Do Detox Supplements Work?

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A Hopkins Health Watch Q&A

Q: I plan on over-indulging during the holidays (!) and am thinking about doing a detox program afterwards. In your last newsletter you wrote a very helpful article about protein powders. What about detox supplements? Do they work and are they worth the money?

A: Detox products undoubtedly do work to create larger and more frequent bowel movements, and some of them probably help support liver health, but so does eating plenty of fiber, drinking plenty of water and getting regular exercise. The skin is the largest organ of detoxification, so working up a sweat or taking a dry sauna is an excellent way to detox.

The main ingredient in detox products is fiber, usually psyllium or carrageenan (listed on the label as Irish moss). Carageenan is a seaweed that has been used for decades in processed foods as a thickener. You can purchase psyllium retail for as little as $2 for 12 oz, which will last for weeks if not months. There are also some detox products that contain apple pectin. Why not just eat an apple?

 The next items on the list of ingredients in detox products are a variety of herbs that encourage the digestive system to eliminate; in other words, laxatives, as well as herbs that support liver function, such as bupleurum, dandelion and milk thistle. Liver-supporting herbal supplements can be helpful for those who have symptoms of liver stress, including fatigue, irritability and environmental sensitivities.

Your liver works 24/7 on detoxing the body, with help from the lymphatic system, skin, digestive tract, and kidneys. Other ways to help your liver do its job are: avoid prescription and over-the-counter drugs in general and acetaminophen (Tylenol) in particular; eat plenty of fresh vegetables and whole grains; exercise daily; and get some fresh air and sunshine.

A week of “purification” on a detox program that includes food restriction can be revealing about how unhealthy eating choices affect energy levels, mood and mental clarity. If purchasing a detox program with supplements will help you through the process then it’s well worth it.

One of my favorite liver-supporting supplement formulas is the Planetary Herbals Bupleurum Liver Cleanse.

Doing a detox program with a fast or severe calorie restriction during the winter can make it challenging to stay warm. Plan on including plenty of warm beverages and soups, or save the detox program for spring.