“Detoxing” is not a new idea. Since the dawn of recorded history, humans have been contemplating what it means to be contaminated and devising ways of once again becoming clean.
Our current culture is no different. What we consider to be potentially poisonous may have changed, but many of the remedies remain the same. What has evolved though is our understanding of how our bodies work and what’s needed to keep them functioning well.
Three Meanings of “Detox”
“Detox” has become such a common term that we forget it can also mean the process of Medical Detoxification. The goal of medical detoxification is to manage intoxication by, and withdrawal from, drugs or alcohol. In this process, medical staff, in a clinical setting, use interventions that remove toxins from someone’s body:
- If they are acutely intoxicated.
- If they are dependent on substances of abuse.
- If they have ingested poison.
This type of detoxing helps to minimize the physical harm that these dangerous substances can cause.
Our bodies have their own detoxification systems built right in! Our kidneys, liver, intestines, and lungs do an amazing job at detoxing our bodies every day.
Kidneys - These two fist-sized organs are made up of a million individual filtering units. Blood continuously circulates through the kidneys - about 150 quarts of blood are filtered each day! After being filtered, needed substances (minerals, nutrients, water) are returned back to your body, and unneeded or toxic materials (excess water, acid, and other wastes) are turned into urine and sent to the bladder.
Liver - Your liver has more than 500 essential jobs, and some of the most important have to do with detoxification. Like the kidneys, the liver functions as a filter, removing toxins (drugs, alcohol, and caffeine) and the waste products that your cells normally produce. After your liver has filtered out and broken down these harmful substances, the by-products are either routed to the intestines and leave the body in the stool or get sent to the kidneys to be excreted in the urine.
Large Intestine (Colon) - The colon’s primary job is to transport food particles through the body and then expel the indigestible parts, but it also plays a role in detoxing by clearing bilirubin (waste from the breakdown of old or abnormal red blood cells).
Lungs - With each breath we take, we’re bringing in the oxygen that our cells need to survive and clearing our bodies of gaseous wastes, primarily carbon dioxide. If we didn’t get rid of the carbon dioxide, it would take up the “carrying capacity” of our blood. Then our blood wouldn’t be able to the oxygen to our cells. Every exhale is a “detox!”
Today, this is probably the most commonly used meaning of the word “detox.” You’ll find this buzzword discussed on social media and blog posts, in lifestyle magazines, and in advertisements that are designed to look like any of those three. Why is this idea so attention-grabbing? It comes back to the idea of contamination and cleansing. People have legitimate concerns about pollution in the environment then polluting their bodies, they and often see “detoxing” as a way to cleanse and protect themselves.