Is your detox doing you more harm than good?

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Now we are two weeks into the New Year, the term ‘detox’ has sprouted up everywhere like the shots of organic wheatgrass in your local paleo café, writes Ellie McInerney.

For many of us, New Year’s Day also doubled as Day One of a new detox diet, as we attempt to reverse the damage of those extra Christmas champagnes. At this time of year, the usual superfood suspects (I’m looking at you kale, acai and quinoa) are sold out of supermarkets and home juicers are getting their annual dusting as they come back to life. But despite companies spending a lot of money trying to convince us otherwise, detoxes really are a waste of well, money.


The human body is infinitely more efficient at removing waste and toxins than any detox scheme. Right now as you read this, your body is actually detoxing – and it didn’t cost you a thing! The urinary tract is actually the body’s main way of keeping itself clean. In fact, according to National Geographic’s BODY: The Complete Human, the urinary system literally flushes away your toxin build-up by filtering through the entire blood plasma more than 60 times a day. This filtering is carried out by the kidneys, and the bladder acts as a sort of storage house for the waste, which is then passed through the ureters and urethra as urine.

The liver also plays a major role in waste and toxin removal as it works hard to clear the blood of harmful substances such as drugs and other chemicals, as well as removing bacteria from the bloodstream to resist infections. But despite our body’s impressive detoxing skills, there is an actual industry dedicated to making us believe we need its products to remove waste. When really, what we’re actually doing, is trying to remove guilt! If a juice cleanse or detox pill makes us think we’re getting back on track, then we’re more likely to purchase it.

The effects of detoxing

Unfortunately, even though purchasing a detox program may at first have us feeling a little better, the effects of the detox on our bodies can actually cause more harm than good. Take the juice cleanse for example, one of the most popular forms of detoxes. High levels of fruit juices can cause major swings in blood sugar levels, which makes them dangerous for people with diabetes and potentially risky for others. Also, the process of actually juicing a fruit strips it of its fibre, which is necessary to slow down digestion and help the body absorb nutrients. So if you’re trying to cleanse your body or ‘clean it out’ then you want to make sure you’re eating plenty of fibre.

Peter Ayton, a professor of psychology at City University London says that we buy into the detox industry because many of our consumer decisions are made in ignorance. When speaking to The Guardian, Ayton said: “People assume that the world is carefully regulated and that there are benign institutions guarding them from making any kind of errors. A lot of marketing drip-feeds that idea, surreptitiously. So if people see somebody with apparently the right credentials, they think they’re listening to a respectable medic and trust their advice.”

Help your body detox

If you’re thinking of cleaning up your diet, the last thing you want to do is start cutting out food groups or introducing pills and potions in the name of a ‘detox’. Instead, you want to assist your body in being as efficient as possible in its own detox process. You can do this by eating plenty of organic produce, as choosing organic fruits and vegetables will minimize exposure to toxins. It’s also extremely important to choose organic cosmetic and cleaning products. When these products enter our bodies through the skin, they enter our blood system and then circulate throughout the body.

Another way to detoxify is to get in shape and keep lean as toxins are stored in fat cells, so less body fat means less storage space for chemicals and other waste build up. Drinking filtered water to assist the kidneys by limiting them to exposure from contaminated water will also help with the body’s natural detoxing process. And finally, sweat! Exercise and sweating will help flush out toxins as our skin is a major elimination organ. If you’re super keen, infrared saunas can help with this.

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