Are Detoxification Protocols Legit?

Whether detoxification protocols are necessary and effective remains a controversial topic. Many individuals believe that detoxification protocols are a scam, since our bodies are already detoxifying on a daily basis. In contemplating my standpoint on this issue and in an attempt to discover what sorts of anti-detox commentary exists on the World Wide Web, I explored our trusted friend, Google.
I began my search with “Detox is a scam”, and one of the first hits was a news article posted in The Guardian (December 2014): “You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how you do you get healthy?”[i]
Interestingly, Dr. Edzard Ernst, an emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, was the journalist’s “expert” on the matter. He stated: “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin and lungs that are detoxifying as we speak. There is no known way – certainly not through detoxification treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.” He went on to state: “There are two types of detoxification: one is respectable and the other one isn’t. The respectable one is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. The other is the world being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”
From my understanding of the detoxification process and biotransformation (the altering of substances within the body) in the context of scientific literature, to say that there is “no known way” to make the process of detoxification “in a healthy body work better” is a relatively accurate statement. That is, if Dr. Ernst’s definition of a “healthy body” aligns with Functional Medicine principles, including: “health as a positive vitality”, optimal liver and other detoxifying tissue “organ reserve” and optimal “homeodynamic balance” of all bodily tissues. Then, I would agree, you can’t make perfect better!
However, given that the average individual in an industrialized country (like Canada) is exposed to 200+ foreign chemicals every day, and that diet and other environmental exposures are not optimal (according to the scientific literature’s gold standards), then there’s a slim chance that many people can’t benefit from some level of detoxification.
It goes without saying that the scientific understanding regarding environmental toxins building up in the body over decades of chronic, small-dose exposures in nearly every facet of life, combined with the fact that these toxic substances (i.e. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), foreign substances (xenobiotics), glyphosate, heavy metals, etc.) are becoming ever-abundant in our lives, is one of the contributing factors to sickness and disease.[ii]
As for Professor Ernst’s comment “…bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”, this is partially accurate as well. There are certainly some unsubstantiated, non-scientific, “bogus treatment” detoxification programs out there. All consumers need to do their homework. If one does do their homework thoroughly, one can also easily come across the literature-based detoxification protocols that do actually work.
Lastly, to say “…toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.” is where I believe Dr. Ernst has no leg to stand on. If he were to read the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, or the investigation in umbilical cord blood completed by the Environmental Working Group (amongst several other landmark studies), he may have refrained from that statement.
Rather, he could have stated: “The other is the world being hijacked by some entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body, although there are many evidence-based detoxification strategies that do actually support one’s body burden of environmental toxins. Some individuals may benefit from such proven detoxification strategies, as they may accumulate toxins more easily based on their toxic exposure history, as well as genetic, diet and psychosocial lifestyle factors. One should consult with their trained healthcare provider when considering a detoxification protocol.”

If you are considering trying a detox program or a cleanse, then I invite you to my upcoming workshop series on 7 Sustainable Strategies for a Healthy Detox-Cleanse….

[i] Mohammadi, D. (2014, December 5). You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy?.

[ii] Genuis, S. J. (2012). What's out there making us sick?. Journal Of Environmental And Public Health, 2012605137. doi:10.1155/2012/605137.