Can you really detox or is it just a marketing myth?

Libby Limon BSc NT mBANT / Jan 11, 2016

After the overindulgence of the festive season, many of us feel the urge to ‘detox’. But what does that actually mean? Can or does it do us any good


There has always been controversy over ‘detoxing’. Especially in January the market is awash with boxes of strange potions and powder purporting to cleanse you from previous overindulgences, but can they really work or is it a myth?

Toxins are substances that are poisonous or damaging to humans. They come from other plants and animals that we consume, bacterial by-products, also heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and organic chemicals in our environment found in everything from fuel for our cars to cleaning products to skincare.  Even healthy foods contain some toxic elements for example beans have lectins and quinoa have saponins. Many healthy nutrients such as vitamin A or iron in very high quantities can cause toxicity.  However, most of what we consume is at low enough level that we are barely aware of the detoxifying process.  In fact we are detoxifying all the time, via your liver, kidneys, bowels, skin and breath. If your body didn’t do this effectively all the time you wouldn’t last very long.

That said, if your diet, environment, lifestyle and even the type of bacteria in your gut, can all build up to increase our toxic load. Alcohol, coffee, cigarette fumes, pollution, cleaning products are all major factors.  Increase toxic load or poor nutrition may lead bottlenecks in the liver’s detoxifying process allowing volatile intermediaries to be recirculated causing potential short and long damage to cells and DNA.  Over time this can manifest itself with feelings of sluggishness, digestive issues, poor sleep and immunity or longer-term development of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Ideally we should keep our toxic load to a level where our body can optimally function. However, if you have gone through a period where you feel that you have over done it and are feeling the negative effects, taking a period where you focus on reducing your toxic load by reducing the amount of toxins, whilst increasing foods that contain nutrients that facilitate detox and elimination can be very beneficial.

So what should you cut out to reduce your toxic load?

The obvious ones are caffeine, smoking and alcohol. Cured meats are another source that should be avoided. Buy organic produce to avoid residue pesticides and herbicides. Look out for your food/drink containers, detergents, beauty products, many of which contain chemicals and plastics that we ingest and then have to detoxify.

How to nutritionally support detoxification pathways?

To 'detox' or 'cleanse', it is a misconception that you need to effectively starve yourself. The opposite is true; in fact intense nourishment is required.

A plant based diet rich in fibre, antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals. Protein is key too for the liver so lots of fish and plant proteins with some organic lean meats or game meats is ideal.

Some nutrients in foods are especially good at supporting liver detoxification pathways for example antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta-carotene as well as turmeric, broccoli and green tea, support and regulate liver detoxification pathways. These are all in meaningful amounts in VITL nutrition packs, so along side including them into your diet, VITL can give you a detoxification boost.

Glutathione is an major anti-oxidant that is produced and used in the liver, you can support its production by including quality organic whey protein (assuming your are not dairy intolerant) which contains the amino acids to build this protein in the body. Other foods that help boost production include onions, leeks and garlic, leafy greens, avocados.

Is fasting a good idea as part of a cleanse?

A short nutrient dense fast with juices and smoothies can be effective for a day or two to nourish whilst resting and rebalancing your digestive system. However long term low calorie 'detox diets' will have a counterproductive effect, both leaving you nutrient deficient and craving unhealthy high calorie foods such sugars and fats.  Fasting should only be undertaken by those with optimal blood glucose control, a rule of thumb for this is those who can easily skip meals without feeling dizziness, tiredness, low energy, sugar/carbohydrate cravings or losing mental focus.


Libby Limon

Head of Nutrition VITL

Nutritional Therapist BSc mBANT