Now that Thanksgiving has passed, get ready for the onslaught of various body detox regimens to cleanse what you purportedly "polluted" your body with. It could be in the form of a pair of socks, which will allegedly extract toxins through your feet, diets that will assist the efforts of your liver, or a good old-fashion colon cleanse to scrub your bowels.
There is no question that overindulgence, aka gluttony, leaves us feeling as if we have "polluted" ourselves, but is there any real science behind detoxing, or cleansing, or is it a placebo effect? Is it science or quackery? Let's look.
We are exposed to "toxins" on a daily basis, and they come in the form of both exotoxins, the ones we are exposed to through the air, drinking and eating, as well as endotoxins, which are the normal byproducts of our daily metabolism. However, just how much of an impact do these molecules have on us that our bodies are not already well-equipped (designed) to handle under normal circumstances and exposure levels?
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Here are a few of the design mechanisms God put in place to assist your efforts to maintain your health.
The cell: Normal cell metabolism produces a wide variety of waste products, some of which can be highly toxic if there were no means of disposing of them. Within each cell, there are hundreds of specialized vesicles called lysosomes, which are essentially the cells garbage collector and disposal. Each lysosome has an estimated 60 different enzymes that digest cell waste, viruses,and bacteria, then dispose of them via the liver and kidneys for removal. Additionally, every cell produces an important detoxifying compound called glutathione, one of those antioxidants in those "magical mushrooms" in my last article. This compound has significant detoxifying roles and its concentration within the cell is increased with exercise, which is one reason regular exercisers have stronger immune systems.
Liver: One of the many functions of the liver is to detoxify external chemicals (exotoxins) after they have been absorbed from food, water, or air, as well as internally produced chemicals (endotoxins), which are normal everyday metabolic byproducts of cell metabolism, such as nitrogen from excess protein intake. Any excess nitrogen in the body is converted to ammonia, which if left unchecked would cause brain damage. However, the liver readily transforms the ammonia into urea, which is then eliminated through the kidneys with your urine. The liver also makes bile, which contains some metabolic waste, such as bilirubin. The liver does not store toxins, but reduces unwanted chemicals into water-soluble compounds, which can then be eliminated through the kidneys.
Intestines: Most people think of their intestines as a porous tube which will essentially allow the absorption of anything that passes through it. This is false; it can be very selective. As an example, iron is an important mineral for both males and females. However, free iron in the blood is highly toxic to any tissue or organ it encounters due to its extremely high oxidative capacity. So, iron must be bound to a limited number of iron binding proteins in your blood. Therefore, your intestines will be very selective as to how much iron is absorbed. An excess would be life-threatening. Intestinal flora, the good bacteria, inhibits the growth of unfriendly bacteria. Additionally, those who would like you to believe you may be experiencing a build-up of some mysterious intestinal wall sludge, which may be preventing the normal function of your intestines, have no understanding of the extensive enzyme and flora activity in your intestines. All one must do is view a normal colonoscopy from any friendly local gastroenterologist, which will visually refute the sludge build-up claims.
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Kidneys: The kidneys can filter over 30 gallons of blood per day and readily separates the waste, which is then eliminated in the urine, from the compounds which should be recycled, such as nutrients. As an example, we often hear scary stories of "studies" that have shown those individuals who consumed produce, which may have had a pesticide residue on it, have higher rates of pesticides in their urine. Sounds toxic, but this reflects the normal functioning of the liver and kidney working in concert with each other to eliminate compounds you have no need for.
Lungs: The lungs expel carbon dioxide, which is a waste product of many metabolic functions such as muscle activity, metabolism of nutrients, etc. As the level of carbon dioxide rises in your blood, your respiration rate will also increase to assist in eliminating it. This is the main driving force of your rapid breathing during exercise.
This is by no means a complete list of your body's ability to maintain healthy chemical homeostasis and neutralize harmful chemicals, but it should serve to give you a good idea as to how the designed functions of your physiology illustrate why "detox" or "body cleansing" diets are quackery. You may feel better after your "detox," but this is nothing more than a placebo effect. Your body naturally detoxifies itself, and yes, it is not perfect, and people do get sick and die, but this has nothing to do with the need of a "cleanse." It is called Genesis 3, the Fall, and those who attempt to persuade you to detox demonstrate a significant ignorance of toxicology, physiology and metabolism and the limitations Genesis 3 puts on our efforts to stay "young" and illness-free.
If you really want to detox physically, simply make wiser food choices and exercise. If you wish to detox spiritually, turn off the telly and read your Bible.