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What Is Detoxing and Does It Improve Your Health?

Average read time: 8 minutes

What Is Detoxing and Does It Improve Your Health?

The start of the new year often comes with many resolutions to live an improved, healthier life. Something you might hear often throughout the month of January is ‘detoxing’ or ‘cleansing’. After indulging over the festive season, many people want to take control of their health and weight again and propose to detox or partake in a ‘detox diet’ to get rid of the toxins they ingested over the holidays. The idea is that you cleanse your body and restart on a clean slate.

Detoxing has been practised in religious and traditional customs for ages, but the concept of cleansing and rejuvenating the body has gained attractiveness and is becoming more popular thanks to the press, social media, magazines, books and celebrities’ stories (Khalil, 2017, p. 237). Now, there are a variety of ‘detoxification diets’, regimens, and products available. But what is detoxing? Does it work? And what benefits does it offer?

What is detoxing?

The terms ‘detox’ and ‘cleanse’ are often used interchangeably. They describe either a programme or various approaches to promote one’s health by getting rid of toxins from your body.[a] These programmes or approaches refer mostly to do-it-yourself procedures aimed at eliminating alleged toxins that are thought to be causing a variety of health issues, including headaches, bloating, joint pain, digestion issues, fatigue, weight gain, and even depression.

Detoxifying products are rarely medically approved and are, therefore, not available by prescription. You’ll most likely find them in retail stores, spas, or online. Many of these products are advertised for detoxifying certain organs or bodily systems, while others are promoted as ‘whole body’ cleansers.[b] They come with lots of promises, but there’s no substantial evidence that they make any real difference to your health.

On the contrary, some detox methods can be quite harmful to your health as there is a lack of regulation in the detox diet industry. Popular detox diets range from total starvation and juice fasts to a range of food modification approaches such as the use of laxatives, diuretics, vitamins, minerals, and/or ‘cleansing foods’. The EU, for example, has refused to authorise the wide range of detoxification claims of a dozen nutritional substances (Khalil, 2017, p. 238).

What are toxins, and are they dangerous?

Toxins can be defined as substances that negatively impact your health. They can be the result of environmental exposure – both intentional (for example, smoking cigarettes) or unintentional (for example, drinking contaminated water). They can also be a consequence of basic biological processes, like breathing polluted air.[a]

Modern life exposes us to all kinds of toxins daily, but our bodies are well-developed systems that are fully capable of dealing with and getting rid of them by itself. Through our liver, kidneys, digestive system, respiratory system, and skin, our bodies process and get rid of unwanted or harmful substances (Khalil, 2017, p. 239). This means that, generally speaking, a healthy person would not need or benefit from a detox.

There are certain instances, however, that can interrupt the body’s natural detoxification systems, for example, in the case of people with liver or kidney disease and/or damage. These individuals will require help to get rid of toxins but they would then rely on medical treatment under the guidance of a medical professional.

Of course, cutting out alcohol and eating healthier is beneficial for your body, but your organs are continually working on getting rid of toxins either way.

How can you help your body improve these functions?

According to Claudia Hammond, a quick fix is never the answer. Instead of doing a crash diet or trying to cleanse your system with a detox, why not adapt your lifestyle and diet? Doing so means there’ll be less toxins for your body to get rid of[c]. So, to help your body do its job better, take better care of it -especially the three organs responsible for waste excretion.

  • Digestive system – To help take care of your digestive system, eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Liver – A good diet, consisting of lots of vegetables and fruit, is good for your live. Also make sure to decrease your alcohol intake.
  • Kidney – To keep your kidney healthy, drink lots of water, and include wholegrains, legumes, and vegetables in your diet.

There are also certain lifestyle adjustments that could assist your body in getting rid of toxins more efficiently.

Limit alcohol consumption

Alcohol is toxic to the body and should be avoided or consumed in small doses. When consumed, your liver is responsible for getting rid of the alcohol. This is done by breaking down the acetaldehyde (a by-product of alcohol) until it’s turned into carbon dioxide and water, which can be expelled from the body.

Regular alcohol consumption means that your liver spends a lot of time getting rid of the alcohol in your body, leaving less time for it to get rid of any other toxins. Excessive drinking will also damage your liver in the long term, and reduce your body’s ability to naturally get rid of toxins. Therefore, avoiding alcohol or only drinking in moderation is a great way to help your body detoxify.

