Since today marks the official start of spring, and as many embark on spring-cleaning efforts, I figured it would be an appropriate time to talk about detoxification or detox programs. I have been doing some type of yearly cleanse or detox program for over 10 years. Depending on what is going on, I do a detox program 2 to 4 times a year, each time lasting anywhere from 3 to 42 days, although the most frequent programs I do last 5 to 10 days. There are a wide variety of detox programs available and quite a lot of information that can be found on detoxification, so I will do my best to be brief in this introduction to detox programs.
1. What Are Detox Programs?
Detox programs are designed to help the body get rid of toxins and/or allow vital organs to take a break from processing these toxins out of the body. There are detox programs that are created to help treat addiction to drugs, alcohol, and other substances, as well as cleanses and detox programs for clean living and optimizing health. I am focusing on the latter.
Detox programs usually focus on food, and involve eliminating items that are known to cause irritation or a toxic load on the body, such as alcohol, caffeine, chemicals, processed foods, nicotine, and sugar. Instead, the detox focuses on increasing consumption of water and clean foods or fasting. Detoxes also involve other elements or practices to support the detoxification process, such as light movement, sweating, relaxation, rest, and cleansing the colon, while minimizing stress and exposure to technology, radiation, environmental chemicals, and pollution.
Consuming large amounts of water helps the body flush toxins out through the kidneys and bladder. Sweating helps the body eliminate toxins through the skin, and this can be done by sitting in steams, saunas, and baths, and engaging in some form of exercise. These methods also speed up circulation, which means blood flow through the body increases, thus encouraging toxins to be removed from different areas in the body into the excretory organs.
Cleansing of the colon is an essential part of a detox program. The colon is tasked with removing waste from the body, and if this does not happen on a regular basis, those toxins may be reintroduced into circulation. Colon can be cleansed by consuming laxatives, teas, supplements, probiotics, and prebiotics, among others. Also, a colon cleanse can involve an enema in which liquid are inserted though the rectum in order to encourage the colon to cleanse. Possible options for enemas are water, herbs, diluted coffee, and saline laxatives, such as Epson salts. The thought is that by inserting liquids into the colon, stools will soften and be encouraged to be released from the body. Please note that the use of enemas is controversial.
2. What Are the Benefits of Detox Programs?
Cleanses and detox programs help the body maintain optimal health. They are encouraged to build healthy practices from an early age and encourage healthy aging at a later age. There are some people who already follow a clean eating program and lifestyle and may not need to detox, but may want to do it in order to maintain their clean health. Others who may benefit from a detox to help the body in its healing process, and still others who need a detox because they regularly consume and are surrounded by many toxins.
When cleanses are done for a short period of time, they assist the body in eliminating toxins, while providing valuable nutrients, unless of course the detox program involves a fast. Cleanses can help any individual in detoxifying their body, but are particularly helpful to those who suffer from colds, headaches, constipation, allergies, insomnia, skin conditions, hypertension, diabetes, muscle aches and pains, and painful menstruation (Haas & Chase, 2012).
Cleanses act as a catalyst in the body to induce healing transformation. For instance, they increase relaxation, peace of mind, motivation, and spiritual awareness, as well as increase energy levels, productivity, and focus (Haas & Chase, 2012). Within the body, they help metabolic processes in eliminating wastes, free radicals, and other toxins. Because there is no consumption of toxins during a detox, the skin, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and other organs, can take a break for their usual processes. Instead, they can focus on eliminating accumulated toxins from the body.
It is important to note that while the body is eliminating toxins, some people tend to feel sick. This is particularly true of those who are doing a detox program for the first time. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, lethargy, irritability, and dizziness (Haas & Chase, 2012). This is normal since toxins are being released into circulation before they are eliminated. Once these symptoms pass, which can happen after the first three days of the detox, one generally starts feeling better, and with renewed energy. This is why it is important to include relaxation and rest as part of the detoxification process, as it gives the body the support it needs, particularly when feeling ill symptoms.
It is important not to continue the detox for too long because depending on the type of detox or cleanse selected, your body will not be getting the full range of nutrients it needs to keep the body functioning in a healthy manner for the long term.
