The human body cleanses itself of toxins and waste products naturally, but sometimes you might feel in need of a little boost.
In today’s world of sedentary lifestyles and obesogenic environments, it’s easy to have feelings of health ennui. One solution is doing a detox. This involves cleansing the body of modern life’s pollutants, effectively resetting your body to day one. The human body cleanses itself of toxins and waste products naturally. However, sometimes it may feel like you need a little boost. While some cleansing practices have been banished as toxic dieting trends, some of their ruling principles can help improve health and longevity.
What is a cleanse?
Originally referring to medical procedures that rid the body of dangerous levels of toxins, the term ‘detox’ has been co-opted as a wellness trend that promises to leave you feeling energised, refreshed and healthy.
The human body naturally removes common toxins like alcohol, medications, dead cells, pollution and bacteria using different organ systems including the kidneys, skin and lungs. The liver in particular is a major detoxing force. Detoxes aim to accelerate this process by eliminating toxins in the first place or expelling them from the body.
Detoxes exist in many forms, with the general ruling principle that they should reduce toxins to promote weight loss and health. Popular approaches include:
- Juice or water-based cleanses
- Herbal or dietary supplements
- Detox diets
- Colon cleanses
While some cleansing methods like fasting and saunas have proven health benefits, other strategies are understudied, have worrying safety concerns, or are simply unscientific and should be attempted with caution. Some extreme methods like drinking salt water or the ‘detox teas’ touted by tiktokers and influencers can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, faintness and stomach issues. Due to the wide variety of cleanses and the conflicting evidence, can cleanses really benefit health and longevity?
Reducing your exposure to toxins
The first step to cleansing your body is reducing your total toxin intake. As you read this, your liver is filtering out, breaking down and excreting toxins and waste products from your body. Normally, this process happens naturally without you ever noticing. However, if the liver becomes overloaded, it cannot process waste quickly enough, leading to inflammation. Inflammation forms the basis of many chronic conditions and further impairs the detoxification process, forming a vicious cycle.
Limiting your exposure to common toxins like drugs, alcohol and inflammation-causing food in the first place can aid the cleansing process. Stress is another contributing factor in aging and disease. Limiting your exposure to stress by managing your workload, getting out in green space and enjoying your favourite hobbies can make you feel good in the short term through the release of endorphins as well as preserving health long term. Avoiding excess intake of caffeine, alcohol and processed foods, which many detox diets suggest, is sound health advice .
Healthy diet for a healthy life
Many popular cleansing methods have been myth-busted; so why do so many people claim to feel better following a detox? One explanation is that the ruling principle of detox diets, eliminating processed foods high in fat and sugar, improves health and makes people feel better.
Detox diets usually promote eating fruits and vegetables – integral tools in eating for longevity as they provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Taking inspiration from detox diets and eating a balance of fruit and veg, wholegrains, lean meat, fish and pulses is key to health and longevity.
Equally, staying hydrated is integral to health. Drinking enough water helps with digestion, removes toxins from the body and helps nutrient absorption. However, water cleanses, in which you consume nothing but water for a prolonged period, should not be attempted.
Supporting your cleanse with nutrient extracts
The supplement scene is booming, offering an alternative medicine for all types of ailments. However, supplements don’t undergo the same rigorous testing as pharmaceutical drugs so it is important to read the ingredients to see the concentrations of the active substances and avoid fillers. Supplements can be used to support the body’s natural cleansing activities:
- Milk thistle extract. This supports liver function and boosts levels of the antioxidant glutathione. Antioxidants, as the name suggests, neutralise oxidative stress caused by poor diet, stress and toxins. Eating a diet of antioxidant-rich food as well as taking supplements can limit the free radicals caused by oxidative stress and preserve your cellular health.
- Resveratrol. Another antioxidant, resveratrol is found in whole foods, especially red grapes and wine and is also available in supplement form. Resveratrol also limits free radicals, and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties.
- High potency vitamin C. Common to citrus fruits, vitamin C is also available in high potency supplement form, promising to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The skin often shows the first sign of aging, which can be accelerated by oxidative stress, environmental pollution and sun exposure. Vitamin C can contribute to the skin’s antioxidant system and promote collagen.
Hot and cold cleanses
For centuries, generations of people in the Nordic countries have been using heat to boost their health in the form of saunas. Not only are saunas a great and social way to relax, especially after exercise, they can also help detoxify your body. As well as increasing your heart rate and improving circulatory health, the high heat stimulates sweating, a form of detoxification. Sweating clears toxins like lactic acid, sodium and uric acid from the body. Increased blood flow also improves blood oxygen levels, which can further help remove toxins from the blood . It is customary to end your sauna session with sudden cooling, either by plunging into a cold pool or into nearby snow.
Can you cleanse your body through fasting?
Extreme cleansing diets that restrict calorie consumption come with some dangerous side effects as well as weight loss. A healthier and more sustainable method to cleanse your body is through fasting, which can achieve a type of cellular cleanse known as autophagy. This is where the fasting mimicking diet (FMD) comes in. Developed by Professor Valter Longo, this special five-day fast actually allows you to eat. A small meal plan providing nutrients and minerals to be exact. While this might seem counterintuitive, this actually tricks the body into the fasting state without triggering the body’s nutrient sensing pathways and boosts autophagy, the process of cellular renewal. Repeating the FMD several times a year can maintain its cellular rejuvenating benefits.