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What is Detoxification?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Detoxification or detox is a process which is designed to rid the body of toxins. There are many different styles and approaches to detoxification, ranging from residential programs for people with substance abuse problems to detoxification cleanses used to promote weight loss. The fundamental underlying assumption to detoxification is that some form of toxin is present in the body, and that eliminating it will promote health and wellness. The precise definition of a “toxin” varies, depending on who you talk to, and this accounts for the diversity of approaches.

It is important to be aware that detoxification programs may not always be able to rid the body of toxins in the sense of substances which cause ill health. Some toxins bioaccumulate, settling in the bones, fat, organs, and muscles, and they will be present in the body until death, regardless as to how many detoxification programs one embarks upon. While there are medical approaches to removing some toxins from the body, many detoxification programs are considered alternative medicine, and they will be of varying effectiveness.

In medical detoxification, the goal is to get toxins which are causing immediate health problems out of the body. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, ranging from filtering the blood with dialysis to promoting vomiting to encourage someone to vomit an ingested toxin. Long-term detoxification programs for substance abusers typically focus on helping people through withdrawal symptoms, and providing psychological support as people struggle with addictions and cravings.

In the world of alternative health, detoxification programs or cleanses are often diet-orientated. People may be directed to ingest specific foods, or to fast, consuming limited amounts of liquids for a set period of time to flush substances from the body. The medical community often views these detoxification programs as questionable, because the toxins involved and their effects on the body are usually poorly defined. Some people do appear to benefit from the diet and lifestyle changes associated with detoxification in this sense, but body cleanses can also aggravate serious medical problems, and they should not be undertaken without the advice of a doctor.

Some alternative health detox programs claim that adherents will lose weight on the program. Strictly speaking, this is often true, because radically restricting caloric intake, as usually happens on these programs, will promote weight loss. However, the weight loss is not lasting, and as soon as the adherent goes back to eating normally, the weight will reappear. Temporary fasts can also be very dangerous for people with underlying medical problems.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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