3. Who Should Do a Detox Program?
Detox programs can be followed by people of all ages, as long as there are no contraindications, such as pregnancy or chronic illness. Cleanses and detox programs can be conducted throughout adulthood and into aging to help the body maintain optimal health.
The type of program will need to be adjusted by age group. For instance, fasting or limiting diet plans are not recommended for children. However, children can do short and reduced cleanses where they to abstain or reduce sugars, fats, and processed foods, and instead learn to eat whole grains and select healthy eating options. But it is important for them to keep up with adequate consumption of protein, fruits and vegetables, and carbohydrates in order to ensure their proper development and growth. Thus, once again, any type of fasting or restrictive diet is not recommended.
Adolescents and young adults could probably benefit the most from a detox or cleanse, given their predilection of junk food, particularly as they start socializing. It may not be possible to have them go through a detox, but would be worthwhile to provide them insight into healthy eating options.
4. What Are the Different Types of Detox Programs?
As I mentioned, there are a wide variety of cleanses or detox programs available, ranging from restrictive ones in which very little to no food is consumed, to those in which full meals are still consumed and only toxic elements are removed for a period of time. For instance, The Detox Diet describes a Master Cleanse that consists of only drinking lemon water with maple syrup and cayenne, along with water and herbal teas (Haas & Chace, 2012). There are other forms of liquid only cleanses that can be more filling, such as juice cleanses or smoothie cleanses.
There are also cleanses that involve eating only one type of food for a period of time, such as a particular fruit or kichadi, which is an Indian dish made with rice and lentils. There are other options that involve a specific detox meal plan, such as reducing acidic foods while increasing alkalizing foods, elimination diets, or a combination of a meal plan with supplements, which can often be bought through detox program sellers or supplement providers.
It is important to consult a health care practitioner to help you select the cleanse or detox that is best suited to your needs. In fact, many doctors or health care providers have specific guidelines or detox practices and programs that they recommend for their patients.
5. How Do I Know What Type of Detox Program To Do?
Selecting a proper cleanse or detox program depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, consider your willpower and determination. A detox that involves fasting or liquid only may be too restrictive to commit to, especially if doing a detox for the first time, or if you do not believe you will have the willpower to abstain from solid foods for a period of time. In that case, select cleanse or detox programs that incorporate meal plans.
Health is another factor that determines the type of cleanse or detox program. A pregnant or nursing woman should abstain from a proper cleanse or detox, and instead consume leaner foods, whole grains, and organic produce, while limiting the intake of sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and chemicals. In addition, someone who has a serious health condition or a weak constitution should follow similar practices, and consult a physician before doing a proper cleanse. Someone who is diabetic should not engage in a juice or smoothie detox, since these can be high in sugar. Or if they choose to follow one of those, then they may need to limit their consumption of fruit juices and smoothies, and focus instead on vegetable options.
The level of activity may also determine the type of program selected. Someone who is used to more strenuous exercise or activity may need to supplement their detox with more calories, instead of fasting or liquid only. They may also select a juice or smoothie plan that incorporates protein powders. Someone who has a more sedentary lifestyle could do a detox that involves a lower caloric intake.
When embarking on a detox I would recommend taking a progressive approach. This means that it is best to prepare the body for the detox, do the cleanse, and then prepare the body for normal food consumption after the cleanse. For example, for 3 to 5 days before the cleanse, start to reduce consumption of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, red meats, sugar, processed foods, dairy, and eggs. This will minimize the ill symptoms often felt during detox. The cleanse itself could last 2 to 10 days, depending on how well the body can tolerate it. After the detox is over, it is best to have the body gradually go back to eating normal foods. Adding one food type per day is a good option, as it allows you to see how your body reacts and responds to each type of food.
Selecting a detox program can be a complicated process that involves a lot of work and preparation, but the added benefits you and your body will feel can be well worth the effort.
Haas, E. M. & Chace, D. (2012). The Detox Diet: The Definitive Guide for Lifelong Vitality with Recipes, Menus, and Detox Plans (3rd Ed.). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.