Is Detox a Gimmick?

  • January

    I took some deep breaths in and out – positioned myself properly on my back, knees bent to relax my pelvis – I added the lube and gently inserted the probe into my rectum.

    I tried my first colonic at a detox center while traveling through Thailand last year. I remember the first session of 6 vividly. I felt violated despite doing it to myself and it didn’t get any better.

    “You’ll love it”

    “Just wait till day 3, you’ll feel great”

    “I couldn’t believe what came out of me!”

    “I saw the plaques”

    These enthusiastic detoxers were my patients and I wanted to understand what they were experiencing during their detoxes rather than just in theory. I had treated some of their negative side effects of mineral deficiencies, constipation, lack of energy, low blood pressure, fainting, poor sleep and some allergic reactions, but the overwhelming feedback was that these detoxes were wonderful. So great that many returned each year to the same wellness center to repeat the treatment.

    Unfortunately the people running the programs weren’t always the most educated. Many read the instructions sent by the supplement companies and followed them to a T, but that’s about all. It’s not that the supplements were bad, in fact it was a fairly basic protocol – supergreens, multivitamin, intestinal cleanser, probiotics, bentonite clay, psyllium husk, coconut water, herbal tea, fresh juices and bone broth – but it did worry me that there wasn’t always a medical physician on hand. This was a common detox formula with added physical treatments – exercise, yoga, massage, reiki, herbal steams and of course the colonics.

    I didn’t experience much change after my 3.5 day detox. Many get an increase in energy, more clarity in thought and weight loss. People see crazy amounts of stool released during the colonic and things that scare them into eating cleanly for at least another week after their detox ends! (sarcasm intended). But then again, many of these detoxers smoke, drink alcohol daily and have abused their bodies for significant periods of their lives.

    Not to pat myself on the back, but I do practice healthy life choices regularly. Lots of veggies, lean protein, healthy fats and moderate carb and sugar intake. I limit my food intolerances – dairy, potatoes, corn, and soy. I do indulge in the rare ice cream, bar of dark chocolate or celebratory cigar but over time I’ve given up my ketchup chip, popcorn and  pickle cravings. I know I need to work on drinking more water.

    I exercise regularly over a range of activities depending on the time of year and location – walking, hiking, boxing, swimming, weight training. And I have regular bowel movements (2-3 per day). I drink alcohol very infrequently (mostly because I don’t really enjoy it) and I’m proud to say I don’t smoke (and after talking to people trying to quit after a 10+ year habit that started by ‘trying to fit in’, I will never even just try it).

    Some say I didn’t do the detox long enough, “You have to wait till day 7. I didn’t have much bowel release until day 7”. Or maybe I wasn’t intense enough. But who knows?

    Will I try it again? Probably not. I’ll stick to my healthy daily habits and gentle detox treatments, thank you. If you want to join me subscribe to my Daily Dose program.


    Skip ahead to the topics of interest:


    .What Does Detox Really Mean?

    I’ve been called a quack for using the term detox. It’s hard to blame people. The modern day detox is a misguided fad that seems to be flung around by uneducated ‘health gurus’ trying to make a quick buck for a quick fix.

    Detox vs Cleansing

    — They are words that have been used a lot to sell products and programs, but are they more than just a fad? You betcha! Detox stands for detoxification, which is synonymous with process of cleaning out or cleansing the body. Detoxification is an actual word. It is a scientific physiological process of the body. It’s not made up. It’s science.

    Detoxification is the body’s natural process of removing accumulated toxins from the body. The body is a phenomenal thing. It magically takes the things we ingest and absorb into the body and safely eliminates them. It does it with such precision that if there is too much toxic exposure it will store it in a safe manner and eliminate it little by little, preserving vital organs.

    Tweet: Detox is not a quick cleansing system nor is it a magical pill that wipes your body clean of all its bad habits. <– Click to tweet


    Detox stands for detoxification. It is your body’s natural way of protecting itself from potentially harmful toxins. It works to store, then safely excrete waste at a regulated interval. Your body is built to maintain homeostasis or otherwise balance. Therefore, taking a pill or manually forcing the body to speed up this process can be dangerous.

    If you take in excessive toxins (via food, air, water, thoughts and medications) quicker than the body can process and excrete safely, they will be stored, usually as fat or in the liver (or emotionally as sympathetic nervous system stress). Only until you lighten the load of toxins into your body and support optimal function of your eliminating organs will you readily release the stored toxins.Top

    .The Whole Kitchen “Garbage” Sink

    Let’s think of your home, as an example.

