Detox - A term that has become very commercial and has many facets. The following article deals with the complexity of detoxification processes in the human metabolism and the fact that a seven-day juice cure per six-month period alone is not enough to sustainably support these biochemical processes. Above all, the right diet and a healthy lifestyle serve as a prevention to ingest few environmental toxins and harmful substances, which ultimately have to be detoxified less.
The term detox and what it is exactly about
The term detox, the short form of detoxification or "withdrawal". The term "toxic", which comes from the same word family and is a foreign word for poison1. So when in everyday use one speaks of a detox cure, it is in a broader sense about withdrawing toxins from one's body. This should serve the health and the personal well-being.
First and foremost, it should now be made clear that the human organism constantly filters, eliminates or converts harmful substances with its natural daily exchange of substances. Detox is therefore actually a daily process such as our breathing, heartbeat or digestion.
Metabolism: absorption and release of substances
The human organism is in a constant state of absorption and release: we breathe in with our mouth and nose via the trachea and absorb the oxygen in the lungs via the air sacs into our bloodstream. There it is transported to the heart, the organs and the smallest cells, where it is used for energy production. CO2 resulting from this process is transported out again using the same system: blood low in oxygen is transported back to the heart via the veins and from there back to the lungs, where it is finally exhaled by us2. We also absorb substances via the skin and our digestive tract and release them again according to the same basic principle. So it is always a question – by whichever of the three ways - of substances getting into our system and thus into our bloodstream and supplying tissues and organs with them.
Substances that may be of little use or even harmful to the organism
It is unavoidable that during these complex processes, substances enter our body which are not beneficial to it or which can be harmful to it in large quantities in the long term. This is basically not dramatic, because our complex system has various defence systems that are constantly at work. Mechanical, sensory and chemical barriers such as skin, gastric acid, the intestinal mucosa and our senses do protect us, but they cannot stop all intruders from getting into our innermost being. That is why our organs, microorganisms, cells and cell organelles have various internal defence systems or defence functions that "detoxify" us.
Which substances must be detoxified?
We absorb various environmental toxins from the air through respiration. These include exhaust fumes, cosmetic chemicals such as nail polish, hair dyes, artificial fragrances, hairspray and deodorants. In addition, we absorb tar and tobacco through cigarette smoking. Even if these are inhaled passively, they get into our lungs.
Substances such as microplastics and exogenous chemicals can enter the body through the skin - often via unconsciously selected body care products. These often have hormone-like effects, carcinogaenic properties or have an allergy potential.
ENutrition also plays a major role in the absorption of toxins: processed foods at convenience levels 4 and 5 in particular contain many industrially manufactured additives which our body ultimately has to eliminate again because they are not beneficial to it. Alcohol, medication and caffeine are also substances that can damage our cells and must therefore be rendered harmless by the liver.
How does the body detoxify?
The digestive tract, our blood circulation, the liver and kidneys play a central role in detoxifying the body. Gastric acid already breaks down substances and also kills a large number of parasites such as bacteria. In the intestine – provided that the intestinal mucosa is intact – the intestinal barrier ensures that at least some of the potentially inflammatory substances are not absorbed in the first place and therefore do not enter the bloodstream4.
However, some particles manage to pass this barrier and thus enter the bloodstream – just like the toxins that are absorbed through the skin and breath. These are then transported in the blood to the liver5.
If the body has the right micronutrients and amino acids, which are needed to bind the toxins and transport them out, the liver can detoxify optimally:
The liver breaks down alcohol and hormones and emulsifies or converts substances that are difficult or impossible to dissolve in water3. For these processes it needs above all the amino acids L-glutamine, cysteine, arginine, citrulline, ornithine, aspartic acid, lysine and methionine.
With the help of these enzymes, different compounds are formed and these enzymes can then bind the toxins so that they can be removed. Micronutrients such as selenium, zinc, manganese, vitamin C and B vitamins also play an important role here. The bound substances can then be filtered in the kidneys and finally excreted in the urine.
Of course, all this sounds very complex – and it is. This gives us even a small insight into the fascinating interaction of our organ system. But what is the exact connection to the various active detoxification methods that are propagated in our society today?
Different detox methods – which ones make sense and which ones make less
BJuice diets in particular are a popular detoxification method that works well, especially from the marketing perspective of food manufacturers and for their profits. A problem with juice diets, however, is the high consumption of fructose – i.e. fruit sugar – on the one hand, and the vitamin loss that smoothies suffer quite quickly during storage on the other:
Most fruits have a relatively high fructose content and also a glucose content. Both are simple sugars and increase the blood sugar rapidly. If the blood sugar is too high, the sugars are usually quickly converted into fat and stored. The blood sugar then suddenly drops to a very low level, which can lead to ravenous attacks. This is because the stores of the two types of sugar are limited and those of fat cells are not.
