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James G Beckerman, M.D.  
Male
Portland, OR

Specialties: Cardiology

Interests: Weight Loss, lifestyle changes, healthy diet
Author of The Flex Diet (January 2011)
Providence Heart and Vascular Institute
(503) 216-0900
Portland, OR
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Detox Doubts

Jun 09, 2011 - 10 comments

We have livers and kidneys for a reason, right?

But don’t tell that to the millions of Americans who routinely participate in detoxification or cleansing rituals which are perpetuated as scientific approaches to remove dangerous toxins from our bodies that accumulate as a result of exposures to pollution, environmental factors, and our own diets which are heavy in processed foods.

The question is - do they have a point?

Many detoxification programs combine limited calorie intake, hydration, increased consumption of raw fruits and vegetables, and a host of expensive supplements (not to mention the occasional enema) for a period of days or weeks.  It’s true that many of us could benefit from fewer calories, more water, and more fruits and veggies.  And while most supplements don’t have scientific data to support them, we also don’t have much data to suggest that most are particularly dangerous - it’s your money after all.  But do two or three weeks of a monastic existence actually accomplish anything other than help you lose a few pounds (starvation works!) which you will ultimately regain once you settle back into your super-sized lifestyle?

No.  There is little evidence to suggest that a person with healthy kidneys and liver actually needs an intensive program to do what the body is already supposed to do.  And the fact that detoxifications or cleanses are generally brief suggests that they are not designed to be sustainable.  But healthy lifestyles should be sustainable.

That’s not to say that individuals who do one of these programs won’t experience some short-term benefit - but the benefit is secondary to limiting alcohol and caffeine, or improving hydration, or not overeating - it’s not because toxins are magically whisked away.  The useful elements of detoxification or cleansing are in the more healthful behaviors that they encourage in the short term, but not in the mechanism they use to justify them.  The key is making the short-term acceptable enough that you can stick with it in the long-term.  That way you can enjoy a balanced lifestyle and maintain a healthier weight, even when your friends have regained the pounds they previously lost and are heading back to the internet to buy another three month supply of vitamins.

In the end, it’s a more balanced life that seems a little less toxic - don’t you think?

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by katscan, Jun 09, 2011
Hi Dr. Beckerman. Thanks for this info! I totally agree! And it's nice to hear it from an expert like yourself. I hear people talking about detoxes all the time. Some do it for weight loss, some just for the "purification." It never made sense to me why these would work, but it's tough to argue with people who are convinced that something is good for your body even when those same people do other things that aren't healthy like booze a lot and eat unhealthy foods. Thanks again!

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by Jaquta, Jun 18, 2011
I haven't really thought about it before.  Maybe the problem is that we over-complicate things and have tended away from the basic, natural/ normal stuff.  Media and companies have financial incentives to do just that.  In schools we are spoon fed information and tend not be such good critical thinkers.

Monastic experience?  Maybe it is the insights gained through spiritual experience that are most helpful (even if it is only to commit to never doing detox again).  It sounds like it could be quite soulful and enriching.  But perhaps there are healthier ways to extend ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.

I would agree.  More balance, less stress.  That would probably mean less environmental pollution too.  Is amazing how much we take for granted these days.  I wonder if modern medicine sometimes does us a disservice.

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by Tmask, Jun 20, 2011
This sort of ignorance doesn't at all surprise me coming from a MD. Here are some facts. We live in a chemical age where many are suffering from the effects of poor dietary and lifestyle choices which are contributing to the proliferation of chronic illness. Additionally many people unknowingly suffer from food sensitivities and allergies which are preventing them from reaching optimal health and their ideal body weight. Now I know your idea would be to give a chemical laden"pill" for life to help with the allergies and chronic health challenge instead of looking a the root cause. The root cause for most is the lifestyle they lead. Processed food, stimulants, prescription and non-prescription drugs are ALL full of toxic chemicals that stay in the body and have know where to go. Our organs are clogged due to the lifestyle. With that being said if a person was to detox and not change their lifestyle after the cleanse, well shame on them and the detox would be basically a waste.

