Do detox cleanses work? I get this question a lot and it seems there is a new fad cleanse every week. The point of a detox is to clean out the junk in your body, but they only work if you don’t bring it back in. A detox works as a kick-start to clear toxins, but if you go back to old habits, you will go right back to where you were, or possibly be worse off. Detoxes should be the start of a new behavior and lifestyle change.

There are detoxes that are limited and designed to give your body a break. For example, many people quit alcohol for a month or so to give their system a chance to rest and recover. This is common in January or February after you may have imbibed more than normal over the holidays.

The truth is our bodies are detoxing all the time. That is how our body was designed: filter what we eat and drink, pull out the nutrients and discard the waste. Your liver makes use of two pathways in order to carry out its detoxification work:

  • Phase 1: responsible for breaking things down and then sending the raw materials to phase 2.
  • Phase 2: builds new substances from the raw material by adding molecules to them, this is called conjugation.

If you do a crash detox or a juice fast, you are not giving your body the proper nutrients to digest and so the body gets stuck between phases one and two of detoxification. This signals the body that there is scarcity of nutrition and to take whatever it can and roll it into a fat molecule to store.

Another popular one that can be more detrimental as a cleanse is a sugar detox. When you take sugar out of your diet even for as little as three weeks, your body gets rid of its reliance on it. If you then overload your system with sugar again it can cause problems like gut upset, intense cravings, headaches, fatigue and irritability. You have to remember that sugar is not just a cookie or candy – pastas, rice, carbs, and alcohol all convert into sugar in the digestion process. The omission of sugar, or reduction of sugar from your diet should not be a detox, but a lifestyle change.

I firmly believe that sugar is the devil hiding in our food. We are a fat-phobic nation so now that there are so many “fat free” and “reduced fat” options, that fat has been replaced by sugar and it is highly addictive. In primal days, sweet meant it was safe to eat, but also seasonal and hard to get. Bitter was poison or bad. Now that sugar is everywhere, it is almost unavoidable, especially for kids because it is so prevalent in packaged food. We eat things that are “fake” all the time and they are highly addictive. The same part of the brain that becomes triggered by cocaine is also activated by sugar.

In the Functional Medicine program at Battle Born Health, we focus on giving women’s bodies the tools to be continuingly detoxing. This means good food that gives your body something to process and turn into energy. If a patient is fairly healthy and has a reasonably good liver and digestive system, they are a candidate to do a healthy detox program as part of a larger lifestyle change.

It is not advised to do a detox when autoimmune issues are in place, the patient is super stressed (emotionally or physically), or doing heavy training (such as training for a triathlon). In these cases, detoxes can make the person much sicker. Also just doing a detox as a “quick fix” for things like trying to lose weight before a reunion or “cleanse” before starting a new intense exercise program are all recipes for disaster.

There is so much mis-information about the detox fads. That’s why you need to work with a professional health coach to determine what is right for your body and your long-term goals.

With functional medicine, the “detox” phase of our program needs to supply the person with the right nutrients for phase one and phase two of detoxification. The patient needs to know detoxification is a challenging metabolic process. With an intense detox, the body needs rest to focus on not adding more toxins to the body.

As mentioned before, the patient also needs to be fairly healthy to start the detox process. They need to be having regular, daily bowel movements and feeling strong and motivated to start. If they feel sick on a detox it may be too much too fast and they may need medical support during the detox program.

If you are interested in learning more about detox programs, how to do it safely, and how it can be the start to positive lifestyle changes, get in touch to see if you are a candidate for our 16-week functional medicine program. We look forward to helping you feel healthy, happy and strong!