Detox & cleanse: Your body's approach


Detox diets, cleanses, and miracle pills. Often, they sound too good to be true.

You mean, if I take this pill twice a day every day for a few months, I’ll look like Jillian Michaels?

If I follow this detox diet for a week, my body will be rid of toxins and I’ll lose 10lbs and feel amazing?

And if I combine a cleanse with a pill with a few supplements I’ll turn into Wonder Woman?! Sign me up!

Wonder Woman

We’ve all seen it, heard it, and, if you’re like me, even tried it. It can be tempting, especially with the onslaught of media, images, and virtual ambush to ‘have your best beach bod in 10 days or less.’ In college, I tried the Lemonade Diet, not necessarily to lose weight, just to see if I could do it. And I did. For 7 days. Nothing but water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and grade B maple syrup all mixed together. Guess what? I lost weight. I also felt like crap. I had headaches every day, I was cold all the time, had zero energy, had a hard time thinking, and I was always hungry. As a busy college student with a full load of classes and 2 jobs, it was probably not the smartest thing for me to do. At the end of it, I remember having the most euphoric feeling over eating chicken broth and carrots. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I still stand by today: food is a good thing. Real food. Not hot pockets or ramen noodles.

Food is fuel and our bodies are a machine. If you put the wrong kind of gas in your car, it generally isn’t beneficial and can cause your car to malfunction. Right? Well, good thing our bodies are designed better than cars. What I mean by that is our bodies can take an environmental, nutritional, and daily beating, and still stay on track. Let me break it down: Your body cleanses itself. Pretty cool, huh? It’s free, it’s natural, and it happens on a daily basis.

This is how (commence anatomy lesson):

Liver – the liver is the workhorse. It is the primary detoxing organ that is constantly eliminating chemicals that are acquired daily, as well as alcohol, medications, and additional toxins. Once processed, the chemicals and toxins are moved to your stool to be eliminated. Doesn’t sound like much, but this guy is overworked and underappreciated. You can help keep this process efficient by eating plenty of vegetables, specifically green, leafy ones, and by getting enough fiber in your diet through fruits, vegetables, and seeds.

Kidneys – the kidneys are your well-respected house cleaners. They clean and filter your blood and dispose of toxins in your urine. This happens every 35 to 45 minutes! To thank these OCD workers, drink plenty of water. The more water you drink, the easier you make their job.

Respiratory system – mucous and cilia, tiny hairs that coat your nasal passage and airway, work to filter and trap any unwanted particles. If an unwelcome visitor manages to slip past those guards and to your lungs, it has to answer to phagocytes. Phagocytes are cells that defend your respiratory tract by locating, attacking, and destroying any trespassing particles located on the alveolar surface. Derived from the Greek word phagein, which means “to eat” or “devour,” and the suffix “–cyte,” which means “cell,” phagocytes actually eat the unwanted particles. Bon appétit!

*For the lungs, kidneys, and liver, it is best to avoid direct exposure to pesticides, herbicides, strong cleaners, and other similar toxins.*

Small intestine – the small intestine is lined with villi and microvilli, projections that assist in transferring nutrients to the bloodstream. These help weed out toxins from entering the bloodstream.

Large intestine/colon – like the small intestine, the large intestine absorbs nutrients and assists in detoxification by eliminating waste material. Similar to the lungs, the colon is lined with guard cells which assist in preventing harmful substances from entering your bloodstream. Bring on the fiber! With regular bowel movements, toxins are eliminated before they can harm you.

Skin – the skin works in two ways to help eliminate toxins from your body. The first is the most obvious. It is your outer protective layer; it guards against the invasion of foreign substances. Because it is the first layer of defense, the epidermis (outermost layer of skin) is constantly replenishing itself as dead skin cells fall off by the thousands each minute. From the inside out, the body rids itself of toxins through sweat. The dermis, the second layer of skin, is responsible for the sweat glands and regulation. Although sweating provides a multitude of health benefits, eliminating toxins is one of them. We sweat all day, every day, so why not embrace it? Find a sauna and break out that birthday suit!

Lymphatic/immune system – they lymphatic system is important in blood detoxification as it collects and filters excess fluid throughout the body and puts it back in the bloodstream. Lymphocytes, specialized white blood cells, trap and destroy harmful substances during this process. This system also triggers the immune response by creating antibodies and white blood cells; this can also be known as the immune system. Viruses, bacteria, and disease beware!

Despite all your body’s superpowers, that shouldn’t give you the motivation to abuse it. Your body is a system of checks and balances, pulling out all the stops when necessary to keep you at your best. The more chemicals, processed foods, pesticides, and nutritionally void foods you put in it, the harder it has to work. That being said, food costs money. The sad thing is, foods that aren’t necessarily good for you often cost less. If you’re a 20-something like me who doesn’t have a big girl job yet and lives frugally (this can actually apply to anyone), grocery shopping can be a chore. I compromise. I stock up on vegetables, but pass on the organic ones. I buy eggs, but not necessarily cage free. My meats are not grass-fed or free range. I try my best to do what I can with what I have. If I have the self-control to drink only lemonade for a week, I have the self-control to make the right decisions about what I put in my body.

Although the body cleanses itself, there are some mainstream cleanses that intrigue me, specifically the juicing cleanse, inspired by the documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. I also understand and respect that people do detox diets and cleanses for many different reasons. Some cultures even participate in fasts, and who am I to say what’s wrong or right? Know you. Know what works. If that takes trial and error, so be it. I know for a fact that I cannot survive on spicy lemonade for a week. And that took trying it to realize it.

For now, I’m going to continue to try and be as healthy as I can within my limitations, and that means eating well, hitting the gym 4-5 days a week, and doing my best to avoid/reduce stress, which can actually inhibit your body’s natural ability to detox. Additionally, it means avoiding pills, celebrity detox diets, and fad diets. Because, most likely if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


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