. However, the two most effective supplements on the market for liver and kidney health are curcumin and artichoke leaf.