Purifying the ‘Detox’ Debate

Detox: Does it works or not?

Can certain food preparations or so-called “natural” remedies help us getting rid of toxic chemicals? Or is just all quackery? One would be forgiven to feel confused, just by reading the sharp divergences of opinions on the topic. The ‘yes’ camp offers a dazzling array of cleansing offers for all occasions and seasons. From specific “10-day Liver Detox“, “5-day Spring Detox and Cleansing” to “21-day Full Body Cleansing Challenge“, there is something for every taste and inclination.

 

Detox Quackery

The skeptics’ favorite and lapidary answer: “For cleansing, we all have a liver and two kidneys…and that is enough!” Strictly speaking, they have a point: One will search in vain for credible supportive evidence that any food, can cleanse a specific organ.

It’s (more) complicated

The key expression here is “specific organ”. There can be little doubt that a complete or partial fast will facilitate the kidneys and liver function by lightening the food processing load. However, the human body is far too interconnected and integrated for any particular substance to be a cleansing agent of a designated organ. Furthermore, the biochemical complexity of our body is far beyond the capacity of any natural product to exquisitely target a particular organ. Even human-made pharmaceuticals cannot claim perfect targeting, far from it.

What if…?

What about a specific food that can help the body enhance its ability to cleanse itself from some chemicals? Now, that would be something else, wouldn’t it?

Animal model studies have shown that when vegetables containing glucoraphanin are chewed or swallowed, another compound called sulforaphane appears on the scene and kicks enzymes into action to take up pollutants and clear them from the body in urine. In other words, sulforaphane seems to act like fuel for the body’s own trash collection and disposal services.

“Animal model studies”, huh? This is encouraging, but, as we caution in a recent post, studies on animals do not tell us much about how humans will fare.

Once upon a time, in China

China suffers from a terrible industrial pollution problem. Motivated to find some solution to relieve the present burden, researchers stumbled upon the humble, flavorful and healthy broccoli. Turns out that broccoli sprouts in particular are replete with glucoraphanin. This substance appear to promote the production of sulforaphane. This latter molecule act as a “starter” for enzymes in the body that help rid of benzene, a common chemical found in gasoline. Unless you are the happy owner of an e-car, you breathe some benzene every time you fill up. There is benzene in cigarette smoke and areas of heavy pollution. In China, there is a overabundance of this stuff.

LIANYUNGANG, CHINA - DECEMBER 08: (CHINA OUT) Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China. Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China since last week, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images) City Metric

LIANYUNGANG, CHINA – DECEMBER 08: (CHINA OUT) Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China. Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China since last week, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

In a first of its kind study, 291 Chinese adults living in a very polluted area were given either broccoli sprouts juice, pineapple juice or lime juice. Those who drank the broccoli preparation every day for 12 weeks eliminated 61% more benzene. Another toxic agent, acrolein, was eliminated at a 23% enhanced rate.

 The Take Away

Simply put, this study reminds everyone that dogma has no place in health and wellness thinking. Poo-poing claims about detoxing should have much more to do with denunciations about overeager and deceptive marketeering than scientific certainties. Apart from the fact that 1) life carries a 100% mortality rate, or 2) we can’t levitate by ourselves and 3) Animagus defies the Laws of Physics, few things are completely set in stone. This is no excuse to engage in hocus-pocus beliefs and woo-woo. On the other hand, the results of this Chinese study are a reminder that critical thinking must not be confounded with reactionary skepticism. As research progress, there will be surprising discoveries along the path to know more.

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2 Comments

  1. Heather Michet Sunday, 22 November, 2015
    • Francois Monday, 23 November, 2015