Tuesday, 29 July 2014


“Detox”. I’ve seen this word thrown round an awful lot recently, and it seems to be becoming harder to avoid wherever I go – blogs of all variety are advocating the detox. Lifestyle, skincare, food, there’s ALWAYS a place for a little bit of detox. I reached a point of frustration recently when reading about the benefits of lemon water, because sweet jesus, you try and find an article discussing it’s benefits without some variation of “it helps to flush out toxins” uttered at some point. Though, this can’t be a bad thing right? After all, if we’re to go by the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary definition of toxin..

well I never.

“Toxin, n. A poison produced by a living organism, especially by a bacterium. In the body toxins act as antigens, and special antibodies (antitoxins) are formed to neutralize their effects.”

Gasp! POISON! But then, our bodies undergo detoxification every day without any further assistance. They’re very good at it in fact, with whole organs dedicated to the cause (liver, kidneys, colon. You may have heard of them). Sometimes these systems don’t quite work as intended, but modern medicine has very generously provided us with the means to overcome this is many situations – think antidotes to poisons, and dialysis for those whose kidneys fail. These are extremes of course, and day to day our bodies cope very well with detoxing, with most unnecessary by-products finding their way out by one means or another.

The things is, talking about detox in the sense of the day to day metabolism our bodies undergo is easy (though not necessarily simple), because it's all nice solid fact. As is the centrepiece of science - evidence! It's what separates the science and medicine we know from the pseudo and the alternative. Some clever sausages can map the processes going on in our bodies during metabolism, from start to finish, with all the intermediates and catalysts involved along the way. The thing is, this new slant on detox (think all things juice fasting, lemon juice, acai berry, footbaths etc) claims to do something that our bodies aren't managing by themselves - nobody quite knows what of course, but a cursory Google of 'why should I detox' suggests that I'm accumulating all sorts of nasties, such as CHEMICALS! POLLUTION! SHITTY FOOD! ARGH! Of course, all these things need 'flushing' and there's no way my body is capable of this alone. Ahem. 

The big thing that narks me about all this thought: What are these mystical toxins? Our bodies work in very specific processes, yet all this discussion is very vague. What are these chemicals that our bodies can't cope with alone? Why can't they? And how do these detox methods actually change that? There's not even an agreed definition for 'toxin' or 'detox' in the concept of alternative medicine, which would perhaps seem like a strong starting point. It's all very well telling me that lemon water will give my innards a magical boost, but until you can tell me what toxins it's shifting and how, forgive me for I may seem just the tiniest but sceptical.

And then to top it off, these toxins are apparently making me sick! How do we know it's the toxins if we can't even name them? The particularly sad part for me is that these toxins are often brandished as 'cancer causing' (because if you can claim they cause any disease, I supposed it'd be the one we're yet to pinpoint all the causes of). It's sad because it drums fear in to people, fear of something that may be unavoidable by sheer unfortunate genetics, or something which may simply never happen. People live in fear of cancer as it is, and I can't help but feel that there's no need to contribute to any more 'what ifs' with such little evidence behind them. There's plenty of valid cancer research constantly ongoing, and this is very much not it. People already buy in to incredibly expensive detox methods (the cost of a juice cleanse program can run in to hundreds), but this pushes in to the territory of preying on the vulnerable - because it's not just going to appeal to those in fear of developing cancer, but to those already affected by it. This is a whole other issue which extends waaaay beyond the world of detox, but nevertheless, is not something which needs to be contributed to any further.

However, the thing that bothers me the most about the concept of toxins and detox, is the complete and utter disregard for everything we understand about the human body. As soon as you start to study our biochemistry in any sort of depth, you quickly get an understanding of just how deep our knowledge runs, and how precisely we can study the reactions that keep us functioning every day, right down to the tiniest details. It's awe inspiring, and it makes you appreciate how finely tuned our bodies are to deal with the world around us. This understanding makes the concept of something like a detox seem a little bit insulting - hey, take this incredibly expensive supplement with no regulated strength, it'll do these wonderful things for you! Nothing specific.. and we can't tell you how it does it.. but yeah, it's pretty great. Convincing, huh?

Despite my general displeasure with the subject, a lot of detox ideas aren't going to do you any harm. Acai berries, juices (as part of a balanced diet), lemon water - these things are not harmful, and while their purported benefits might not hold much ground, there's no need to drop them if you feel they bring something to your diet - after all, you know your body best in terms of wellness. But never stop asking yourself how, what and why. Don't just accept things without questioning, even if there's truth in the matter. We never stop learning, and a thirst for knowledge drives us all, individually and collectively, in to a future of understanding.

So, what the f*ck are toxins?

And why should you care? Well, you probably needn't. Eat well. Exercise occasionally (often, if you're a better person than I). Enjoy yourself. Live happy. All things in moderation (including lemon water, cos that shit probably ain't good for yo teeth).

1 comment:

  1. Great post - my diet is really not great. I love sweets and fizzy drinks too much to ever be able to detox! xx