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Deciphering Detox Therapies

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Do "detox" diets and preparations really work? Doctors and health care practitioners do not agree. While almost everyone agrees that the environment is rife with pesticides, heavy metals, chemicals and endocrine disrupters that can store in the human body--especially its fat--how to cleanse the body of the toxins is the subject of great disagreement.

For example, gastroenterologist Nasir Moloo says that the kidneys, liver, lungs and skin of healthy people provide sufficient detoxification without the help of preparations and aids. "Your body does a perfectly good job of getting rid of toxins on its own," says Dr. Moloo and there's "no evidence" that detox diets are "necessary or helpful."

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James O'Donnell, PharmD. Associate Professor of Pharmacology at Rush Medical College in Chicago is even more forthright. When I asked him his opinion of detox therapies he said, there is "absolutely no scientific proof" of their effectiveness in "the form of clinical studies by competent clinicians," and "some of these 'therapies" have proven dangerous and deadly."

Can we clean out toxins? by Martha Rosenberg

Yet a quick look at the medical literature finds that several detox therapies are indeed backed by scientific studies which give both rationale and evidence of their effectiveness. Here are a few of them, but make sure to consult your health care practitioner.

Indian Gooseberry (also called Phyllanthus emblica Linn and Indian amla)

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In several scientific studies, gooseberry/amla, an ingredient in some detox preparations, has been shown to be effective in preventing and lessening the toxic effects on liver of alcohol, heavy metals (including "iron overload"), medications which can be toxic to the liver and environmental pathogens/fungi. The "hepatoprotective" actions of gooseberry/amla appear to be "mediated by its free radical scavenging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and modulation of the xenobiotic detoxification process and lipid metabolism," says one study.


Chlorella, a single-cell green algae belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta plant, has long been thought to have beneficial effects in the human body--whether against inflammation or disease risks. A recent study in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology confirms chlorella's ability to detoxify heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the human body--carcinogens that are created when dripping meat fat is burned. The National Cancer Institute warns against cooking meat over open flames and barbecues because of the dangers of these compounds.

Milk Thistle (silymarin)

Milk thistle is a flowering herb in the ragweed family which some studies have shown is effective in helping the liver detoxify from dangerous elements. In the journal Acta medica Hungarica, workers exposed to the industrial toxins toluene and xylene "significantly improved" when given concentrated Milk Thistle (Legalon) compared to untreated workers. The journal, Investigational New Drugs, wrote that silymarin in mice "markedly protects against chemically induced renal cancer and acts plausibly by virtue of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative activities."

Pomegranate Bark (also called Punica granatum, producing Punicalagin/PC)

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The bark of the pomegranate fruit exerts detoxification processes according to several scientific studies. "We have demonstrated antioxidant and antigenotoxic properties of Punica granatum," wrote researchers in the open access journal BioMed Research International. Pomegranates contain ellagic acid which can inhibit the breast-cancer linked enzyme aromatase says one report. "Pomegranate bioactives" inhibit the DNA damage done by Benzo[a]pyrene (BP), an extreme carcinogen found in coal tar report the researchers. Pomegranate shows antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic effects says another scientific article.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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