In the case of fructose, scientists are now even in disagreement as to whether the 20g storage in the liver even exists. In addition, the capacity of the intestinal mucosa cells to absorb fructose is limited, and when the limit is exceeded, they can become irritated, which is ultimately not conducive to the detox effect.
Other detox methods may make sense from time to time. For example, curative fasting or intermittent fasting leads first to the breakdown of sugar reserves in the liver and proteins, then the fat stores are used as a source of energy7. In addition, the digestive tract is completely relieved – and digestion is a very energy-intensive process. This allows the body to concentrate on regeneration and repair processes, ultimately renewing cells and stimulating a variety of hormones that tune the metabolism to healing processes.
The withdrawal of stimulants such as alcohol, cigarettes and coffee should definitely be included in such a detox phase. For some people this alone is a form of detoxification. This withdrawal is often accompanied by severe headaches and depression in the initial phase. However, this is only a sign that the body is actually actively detoxifying.
The base for Detox is the right diet
It makes sense and is sustainable in the long term to eat a largely healthy diet and avoid foods that contain toxins. In addition, one should bring the macro- and micronutrients into the body via the diet, which support the detoxification processes already described. The "Nutrition Design" by Dr. Dominik Nischwitz explains in a simple way how to use nutrition as a basis for your health. What does this mean in concrete terms?
- Obtain high quality food: Optimally organically produced goods.
- Buy/consume fresh and natural products. Berries (which have a very low sugar content and contain a lot of antioxidants) and vegetables can be bought as frozen products without hesitation - if no additives or sugar have been added.
- Consume dairy product alternatives such as cashew-almond or coconut milk / cashew-almond or coconut yoghurt without added sugar.
- Buy gluten- and soy-free food: Rice or buckwheat noodles instead of wheat noodles, paleo bread made from nuts and seeds instead of cereal bread.
- Eat lots of vegetables, high-quality protein and natural fats à organic eggs, wild salmon, organic chicken, quinoa, coconut oil, pasture butter, green vegetables, salad and berries
- Incorporate bitter substances into the diet, e.g. with grapefruit and bitter herbs
× Do not consume too much sugar, especially fruit sugar.
× Avoid potential allergens such as soy, gluten and dairy products (except pasture butter & ghee)
× Avoid industrially processed products and unnatural additives.
× Avoid hardened and industrially processed fats like margarine.
Lifestyle, sleep and stress management
These factors also play an indirect role when it comes to detoxification, as they are directly related to the consumption of micronutrients: In chronic, negative stress, much more magnesium is excreted via the kidneys, which can lead to a magnesium deficiency9. The magnesium is then missing as a raw material in the explained detoxification processes .
It is therefore important to optimise your stress management, sleep and work-life balance in such a way that the body still has enough regeneration phases to concentrate on the detoxification processes.
Special detox cures, active detoxification phases and fasting cures make sense when applied specifically, insofar as they are carried out on the basis of a conscious diet and a healthy lifestyle that supports the body in its natural detoxification processes in the long term.
1 Duden: Toxisch. [https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/toxisch; 29.08.19]
2 Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke und Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Humanbiologie 1: Grundlagen, Stoffwechsel und Abwehrsysteme. Zürich: Compendio Bildungsmedien. S. 69-84.
3 Sengebusch, Jürgen & Bastian, Ulrike (2015): Crashkurs Heilpraktikerprüfung. München: Elsevier GmbH.
4 Zschokke, PD Dr. Samuel (2017): Humanbiologie I – Ernährung & Verdauung. Basel: Universität Basel. Institut für Natur,- Landschafts- und Umweltschutz. S. 3-33.
5 Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke und Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Humanbiologie 1: Grundlagen, Stoffwechsel und Abwehrsysteme. Zürich: Compendio Bildungsmedien. S. 61-63.
6 Diagnostisches Centrum: [https://www.diagnostisches-centrum.de/publikationen.html?id=573; 20.09.2019]
7 Enck, Paul; Frieling, Thomas & Schemann, Michael (2017): Darm an Hirn. Freiburg: Herder Verlag.
8 Strunz, Dr. Med. Ulrich (2016): Blut – die Geheimnisse unseres «flüssigen Organs». München: Heyne Verlag.