Nutrition: Let’s chat about toxins

There’s a ton of really bad information on the internet about nutrition, and I’d love to punch a lot of it in the throat here with science. You’re always hearing about the term “detox”. What does that mean, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the term “toxins”. What is a “toxin” anyway? I’ve had tons of people in the health industry try and sell me on all manner of ways to remove toxins, usually through something they were hawking. Nice red flag there. I’d often ask them “Just what is a toxin? What are you removing?” 10 times out of 10 they didn’t have the first flippin clue.

The dictionary defines toxin as “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable”. Some definitions expand that to “Any substance poisonous to an organism; often restricted to poisons produced by living organisms”.

Huh. Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m not currently full of spider venom. If I was, I’d have amazing super powers. Just kidding, no, I’d be dead.

Once I managed to get the so called health people to actually answer what they thought a toxin was, it usually ended up being something like “additives” or “caffeine” or “heavy metals”.

Let’s be absolutely clear. Of those 3, the first could maybe possibly be produced by an animal, but is unlikely to cause the body to produce anti-bodies against it. Caffeine is NOT a toxin as defined here, and heavy metals (while extremely dangerous) do not fit the definition of a toxin.

So, all of these “detox” programs? From a strictly scientific point of view, total nonsense. They’re not removing toxins because, frankly, you’re not full of toxins unless you just fell into a vat of very angry rattlesnakes. And in that case, hot yoga is, I’m afraid to say, not going to help you out much.

Right, so fine. Let’s assume for a moment that when these guys talk about toxins, they’re talking about, say, heavy metals. We are nearly all, unfortunately, exposed to a variety of heavy metals in our environment. We live in a pretty industrialized society. There’s all kinds of things in our water, air and even food. OK so we want to get that out! Yes, that’s why we’re going to go sweat in a room for 10 hours. Right?

Well, go for it (actually, don’t, that’s super dangerous), but you’re not removing heavy metals. The truth of the matter is, the size of the molecule of a heavy metal is just too large to come out through your pores, and frankly you’d need it to bind to the various molecules in the water in your sweat first anyhow. Many heavy metals deposit in your muscles & fat. That’s one of the reasons top predator fish can be so high in mercury, they bio-accumulate it in their flesh, you eat it and then absorb it yourself. Bummer too, I love tuna.

The fact of the matter is, the best detoxification engine is your own body. You have organs that are built for the specific purpose of removing various things that don’t belong out of your body and excreting them in a variety of ways.

So what do I do now? Well, let’s not throw out the baby with the heavy metal water. There’s a lot of benefits from so called “clean eating”. Those additives that are in all of your prepackaged foods? I’m not going to call them toxins (because that’s not what they are) but they are garbage. They’re not food, they’re put in there to preserve food that would otherwise go bad, or to alter the mouth feel or flavor. They’re fake food and not eating them is, in my opinion, better than eating them.

The same goes for all manner of other junk foods. They tend to be calorie rich and nutrition poor, meaning that to get the vitamins your body craves you have to eat more and more.

So don’t go drinking herbal tea, olive oil and $100 powder packets for 7 days. Switch to clean eating with real food. Organic vegetables, grass fed organic meats. Skip the sweets, eat some fruit instead. If you want to juice, go for it! Juice on. But don’t go nuts. Extreme diets are not what our bodies are built for, any more than they’re built for mowing down tons of pizza & Ding Dongs. Combine a nutritive rich, clean diet with regular exercise that involves both cardio and resistance training & you’ll soon find yourself feeling better. Living well is the best “detox”. And you don’t even need a bunch of pills.

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