Detox is a major buzzword of the 21st century. From diet detoxes to cleanses to blood detoxes, there are many different programs and techniques that promise to help you cleanse and detoxify your body.
Ideally, after you perform one of these detoxes, you'll feel more energetic. However, many of the claims don't have a lot of research behind them and overlook the role your liver already plays in cleaning your blood.
The liver is one of your body's largest organs. It's vital in detoxifying your body.
- filters your blood
- processes nutrients
- removes toxins, such as the byproducts from the breakdown of medications and alcohol
Contained within your liver are thousands of lobules. These small areas filter blood and produce and release a substance called bile to break down substances in your body.
Some of the specific ways your liver breaks down toxins include:
- changing ammonia to urea
- processing and eliminating excess bilirubin, which is a waste product of the breakdown of red blood cells
- producing immune system cells to eliminate bacteria and potentially harmful toxins from your blood
While your liver may be your main blood filtration system, you have several other filtering organs:
- Your lungs filter harmful substances in the air, such as toxins from cigarette smoke.
- Your intestines destroy parasites and other unwanted organisms.
- Your kidneys filter excess toxins and waste from your blood and release them in your urine.
Many products on the market advertise themselves as detox agents.
Many health food stores and pharmacies sell detox teas made from a variety of herbs. Examples include dandelion and nettle leaf, which have diuretic properties. Other products, such as senna leaf, have a laxative effect.
Charcoal drinks and juices
Doctors have used activated charcoal for years to reduce intestinal absorption and effects of certain poisons. Now, juice and drink manufacturers are adding amounts of charcoal to drinks, promising to detoxify your body. They claim the charcoal can bind to the toxins in your intestinal system to reduce the levels of harmful substances that get into your blood.
However, there isn't a lot of research to support the benefits of charcoal added to drinks. No science confirms that charcoal's especially helpful in detoxifying your blood or keeping you healthy. Some people who consume these drinks say they feel better when they do, while others may not experience results.
The Mayo Clinic has a long list of medications that interact or lose effectiveness when activated charcoal is taken by mouth. You should never take activated charcoal if you have a history of bleeding in the stomach or colon, had recent surgery, or have problems with digestion. It's possible to overdose on activated charcoal. We recommend not taking activated charcoal by mouth without first talking to your doctor.
The FDA does not approve or monitor activated charcoal or any other natural remedies.
The concept of detox diets has been around for decades. They usually consist of a restrictive diet to cleanse your blood and typically promote weight loss. Detox diets usually eliminate substances such as:
- red meat
- refined sugars
Some detox diets can promote healthier eating. Others can be very restrictive, such as juice cleanses or other diets that revolve around very few foods and drinks to help you gain energy.
Since your body can primarily flush out toxins on its own, a restrictive diet plan isn't necessary. A healthy eating plan, such as one that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, can help.
Because your liver is such an important organ in cleaning your blood, you should take steps to protect it. Fortunately, many regular healthy habits can help to keep your liver in shape. Some tips:
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. These conditions are viral infections that can damage your liver.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can contribute to a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Eating a nutritious diet and exercising can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Don't share needles or use contaminated needles. If you get tattoos or body piercings, ask about the shop's cleaning practices to ensure the needles aren't contaminated.
- Practice safe sex. This reduces your risks of sexually transmitted infections such as viral infections of hepatitis B or C.
- Follow the recommendations listed on your medications. This is especially true when your medication's label says not to drink alcohol while taking it.
- Refrain from excessive drinking. Your liver filters and detoxifies alcohol on top of many other products. When there's too much alcohol in your blood, the excess can scar and destroy liver cells.
- Refrain from using illicit drugs. Your liver filters toxic byproducts from drug use. Chronic use can lead to severe damage to your liver, especially when combined with alcohol.
Healthy habits that promote proper liver function can help your body do the detoxifying it needs. You don't usually need to take extra measures, such as detox teas or special diets, to cleanse your blood. Avoiding toxins, such as pesticides, other chemicals, and cigarette smoke, can all help your liver to function normally to keep you healthy.