    Everyday you add some garbage to the can — A plastic bag, carrot peelings, an apple core, used paper towel, tea bag, chocolate bar wrapper, etcetera. Your bin is quite large and so you tend to throw out the garbage after a couple of days before the bin is too full and starts to smell. If this is your regular routine it is very manageable and it keeps you house nice and tidy.

    Everyday you also wash your dishes. Every week or so you sweep and vacuum the floors. Once in a while you dust and even more rarely you clean the windows of sticky finger prints. All these tasks keep your home clean and when you stay on top of it is fairly easy.

    Now, imagine you just hosted a big dinner party. There will now be 6x more garbage and dishes to clean up. So you prepare yourself to put in extra work to keep up with the mess, or you might even get some help. No big deal.

    What if everyday you had a dinner party? Or your rock star party continued non-stop?

    A volcanic eruption of trash would be overflowing the garbage can, dirt and stains would paint a crust on all surfaces, and there wouldn’t be a clean dish to use.

    Photo credit:

    Photo credit:


    Welcome Home

    If you haven’t caught on to the analogy yet, your body is your home. All the ways to clean your home (ie. taking out the garbage, washing, sweeping, dusting) are similar to the different ways your body cleans itself. If you are consistently taking care of your body and limiting the toxins IN, it’s easy to maintain. Even if you ‘party’ on occasion, your body can eliminate its toxic load by itself. You can always get some support with vitamins, botanical herbs, and various therapies but it may not be necessary.

    Now, if you are constantly being bombarded with external and internal toxins, it is much harder to keep your body ‘clean’. Your organs of elimination will need added support but more importantly, you’ll need to take a rest from partying so hard.

    Party Animal

    Partying doesn’t only consist of junk food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. There is a whole array of external (extrinsic) and internal (intrinsic) toxins that can harm the body if in excess or by accumulation. Your daily habits are often the biggest offenders since they clog up your detoxification system without you even realizing it.Top

    .Limiting or removing toxins into and within the body

    Historically, we have learned that everything is toxic and it is only the dose that separates the toxic from the non-toxic. There are however, natural toxins that could have deleterious effects even at small doses (ie. food poisoning, heavy metals), but for the most part, it is the accumulation that stresses our organs of elimination and have our bodies working sub-optimally. We take in toxins in a variety of ways, including external and internal processes:

    — External or extrinsic factors:

    • Consumption: Processed foods, preservatives and additives, excess sugars, poor water quality, soda pop, toxic laden foods (heavy metals), heating in plastic containers, rancid oils, not cooking foods properly, charcoal grilling
    • Lifestyle habits: smoking, stimulants at night (TV, internet, coffee), work, dependency foods (sugar), addiction, alcohol
    • Trauma: physical, emotional, and sexual assult, recurrent or persistent injuries and infections
    • Unnecessary medications and supplementation: NEVER ABRUPTLY STOP MEDICATION, especially for chronic conditions. ALWAYS consult with your medical practitioner. Ask about the dose, length of time to take meds, side effects and risks if not taking the medication and when to re-evaluate the plan.

    — Internal or intrinsic factors

    • Emotional and mental stress
    • Negative, demoralizing and hateful self-talk
    • Comparisons and judgements to others and your past self
    • Rumination
    • Negative perspective

    Despite the long list of external factors, intrinsic toxins can often have as much of a long-term effect on the body. Our hormones are all connected to one another and cortisol levels have major effects on mood, thyroid function, libido, sleep and cognitive processes.

    Removal of external and internal toxins often reveal significant positive results immediately. It is however, possible for sudden changes to negatively affect mood and organ functions, especially those that cause withdrawal symptoms (ie. sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, illicit drugs and medications), so be use to have your medical physician monitor your health.

    Toxic load

    The toxic load of your body can be estimated with lab tests and general lifestyle habits over your lifetime. It is the difference between the toxins you take in (extrinsic and intrinsic) and the toxins you release.

     Toxins IN - Toxins OUT = TOXIC LOAD


    .How to clean your body – There are 6 primary organs of elimination that support the SAFE release of toxins and waste materials:

    1. Liver

    Your liver is the main organ for processing toxins. So be kind to it. Processing of medication and oral supplementation to eliminate toxins via bile and feces happens in 2 distinct steps- storage and elimination. The liver separates out the toxic materials and safely stores them in the liver or often in fatty tissues until the body is able to effectively dispose of them. If Phase II is not working adequately, stored toxins are released but not able to be eliminated, leading to re-circulation of those toxins back into the body and therefore re-exposure.

