To Cleanse Or Not To Cleanse?

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Oftentimes after all the winter holidays are over, we feel the heaviness of overindulgence and perhaps the need to rid ourselves of it. What better way to do this than a nice full body cleanse, detox programme or other regimen, right? To cleanse or not to cleanse, that is the heart of this discussion.

In our buzzword world, the health and wellness sphere is full of terms like ‘detox’ and ‘cleanse’. You’ve undoubtedly come across these expressions many times, with increasing frequency, in recent years. But what do they mean and how do you know what’s what? What is a ‘cleanse’ or ‘detox’ anyway? And more importantly, is it necessary? Spoiler alert… science says not necessarily, while many wellness advocates say yes. Well, the answer isn’t really a straightforward yes or no and the topic is somewhat controversial and confusing.

Our Bodies Already Do The Job

First, it’s important to understand that our bodies are equipped with systems to efficiently remove unwanted substances, or toxins. We have a liver which filters blood, removes substances our bodies don’t need and then expels them from the body as waste. We also have kidneys, a digestive tract and skin which are all continually breaking down toxins for elimination through urine, stool and sweat. “Our body is able to cleanse or detox itself by using normal bodily functions. When we breathe, when we go to the bathroom, when our liver is functioning — the body does all the cleansing and detoxifying itself. There’s no need to follow a certain diet plan to do that,” as stated by registered dietitian Rachael Hartley in an article on the topic in Insider.

pile of fruits and veggies
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All the normal processes of detoxifying are done within your own body and unless there’s something amiss, detoxification happens no matter what you eat. It is worth noting that the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a diet rich in fibre and plant foods actually does support the body’s existing detox functions. So a healthy diet is definitely beneficial and worth following all year round for general health.

Why Do A Cleanse?

If the body can cleanse itself naturally, why pay lots of money to go on a juice or other cleanse diet for a few days or weeks?  Advocates of cleansing or detox programmes list many benefits including weight loss, better mood, improved digestion, more energy, clearer skin, mental clarity and overall enhanced health. People who have done these types of programmes share anecdotal evidence of some pretty incredible transformations of mind and body while others experience only mild, temporary changes. The response to doing a cleanse seems to be rather individual and could be based on the type of cleanse done, how long it’s done and who is doing it.

The foods you consume whilst on a cleanse are usually very healthy and may include things like cold-pressed juices, green smoothies or raw vegetables. Keep including those in your day to day diet, but surviving on only juices or smoothies for an arbitrary number of days probably will not magically clear out all the toxins, whatever they may be at the time.

Short or Long Term Benefits

The general purpose of a cleanse is to reset your system, lighten up a little and take the burden off your organs for a while. This can definitely feel good at times. There’s no doubt about what cleanse advocates purport as benefits to doing the occasional cleanse, but taking a look at a broader view of health is likely more beneficial. What you put into your body on a daily basis is more important than what you do for a few days a year.

Sometimes doing a cleanse for a few days is a good way to get things back on track, but if you’re feeling conflicted about whether or not to do it, don’t worry too much. Just keep in mind a healthy daily diet, some exercise and good sleep is probably all you need. In the meantime, following a few simple tips ought to keep you feeling good.

sign saying time to detox
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Everyday tips to support your body’s own detoxification processes:

Drink enough water: Take in roughly two to three litres per day* (this includes fluids from water, other beverages and food). About 20 per cent* of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks

Do regular exercise: Make an effort to put in 30 minutes of physical activity each day. This can be done 10 minutes at a time if needed. Exercise benefits every system in the body.

Eat as healthy as possible: Include whole grains, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and other fibre-rich foods. Remove as many processed foods as possible.  

Get plenty of sleep: Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to operate optimally and to allow our bodies to repair and restore our organ systems.  

Minimise alcohol: While our livers can process some alcohol, they are not designed to break it down quickly or daily.  

Decrease exposure to environmental toxins: This can be tough in Hong Kong, but in your own home you can use natural cleaning products (like baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice) and less toxic personal care products too.  

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Tiffany Beeson
Tiffany Beeson is a content writer, editor, and copywriter covering health, parenting, education, families, and lifestyle plus global real estate and finance sectors. Tiffany has contributed to large global publications in scientific research and holds a Master of Science degree in Physiology. She spent over 18 years of her career in the field of clinical research in the USA, Hong Kong, Europe, and Canada - writing protocols, standard operating procedures and data reports.

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