Focus on nutrition

Our modern diets include lots of unhealthy foods (think sodas, processed meats, packaged pastries and cookies, and fast food). The more of these we eat, the higher our chances are of developing health problems that will reduce our body’s ability to get rid of toxins naturally.

Cutting out junk food is a giant step towards helping your body functions improve. You should also make a point of including a variety of foods in your diet. Consulting South Africa’s Food-Based Dietary Guidelines can be helpful in this regard. These guidelines include seven food groups (existing of local, affordable foods) that should be eaten regularly to ensure your body receives the necessary nutrients. The seven groups are starchy foods; fruits and vegetables; dry beans, peas, lentils and soya; chicken, fish, meat and eggs; milk, maas, and yoghurt; fats and oil; and water.

So, your diet doesn’t have to be boring! Have a look at this delicious Spicy Maas Marinated Roast Chicken, Curried Millet and Smoked Snoek Fishcakes, Stuffed Butternut with Basmati Rice and Fresh Veg, and Baked Eggplant Parmesan for some recipe inspiration.

Drink lots of water

Drinking lots of water helps your body flush out all kinds of waste and toxins. Ideally, an individual should aim to drink 2.5 to 3.5 litres of water daily.

Prioritise sleep

Sufficient sleep is necessary to help the body get rid of toxins stored in our nervous system. The ideal amount of sleep differs from one individual to the next, but the general consensus is that between seven and nine hours are required each night for optimum health. Our bodies perform on sleep/wake cycles, and during these cycles our organs conduct their functions routinely. Therefore, aiming to develop a sleep routine (i.e., going to bed and getting up at the same time every day) is ideal and will help your body function better.

Be more active

The skin plays an integral part in getting rid of toxins in our body via sweat. So, working up a sweat can be helpful for detoxification. Additionally, regular movement and light exercise may help to promote bowel functionality, which further encourages toxin elimination.

Minimise exposure to toxins

Staying away from or limiting our exposure to things that we know are bad for us, is the most certain way to help your body detoxify. Be alert, educated, and take note of the ingredients in the products you buy, swap out certain ingredients to make healthier meals, and steer clear of toxins as far as possible.

Reduce stress

When your body is stressed, it can reduce the efficacy of its detoxifying processes. Chronic stress can affect your hormone production, immune function, and even prevent proper digestion as it’s known for changing your gut bacteria.

Detox by getting rid of bad habits

Although it doesn’t make much of a difference physically, a detox could be the proverbial ‘new start’ you need to help your body naturally detoxify by taking better care of it. So, perhaps a detox should be seen as a metaphor for shedding old, unhealthy habits, rather than something that flushes impurities from your body.[c] You can start by not smoking, exercising, and enjoying a balanced diet (Khalil, 2017, p.239).

There are many natural ingredients and activities that can assist in helping our bodies maintain a healthy balance and most can be obtained by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. For some, however, vitamin and mineral supplements may be suggested to support natural detoxification processes. Such individuals should seek advice from a medical professional.

Ultimately, a healthy body will regulate and balance itself. It’s up to you to assist the process with smart daily choices, and with a little planning and preparation, this need not be difficult.


What is detoxing?

Detoxing refers to various programmes or approaches aimed at eliminating toxins that are thought to be causing a variety of health issues, including headaches, bloating, joint pain, digestion issues, fatigue, weight gain, and even depression.

Are there products available to help me detox?

Yes, but detoxifying products are rarely medically approved and are not available by prescription. They come with lots of promises, but there’s no substantial evidence that they make any real difference.

Is detoxing beneficial for my health?

Cutting out alcohol and eating healthier is beneficial for your body, but your organs are continually working on getting rid of toxins either way. Therefore, there’s no real proof that doing a detox is beneficial.

What can I do for my health instead of detoxing?

Instead of doing a crash diet or trying to cleanse your system, adapt your lifestyle and diet. You could:

  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Focus on nutrition
  • Drink lots of water
  • Prioritise your sleep
  • Be active and sweat more
  • Minimise your exposure to toxins
  • Reduce your stress levels
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