What Is It?
Detoxification therapy includes a variety of techniques designed to assist the body in removing the buildup of potentially harmful chemicals and toxins. Practiced by many naturopaths, as well as some chiropractors, osteopaths, nutritionists, and holistically trained M.D.s, the purpose of the therapy is to improve the body’s overall well-being through internal cleansing and purification. Diet and lifestyle changes–such as giving up caffeine and fast food, cutting back on sugar, and quitting smoking–are considered key to the treatment. In addition, other techniques, such as hydrotherapy, colon therapy, chelation therapy, or even a supervised fast, are often suggested as part of detoxification.
Practitioners who use detoxification therapy believe that each person has a unique but ultimately limited level of tolerance for the “toxins” that are the by-products of industrialized society–whether it’s smog, pesticides, heavy metals, or the additives and preservatives found in many processed foods. When that tolerance level is exceeded, the body’s natural waste removal process–centered in the skin, liver, kidneys, and large intestine–becomes overtaxed and incapable of functioning adequately. Signs that the body’s natural detox system may be overloaded, proponents of the therapy suggest, include fatigue, headaches, poor digestion, unhealthy looking skin, joint and muscle aches, depression, and increased susceptibility to allergies and minor infections.
The concept of dextoxification is not a new idea. For centuries, different cultures have promoted dietary restrictions for therapeutic and religious purposes. And detoxifying spa treatments under medical supervision have long been offered in Europe. Even so, most conventional doctors in the United States are not familiar with detoxification, and many of those who are remain skeptical about its use, in part because of the lack of supporting scientific data.
Nevertheless, advocates contend that when the various detoxification therapies are used properly, the benefits can include a strengthened immune system, enhanced mental clarity, increased vitality, and reduced blood fats and blood pressure levels. In addition, patients with a variety of chronic illnesses, including arthritis, digestive problems, and heart and lung disease, often report feeling significantly better after completing detoxification.
How To Choose a Practitioner
Seek out a licensed naturopath, chiropractor, or clinical nutritionist who is familiar with the concept of detoxification; such a practitioner is likely to know more than your primary-care physician about this type of treatment. Make sure to carefully check the credentials of the therapist before undergoing treatment.
For more information on finding a practitioner, you can also refer to the individual entries on Chelation Therapy, Chiropractic, Colon Therapy, Fasting, Hydrotherapy, and Naturopathy in the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library.
Detoxification therapy should not be considered a substitute for conventional medical care. It can be dangerous for people who are underweight, or who have diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hypoglycemia. Anyone with a compromised immune system, including those who are recovering from surgery, should also avoid detoxification.
See the individual entries on Chelation Therapy, Colon Therapy, Fasting, and Hydrotherapy in the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for additional cautions for each.
David Edelberg, MD