    2. Bowels

    Toxins trapped in bile after cycling through the hepatoportal system (liver- gallbladder- blood vessel system) are eliminated as feces. Waste material, fiber, unabsorbed nutrients from foods ingested are also eliminated. Therefore, looking at your stool to give you clues as to the causes of the any digestive issues and lack of nutrient absorption from your food will tell you a lot.

    3. Kidneys

    Urine carries unabsorbed nutrients, water and toxins from consumed fluids and filters them out of the body. Your glomerular filtration system is very crucial in separating larger particles from your urine. Large proteins are inhibited from excretion, therefore if there is large amounts of blood in your urine this is a major sign for injury to your kidneys and glomerular filtration system.

    4. Lungs

    Humans inhale O2 in exchange for CO2 and toxins that have accumulated in the body. Each inhale and exhale cycle leaves a small amount of recycled CO2 at the base of the lungs. Deep full breaths are key to taking in as much oxygen and releasing toxins. Many people with shallow breaths often have recurrent infections due to this residual space of ‘stale’ air that doesn’t have as much exchange of O2 for Co2.

    5. Skin

    Sweating opens up pores and releases superficial toxins. Heat, intensive exercise or activities, and saunas all open pores and induce sweating. Fat cells (adipose tissue) lays just beneath the skin and store many fat soluble toxins. An increase in your core temperature releases toxins stored in fat and are released via your pores as sweat.

    6. Lymph

    Lymph vessels and nodes lie just beneath the skin and carry non-blood fluids that are the garbage disposal systems and eventually dump into the blood then kidneys and are excreted as urine. Lymph vessels lie between the skin and muscles. They drain towards the heart and intersect at lymph nodes. Light massage and contracting muscles will help to pump the lymph towards the heart and eliminate waste from the body.

    There are also secondary routes of elimination including; voice, nasal discharge, ear wax, tears, hair, vaginal secretion, phlegm/ mucous, sneezing, female menses, blood in stool, superficial infections.

    It is just as important to limit the toxins into your body as support the organs of elimination to function optimally. Toxic overload or aggressive detox protocols can make you feel even worse and re-expose unsafe toxins in the body. The body appears resilient but is actually in a constant flux trying to maintain a delicate balance of survival.Top

    .Do magic detox pills work?

    Detox pills, programs and products may or may not work at speeding up some or any of the eliminating organ systems. Regardless, preparing for a detox is key.

    If you overloaded the dishwasher or blocked the front door with heavy bags of garbage your house may appear cleaner, but it’s really just backing up the systems of elimination. If the dishes aren’t actually getting clean and the garbage is still inside your house, it is still toxic.

    Speeding up detoxification without actual elimination out of the body will be more harmful than letting your body regulate its detox speed itself. Remember, your body naturally detoxifies itself in a safe way. More important than speeding up detoxification is healing and ensuring that the organs of elimination are working optimally. Fixing those systems will increase detoxification as a by-product.Top

    .The 14 BEST gentle detoxifiers and healers of eliminating organs

    –> for a complete explanation of each of the 14 BEST GENTLE DETOXIFIERS click HERE

    1. Drink more water and start your day with morning lemon water- keep hydrated and encourage sweating and urination
    2. Castor oil packs over liver – if not taking medication or birth control pills
    3. Try some Magic socks- let your feet do the work as you sleep
    4. Drink Taraxicum (dandelion) tea- gentle diuretic
    5. Drink green tea- antioxidant and metabolic supporter
    6. Dry skin brushing and lymph massage- lymph mover
    7. Alternating showers- get your pores opening and closing to pump your lymph
    8. Gratitude journalling- increase positivity in your thoughts everyday
    9. Get more active and exercise- sweat, contract those muscles and lose fat to increase toxin release
    10. Daily fresh air- oxygen carried in your blood gives nutrients to your whole body (muscle, nerves, brain, vital organs)
    11. More fiber (fresh fruit, fresh veg, grain) – be careful with inflammatory digestive issues
    12. Abdominal massages – always massage in a clock-wise direction to stimulate bowel movements
    13. Eat more healthy fats- stimulates bile secretion to promote cholesterol and waste elimination through your stool
    14. Practice deep belly breathing- eliminate as much residual ‘stale’ air with each breath and maximize oxygen consumption

