What you need to know before trying a detox

Detox is a huge buzzword these days, but it’s hard to know if it’s a healthy practice or just a total gimmick. When it comes to the science behind detoxification, the answer actually lies somewhere in between.

Scientists will tell you that the body detoxifies on its own, and that pricey juice cleanses and detox supplements are essentially a waste of money.

While this may have some truth to it, there is evidence that suggests it’s possible to boost your capacity for detoxification by consuming nutrients that support your body’s natural processes. Here’s what you need to know.

Detoxification: Myth vs. fact

First of all, the body performs detox processes all the time, with no added help from cleanses or supplements.

“The human body is well designed to eliminate wastes and toxins, and a number of organs play a role,” Dr. James H. Grendell, the chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY, told the New York Times.

The kidneys and liver do most of this work by excreting toxins from the body through urine and bowel movements, while the skin and lungs expel toxins via perspiration and respiration, respectively. Many researchers say that this is going to happen to the same extent regardless of whether or not you drink fancy juices.

“It’s hard to understand because there is no good scientific evidence that a juice cleanse, or any other food for that matter, is particularly relevant to removing toxins,” Grendell elaborated to the NYT.

However, to say that there’s nothing you can do to help boost detoxification wouldn’t be entirely accurate. There are ways to reduce your toxic load in the first place by limiting your exposure to toxic chemicals. For example, many people are concerned about the buildup of chemicals like heavy metals in the body. Coming into contact with fewer of these metals — avoiding high-mercury fish like king mackerel and swordfish and switching to an aluminum-free deodorant, for instance — is a smart strategy.

Another toxin you might want to reduce your intake of is alcohol. Just like any other toxin (and perhaps more worryingly, since we consume it so frequently), alcohol must be processed by the liver, and too much exposure to alcohol can lead to liver damage over time.

Essential nutrients for detoxification

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in the vitamins and minerals that are important for the liver and kidneys can also be helpful. SF Gate reports that potassium and vitamins D and C are key for supporting the organs that regulate detoxification. Antioxidants are also beneficial for liver function. Try to get these nutrients into your diet by eating plenty of the following foods:

  • Wild-caught low-mercury fish (salmon, anchovies, herring, scallops, sardines)
  • Berries (blueberries, raspberries, goji berries), preferably organic
  • Oranges, grapefruit, and bell peppers (rich sources of vitamin C)
  • Leafy greens (broccoli, kale, spinach), preferably organic
  • Beans and legumes
  • Yogurt
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocados

The role of elimination

Perhaps equally significant is the role of elimination in the detoxification process. Studies have found that increasing your intake of dietary fiber is important for keeping the liver and kidneys healthy and aiding in the natural detoxification process.

Furthermore, the body naturally eliminates toxins through the breath, urine, and bowel movements, so you have to keep things moving! Drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fiber can help you stay regular, while sweat-inducing exercise helps you sweat toxins out of your system.

The bottom line

So, should you do that detox diet you’ve been thinking about trying? The answer is complicated. If it’s a diet that’s rich in liver- and kidney-supporting nutrients as well as dietary fiber, then it will probably benefit your health by reinforcing your body’s natural detoxification process. But if a product claims to be the secret key to detoxification, or if a diet goes above and beyond simply eating healthy, nutritious foods, you’re probably wasting your money. Take a holistic approach to detoxing by eating clean, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly. Your body will thank you for it!

This article was originally published on Brit + Co.