Now what can a detox or cleanse do? In much the same way you need a holiday from work, your body needs a break from time to time, especially when you are feeling tired, sick, heavy or just plain run down.
Detoxification is a normal process within the body as it neutralizes and eliminates toxins through the major organs such as our colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph and skin. Our bodies do it naturally every day, in fact it is one of our most basic automatic functions. But what if our self-cleaning system is overloaded by our unhealthy lifestyle and exposure to environmental toxins including prescription drugs?
According to many healing experts detoxification through special cleansing programs may be the missing link to disease prevention, especially for immune-deficiency diseases like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and candida. Our chemical-laden diet, with an overabundance of animal protein, too much saturated fat and too much caffeine and alcohol radically alters our internal ecosystem. However even if your diet is good, a cleanse can restore
your immune system and protect yourself against environmental toxins that pave the way for disease bearing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
In the animal kingdom and in traditional cultures routine fasting which allows the body time to clean itself out has been normal practice. Just think how many showers you take in a year to clean the outside of your body and then how many cleanses you do in a year to clean the inside of your body? the benifits to detoxing are incredible! You eliminate stored wastes and for some that means they will lose weight. Improved vitality and energy levels right away. Improved circulation through purifying the liver, kidneys and blood. Enhanced mental clarity. You will turn around bad eating habits and your stomach will have the chance to reduce to a normal size for weight control. People with heart problems notice a more regular heartbeat. A fiber rich cleansing diet with sea vegetables, that eliminates meat and dairy protein,
almost invariably reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are many different detoxification products and programs on the market and yes there are many scams or products that are ineffective. But if you go to a qualified health professional you will see a positive impact and change on your life!
Trevor
Certified Nutritionist
PS- as for the vitamin comment, most don't get sufficent vitamin and minerals intake from their food so supplementing is a must for most. Again there's good and bad supplements on the market so becareful in choosing. All I know is that over 100,000 people each year don't die from taking supplements but that's not the case with western medicine.

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by Jaquta, Jun 20, 2011
The doctor knows that lifestyle factors contribute to many illnesses.  This is evident in his posts on his Weight Loss and Healthy Lifestyle expert forum.

The body has its own natural healing process.  Most people intuitively rest, etc when they are not well.

If we address the cause, we shouldn't need detox. Don't studies show that high cholesterol can be reversed through a healthier lifestyle.

I have had cancer and believe that a healthy lifestyle may have prevented this.  It may be due to environmental factors such as exposure to pesticides, etc but I doubt it.  In the paper last week it said that people in my, and several other districts, have higher incidences and death rates from cancer.  It could be due to living in poverty plus poor lifestyle choices.

Fasting has also been associated with religious rituals.

Some people taking supplements get excess vitamins which can affect their health.

My understanding is that the doctor does ?recommend the use of a supplement.  This info is in his book.

The doctor can defend himself, I don't need to do that for him.  I just believe that many of us could benefit from making healthier lifestyle choices.  I have learned in others areas of my life that wellness is a process and what works for one may not work for another.  I am not motivated to detox so therefore that is unlikely to be of significant benfit to me.  I am more likely to adhere to diet and exercise so it is in my best interest to put my energy and resouces into that.

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by butterfly_netme, Jun 29, 2011
I really appreciate the doctor's comments.  I'm always taking in drinks I'm told can clean out my body system (especially after I overdose on calory laden foods).

I believe there are supplements/products that are really good but then, a larger number are not health certified (this is a fact of life in my country). Besides, excess use of these products (even when certified) will most likely have side effects.  I have learnt from experience on this!

Dr James article just alerted me to be more careful when I decide to 'detox'.

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by abracadebra, Jun 29, 2011
Good Article from Dr. James however the information from Trevor (above) is far more valuable to all.  Healthy detoxing is good for everyone, as he stated , our organs need a vacation too.


