Don’t believe all the “DETOX”!


It seems that no matter where you go now a days, the word “detox” is ever present.  The mainstream media, Facebook, magazines, books, yoga teachers, supplement producers and even some massage therapists and wellness practitioners are pushing this term as a way to sell products or add legitimacy to the services that they offer.  We’re told that our livers are filled with toxins, so we need this or that product or service to help us “flush” it out, or perhaps we need to make up for a crappy diet by going on a fad “detox diet.” No matter who you are, chances are that somebody has probably told you at one point or another that you need to “detox.”

According to Webster, this is the definition of Detoxification…

Detoxified or Detoxification
1a :  to remove a harmful substance (such as a poison or toxin) or the effect of such from
1b :  to render (a harmful substance) harmless
2:  to free (as a drug user or an alcoholic) from an intoxicating or an addictive substance in the body or from dependence on or addiction to such a substance

Essentially, detoxification is a medical treatment that aids the body in rehabilitating and balancing the system to free it from toxins by way of IV fluids, rest, and medications.  One is considered de-toxified once the blood stream is clear of toxins; toxins being drugs, alcohol, poisons or venoms.  I would imagine if you were to ask someone who has undergone an actual detoxification in a hospital setting or even out patient, they would tell you that detoxification/”detox” is an intensely painful and uncomfortable process.  If you aren’t afflicted with addiction, aren’t overdosing, aren’t udergoing cancer or auto immune treatment, haven’t been poisoned and haven’t had a run in with a venomous animal you probably don’t need to detox.  The short list below shows some common treatments, services or products that are often claimed or sold as being able to have the ability to increase, speed up or initiate a “detox.”

  • A special detox diet.
  • Shakes or powders.
  • An ionic foot soak or foot pads soaked in vinegar.
  • A special body wrap or body treatment.
  • Special yoga poses.
  • Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Massage

At this time there is no research based evidence showing a correlation between any of the above products or services and detoxification.  It can be said that many of the ancient healing systems (Acupuncture, Herbalism, Massage, etc.) have a fair amount of anecdotal and case studies that affirm these practices to be useful and helpful in terms of stress and pain relief, but there are no randomized controlled trials or meta-analysis to show direct correlations to prompting detoxification.

I do quickly want to note that I think it is important to acknowledge that some of the CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) systems have existed for thousands of years; the insight and deep understanding they provide when approaching the body is unique and often steeped in religion, dogma, ritual, philosophy, and oral tradition.  Perhaps the reason CAM therapies are sought out is because it seems that CAM practitioners might spend significantly more one on one time with their patients. Time is taken to listen to and treat the body from more of a holistic (approaching the body as a whole interconnected system) vs. allopathic (the method of treating disease by the use of pharmacalogical agents that produce effects different from those of the disease treated) viewpoint. This in turn may offer a more validating experience for the patient? To learn more about CAM therapies and interesting approaches to both CAM and Western Medicine check out Mind Over Medicine, by Lissa Rankin, MD.

I know, I know, some of you are very disheartened right now. You’re thinking how can detox not be a “thing”…I’m sure it’s a thing!? Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling or thinking this way.  When I underwent surgery for ovarian cancer in 2010, I was thrown many “detox” myths and was told and marketed to by numerous practitioners claiming they could detox the cancer out.  I was also told by countless bodyworkers and even some instructors while I was in massage school (2006), that massage caused “detox”, and so I went on telling other students and patients that because I thought it was true as well.  I am happy to see that many practitioners in the field are educating themselves further and changing how they practice so that legitimacy and not fear tactics are used to bring clients back in the door. Sometimes something is repeated, taught and said so many times, that even though it’s not true the myth is perpetuated. So, it’s time to change the way we think and approach our bodies when it comes to the idea of “detox” or “cleansing.” Where did this whole idea start, anyway?

“Purification rituals date back to the earliest reaches of human history. The idea that we’re somehow poisoning ourselves and need to atone for our sins seems to be a part of human nature”
Scott Gavura
It seems as though the idea of purifying ourselves is part of our human process, we feel as though we are “less than” and need to make up for it by way of purging, cleansing, detoxing, etc, so that we can once again be “pure” or perfect. There’s good news though, your body is already fully equipped for detoxification!
“The whole idea of detox is nonsense,” says Dr. Frankie Phillips, a spokesperson for The British Dietetic Association. “The body is a well-developed system that has its own built-in mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste from top to toe. Skin, the gut and liver and kidneys are all chemically-controlled powerhouses that respond to signals to remove waste products.”
Our bodies already have all the equipment that they need to support the removal of waste products.  So, it seems to me, the best way to “detox” is to take care of your body to begin with.  Nurture your body and the organs inside of it that are tasked with removing waste products that if left to stagnate could cause adverse health symptoms and disease. Nurturing ones body takes place by way of healthy diet (avoiding excessive sugar and alcohol), regular exercise, whole hearted living (I will expand on this idea in future blog posts), minimizing stress, getting consistent sleep, and lastly, limiting or eliminating your exposure to known carcinogens.
 A few toxins that you SHOULD be worried about and that are known to cause health problems courtesy of Max Anderton:
  • BPA is found in some plastics and a five-year study linked it to reduced male sexual function.  Avoid it by… only buying food and liquid containers labelled BPA-free. Pre-packaged meals can contain it, but switching to fresh food has rapid benefits with a 66 per cent reduction of the body’s BPA levels in just three days.

  • Phthalates are chemicals linked to disrupted hormone production, and found in grooming products including shampoos, colognes and soap.  Avoid them by… reading the labels. Manufacturers don’t have to list phthalates, but anything with “fragrance” on its ingredient list likely contains them.

  • PFOA is used in non-stick pans. Thought to be carcinogenic and stunt growth, it’s on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of “chemicals of concern”.  Avoid it by… chucking out non-stick pans once the surface is scratched. Binning that much-loved griddle will be hard, but totally worth it in the long run.

For an accurate and even more detailed list of known carcinogens, visit The American Cancer Society’s website. 
If you just want to feel better in general there are much easier and more affordable ways to go about it.  Instead of buying products that allegedly detox or cleanse you, change your thinking and begin to be curious and mindful about the products you already use regularly that might be exposing you or your family to potential harm.  Isn’t it easier to control what goes in to begin with instead of putting poison in and then hoping you can get it out? You should also be wary of any product or wellness practitioner that claims they can “detox” you, because ultimately, the only thing you might be losing is your money.
At Amara, we can offer you massage treatments that encourage mindful living, increased ease in your movement/flexibility, and of course the reduction or perhaps elimination of pain.  We don’t, however, have any massage treatments that will “detox” you, and we won’t try to pretend that we can. We focus on helping our clients feel better each day without gimmicks, pseudo science or false promises. This is why you’ll never hear us tell you that you need to drinks tons of water after your massage because you’re going to be “detoxing”. To learn more about evidence based professional massage therapy and it’s relevance to the industry go HERE or read 5 Myths and Truths about Massage Therapy by Tracy Walton.  If you are looking for a Fort Collins Massage, that’s isn’t all about “detox” but IS all about helping you feel better in your body, we would love to see you!

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