Several products or methods claim to rid the body of “waste” or “toxins”. In reality, are they really beneficial?
The “true” reality
First, let’s debunk an important point: very few measures provide instant or miraculous access to better health. A person’s health is generally the result of a complex and interrelated set of factors, such as age, heredity, environment, lifestyle and habits. It is important to adopt healthy daily habits to stay in good health:
- eat well
- maintain a healthy weight
- get sufficient sleep
- avoid or reduce stress
- exercise regularly
- refrain from smoking
- avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- take your medication regularly
- follow your healthcare professionals’ recommendations, and
- go to your medical follow-up appointments
Doing all of this may not be as exciting as the prospect of taking a miracle product that works immediately, but these strategies are effective and often cost less.
Should you be concerned about eliminating “toxins”?
The word “toxin” is often misused. The first definition of the word is as follows: a toxic substance produced by a living organism of animal, plant or bacterium origin, the most important general characteristics of which are to produce toxic effects (illness, incapacity or death). In light of this definition, snake venom would be a very good example of a toxin. The good news is that to date, the human body is not known to produce toxins.
The other meaning of the word toxin is: a substance in excess in the body, preventing its optimal functioning. As you probably already know, the body is incredibly well made. It is capable of absorbing the substances it needs, such as water, vitamins and minerals, and eliminating those it deems useless or harmful by various means: perspiration, liver, kidneys, bile, intestines, etc. Rest assured, unless you have a serious illness, your body is fully equipped to get rid of what it doesn't need, including through stool and urine.
The concept of “getting rid of waste or toxins” has no medical basis. In fact, we wager that a doctor has never mentioned the need to “detoxify”, “purify”, or “cleanse” your body. The popular belief that the body needs to be cleansed of toxins has persisted for hundreds of years, but has no medical basis.
The flip side of the coin
It’s true that products or methods presented as miracle cures can be very appealing, since they are portrayed as having numerous virtues including the following:
- stimulate metabolism
- improve digestion
- unclog the liver
- eliminate waste caused by excess
- strengthen the immune system, and
- promote weight loss
Once again, these assertions are generally not based on real scientific studies, but rather on past beliefs that no longer hold a place in current medical knowledge. It’s important to remember that before asserting that a substance, including medication, is effective in a certain context, it must first have undergone studies that lead to such conclusions. Would you take medication that has not been studied? Probably not, and you would have good reason not to.
Here are some other things to consider when thinking about this option:
- The use of such products is not usually officially approved by Health Canada or any other authoritative medical organization.
- These products are not subject to the same quality manufacturing standards as medications. Once again, you must be sure of the quality of the product you choose. Your pharmacist can help you with this.
- The effects of using such products can be numerous, but the most likely is diarrhea. This gives people the false impression that they are “emptying” or “cleansing” their intestine when, in fact, there is no medical benefit to inducing diarrhea in someone, quite the opposite.
- The ingredients contained in such formulations can interact with the medications you take. Another reason to always ask your pharmacist for advice.
- These types of products are often costly.
Whatever health products you may be considering, it is always recommended to speak to your pharmacist to make informed choices. In the meantime, exercise and follow Canada’s Food Guide!