Body Detoxification Methods: How Safe Are They?

Body Detoxification Methods:  How Safe Are They?
Page content

Detox in History

The idea of removing toxins from the body has been around a long time. Bloodletting (not vampiric!) was a favorite method in early medicine. The idea was that by removing “bad blood” the body’s balance could be restored. Enemas and cathartics—purgatives—were given at one time only by physicians. Emetics, used to remove toxins through another bodily orifice also date back to ancient times.

Detox from the Allopathic Side

Modern body detoxification methods have never been recognized in their entirety by allopathic (traditional medicine) physicians. There are some quite negative articles in the literature. One of the milder sounding titles is, “The dubious practice of detox. Internal cleansing may empty your wallet, but is it good for your health?” (no authors listed). The PubMed online abstract reads, “Various types of body detoxification processes, such as fast diets and intestinal cleansing, have become popular. Generally there is no medical evidence to support their claims of effectiveness, and there are risks to some of the procedures.” [Source: Harvard Women’s Health Watch 15:9 (May 2008), 1-3.] However, doctors in the medical arena do practice a form of detoxification in such methods as chelation therapy for lead poisoning or special diets with at least a partial detoxifying effect.

A Mayo Clinic doctor, Michael Picco, feels there “is no evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body.” Rather, Dr. Picco says most ingested toxins are removed by the kidneys and liver quite effectively. [Source: ] Other Mayo Clinic doctors have a similarly negative opinion of detox foot pads. Dr. Andrew Weil, in an online column mentions a five-year study on coffee enemas for detoxification funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Weil isn’t ready to rule this practice out, nor is he ready to recommend it. [Source: ]

One online writer identified as “Skeptoid” has a column dated January 15, 2008 thoroughly debunking the whole idea. The article is about pills that create “casts of your bowels” resulting in enormously long chains of rather unpleasant material. Skeptoid claims the pills, supposedly containing bentonite, a substance similar to the absorbent clay in kitty litter and psyllium, actually create the result that is supposed to be composed of all the toxins in the colon. [Source: ] The article also makes light of the alleged harmfulness and prevalence of daily toxin intake barring outright exposure in places like chemical plants.

The online site Quackwatch points out some legitimate objections and dangers of overly enthusiastic colon cleansing methods and includes citations to medical literature. [Source:]

Toxic Environment (source C.R. Anderson)

CAM Approaches to Detox

Some complementary and alternative medical practitioners are using different body detoxification methods. On the naturopathic side, a book written by Jacqueline Krohn, M.D. and Frances Taylor, M.A. titled Natural Detoxification (Vancouver, B.C.: Hartley & Marks, 2000), pp. 5-6, lists these typical daily exposures of a female office worker (why not a male is left unsaid): Morning shower, chlorine in water, chemicals in soap, shampoo, etc., fabric softeners and dry-cleaning chemicals in clothes, toiletries, food contaminants, air pollution, workplace toxins such as building outgasing, computers, formaldehyde in stores, animal dander, and mold. And these are just external toxin sources. There are also substances stored in the body that can be harmful when released under stress such as lactic acid and improper formation of body chemicals. Writers like this make a seemingly logical case for detoxification, but not necessarily the kind described by Skeptoid and Quackwatch.

Naturopaths recommend safer approaches such as saunas, hydrotherapy, fasting, and various therapies including herbal remedies, homeopathy and Bach Flower remedies. For example, Krohn and Taylor suggest a dosage of up to six different flowers chosen from a longer list and prepared into a tincture. They also recommend a combination called the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy, containing Rock rose, Clematis, Impatiens, Cherry plum and Star of Bethlehem (Krohn and Taylor., p. 375).

Other naturopathic recommendations are not to use extreme cleansing methods, to work closely with a holistic doctor who is familiar with the techniques, combine detox with other helpful body routines such as healthy breathing and Yoga, and never to use detoxification methods to lose weight. As in all alternative medical systems, seek approved medical advice first—do not jump into a home attempt at this procedure, which can be dangerous.


Please read this disclaimer regarding the information you have just read.