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by jaye571, Jun 29, 2011
I this article assumes that everyone is working from a position of relative good health.  But what of the great many who are not?

One of the symptoms of being hypothyroid is having gallbladder trouble.  The galbladder is intimately connected to the liver.

A lot of people have thyroid trouble.  Many are not diagnosed.

Perhaps if everyone had all the supporting mechanisms functioning properly, the liver would function well  too.

So doc, will you help get all those whacky thyroids working again, so that the liver complaints will go down?

The liver also plays a role in the regulation of blood sugar.  What of all the diabetics?  Is everything hunky-dory with their livers if they're having trouble regulating blood sugar?

And I won't  start on the connection between diabetes and thyroid...

I am not convinced that the detox issue is quite as simple as the doctor implies.

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by HoraceSPatoot, Jun 29, 2011
This is a consistent problem in every arena of science.  A scientist or a person highly educated in science (such as an MD) has to express technical concepts in everyday language in order to be understood by his audience.  Unfortunately, some yahoo with very little or no scientific training can also construct an argument in everyday language in order to be understood by the same audience.  The audience is forced to evaluate the two arguments on the same footing because they don't have the tools to understand that one side (the scientific one) has enormously greater depth than the other (the polished-up village wisdom).  Food fads fall in this category.

Here are my facts.  You won't get away from "chemicals" away from the vacuum of space.  All life is composed of chemicals.  Some "chemicals" are good in one context but bad in another, or they have different effects at different concentration.  There is no unifying chemistry that creates a class of chemicals called "toxins", therefore, there is no procedure that can be used to eliminate them.  Life is complicated, biochemistry is complicated, and we live longer, with an arguably better standard of living than people in the cultures that dreamed up this crap because we pay attention to modern science.  And thank God we're learning more each day, not less.

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by UlciaZ500, Jun 30, 2011
Last year I have been through detoxication process (liver by dr Tombak methody, hydrocolonotherapy). I loose in weight and I liked It. As a wise person I decided to stay clean and not demolish my body by eating fast foods and generaly unhealthy food. I started to eliminate food from my diary diet. First all fats, after some carbohydrates, then protein form animals (I don't eat meet since more than 12-15 years, and I am 28now). So I stayed with raw food only. For more that month (lasy june/july) I ate only raw fruits for breakfast, a salad for dinner and something like that for a supper. Maybe one or times I ate tuna steak. But that was all. I felt just great. I Lost 7kg (55kg-48kg). I nad more energy each day and i didn't feel hungry at all. I thougt that I found perfect diet for lifetime. But suddenly, after a month and a half I couldn't eat at all anything raw because of my teeth. Each time I put something into my mouth I felt like I had niddles inside not food. So I had to start eating bread again (wholegrain), potatoes, nuts, and everything but nothing raw. And since that time I started to put on weight again. It was weird for me beacuse I thought that I still eat good food, not raw but healthy and in small amounts. I mean people on such diet should loose on weight but I gained kilos. I went to very good doctor - dietetic (5000 people lost weight with his diet), got a balanced diet, as he calculated for me. Tried It for two months and instead of loosing kilos, I was all the time the same. Even the doctor was confused (maybe he thougt I was eating more than he told me to but actually I can be wery preciselly if It comes to eating). So after all my journey I am 55 again :-( 22% of fat in my body (tooo much) and I don't know any more what is good sustainable diet. I doubt in everything I read about health, food index, diets, beacuse all is just temorary. Just do whaterer You like, eat whatever You like, if You feel You need detoxication do It, if don't then don't do It. Your body will tell You. There is no rule but many truths. And be careful on experimenting with Your body. It took me a year (!) to finally have my teeth back and eat fruits again.

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by a1kinobe, Jul 04, 2011
UlciaZ500: What's healthy for one is not for another. It's not one size fits all. Maybe you need more protein, or more healthy carbs, or ? Maybe you are allergic to some "healthy foods" (kinesiology is good for finding these). It's discouraging sometimes trying to figure out your body's needs.

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