    –> Read more about each of the 14 BEST GENTLE DETOXIFIERS– click HERE

    Many people try colonics, juicing diets, water fasts, and even more extreme laxatives and liver stimulants without the proper preparations. Some people feel great after doing an aggressive detox for a short period of time. Others have extremely negative effects. These people are what I term as becoming over-detoxified, which means too many toxins are released within the body to safely remove. In other words, the safely stored toxins in the liver and fat cells are being pushed into the bloodstream and are unable to be excreted. The over-burden of toxin within the body now causes serious health ailments.

    Never perform an aggressive detox without consulting with a medical professional, and I’m not talking about a health store worker (no offense — I was one in the past and there was no professional training except from supplement companies — slightly biased).Top

    .People who should avoid or be extremely cautious of aggressive detox programs

      •  Medicated individuals– Detoxes can increase drug metabolism via the liver and change the amount of medication absorbed into the body.
      • Peri-orperative, blood thinning medication– Many herbs associated with detoxes contain blood thinning constituents (coumarins) with should be avoided at least 2 weeks prior to surgeries and completely avoided with similar medications.
      • People with multiple sclerosis (MS)- Due to neurological imbalances, changes to nutrient intake and excess toxin release is not recommended.
      • Elderly people– Weakened immune and detoxification systems can inhibit the removal of toxins and contribute to further exasperation of any condition
      • Eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia), below normal BMI or underweight– Any practices of limiting foods or nutrients should be avoided for people who are underweight or have a history of an eating disorders, for physical and mental considerations.
      • Addictive behaviours– Extreme detoxes should not be practiced on a regular basis due to nutritional deficits, physical irritation and unhealthy habit formations. Orthorexia is a term for people over consumed with trying to live healthily.
      • Heavy metal poisoning– Chelation therapies can be very dangerous for the body with the concern of heavy metal re-circulation and re-exposure. It should be performed by a trained professional.
      • Colitis – Inflammatory bowel diseases (UC, Chrons), diverticulosis, megacolon, irritable bowel syndrome– Any severe inflammation to the gut will potentially be worsened on a high fiber diet, not to mention toxin exposure to injured tissue. Never use coffee enemas.
      • Cancer– Further limiting nutrition is not recommended for cancer patients.
      • Depressed immune function– People with low immune systems (ie. AIDs or chronic infection) will need to strengthen their immune system before undergoing any heavy detox program to avoid concomitant conditions.
      • High stress situations– High cortisol levels result in depressed immune function leading to an inability to properly eliminate toxins and handle the emotional release that often accompanies a detox.
      • High consumers of toxic materials– For people who are living a very toxic life (food, fluid, environment, activities, social practices, etc) doing a detox is not wise unless you stop your toxic intake. A detox is not meant to allow you to continue with your poor habits and you will end up exhausting your organs of elimination and probably damaging them.


    .Severe side effects from a aggressive detox

    • Anemia (B12, folate, B6, intrinsic factor) leading to methionine toxicity
    • Anemia (iron)
    • Food sensitivities
    • Toxic re-absorption and re-circulation
    • Kidney dysfunction
    • Liver impairment (bilirubin conjugation, phase II inhibition)
    • Bacterial overgrowth
    • Excess sugar intake
    • Fiber, mineral deficiency, electrolyte imbalance
    • Inflammation
    • Mercury, lead, arsenic poisoning
    • Ketosis

    Please note that these are NOT common side effect. However, if you do have any of the  condition mentioned above these are very possible adverse effects of doing an aggressive detox. Even a gentle detox can affect a sensitive or severely ill person. Always consult with your Medical or Naturopathic doctor before starting a detox. It’s always wise to have someone monitoring your health status before and after any treatment.


    If you agree or disagree or have a comment to add I welcome your contributions. Detox seems to be a controversial topic, so I ask that anything you add be constructive and adds value to the discussion. I am not in the business of starting controversy for the sake of arguments or Facebook likes. My goal is to educate, empower and bring new perspectives. Please comment responsibly 🙂

This website is NOT to be used as a diagnostic or treatment tool. Always consult with your Conventional Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor for specific concerns. In cases of medical emergencies visit your nearest hospital or call 9-1-1.