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Mailbag Q: What are your best cleansing products?

September 22nd, 2008

Cleansing products from NOW, Nature's Way and Yerba Prima

Cleansing products from NOW, Nature's Way and Yerba Prima

Q:  We’ve noticed the many different cleansing products available now and have a few supplement-using friends that strongly advocate cleanses.  We wonder if you could give us a little guidance on choosing the best one?

A:  We get quite a few questions about cleansing products; Do I need one? What are the differences between cleansing products? How do I go about choosing a product?  Here’s an overview of cleansing products and what they can and can’t do for you.

In a nutritional, biological or otherwise scientific sense “cleansing” has no specific meaning. In general, it’s understood to mean a process that expedites the removal of wastes and toxins from the body, but it’s a non-scientific term.  Even “toxin” is itself another general and non-specific term because toxicity is relative; almost anything – nutrient or poison – can become toxic  at certain concentrations.

For the most part, the cleansing ingredients and products themselves do not physically remove wastes, but instead enhance your natural detoxification and waste-disposal mechanisms.  Your body has several built-in pathways for disposing wastes; each pathway specific for certain types of wastes.  Cleansing ingredients and products can support one or more of these pathways.

What are your natural cleansing and detoxification pathways?  Your digestive tract plays a very important and central role in removing wastes and non-nutritious material from the foods and drinks you consume.  Most all-in-one cleansing products focus on this pathway by using several types of fiber and usually a laxative component and liver-support ingredients. These types of cleansing products are the most popular and are especially good for those who’ve been eating a lot of fiber-poor processed and fast foods. Look for products formulated for “internal cleansing” or “whole-body” cleansing.  They’re used for a limited period of time, from 1-4 weeks.   These products are good for cleaning out your digestive tract and help some people reestablish healthy elimination.

But there are other sources of toxicity that have little to do with food and diet. Modern living places our bodies under constant siege from harmful compounds of all kinds; pesticides, herbicides, drug residues, plastic residues, contaminants in the air and water, and industrial chemicals by the thousands surround and contact our bodies on a constant basis.

The liver and kidneys are where most of these will be detoxified in the literal sense.  In the liver, harmful chemicals are eliminated by a series of enzyme conversion reactions that turn them into harmless, or progressively less-harmful compounds. These are then either broken down completely within the liver, or converted into compounds that can be eliminated through urination or some other process.

Liver support products focus on supporting these natural detoxification pathways in the liver.  They can be used with or without whole-body or internal cleanse products.  They’re most important for those who smoke, drink alcohol and or use medications/hormones on an ongoing basis – even if their diet is relatively good.  You’ll want to see ingredients like a high-potency milk thistle extract, alpha lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine.  The combination of SAMe and a B-complex is also an excellent liver detox combination as well.

Like the liver, the kidneys also eliminate wastes albeit different wastes and through different mechanisms. Kidneys act as filters to extract water-soluble wastes from the bloodstream as well as recover minerals that are needed to maintain homeostasis.  The kidneys only remove wastes than can be dissolved into water (forming urine) and thus be eliminated via urination.

Therefore, a “kidney cleanse”, about which we’re sometimes asked, doesn’t exist per se. Healthy kidneys don’t store wastes so there’s nothing there that would need any kind of cleansing intervention.  As the kidneys filter wastes from the bloodstream, they’re are mixed with water and immediately sent to the bladder as urine all in a constant process.  Every trip to the bathroom to empty your bladder is in effect a kidney cleanse.  Drinking plenty of clean pure water, within reason,  is the best and most legitimate way to support healthy kidney function.  There are some ‘kidney cleanse‘ products on the market, these contain diuretic compounds and herbs that accelerate the movement of water through the urinary system but have never been shown to improve the kidney’s filtering/cleansing activities.

The lymphatic system is another cleansing pathway but it’s not easily influenced by supplements or nutritional factors. Lymphatic vessels, which are similar to veins, are located throughout the body. In the digestive tract, they collect and transport dietary fats and fat soluble nutrients. From cells everywhere elsewhere in the body, lymph vessels gather debris and wastes into a fluid known as lymph.  Immune cells scavenge and consume debris within the lymphatic system, but all lymph is eventually mixed back into the blood just before it re-enters the heart,  returning from circulation around the body.  From there, lymph-borne toxins now go to the liver for processing.

Circulatory massage and exercise, both of which accelerate the movement of lymphatic fluid, are good ways to keep the lymphatic system clear.  Perspiration also removes small amounts of metabolic wastes.

In addition to the above, some products focus on cleansing specific types of toxins such as heavy metals or yeast.

So no one can really tell you whether you need a cleanse product or not.   As we’ve seen cleansing is not necessary in a nutritional sense, it’s entirely optional and can be as simple or complex as a person chooses.   Factors like diet, urban locations, medical history, drug and alcohol use, and other lifestyle factors all have to be taken into account.   Also, since all the cleanse products are unique, and since each user is unique, there’s no good basis for choosing a best product overall.  Nor is there a way to predict precisely what the results will be from a given product.  One just has to try that product to know.

But although it’s hard to quantify their benefits,  a great many people notice thinsg like improved energy, mood and skin tone following a cleansing or detox program and this may account for your friends enthusiasm. Cleansing and detox products are safe for healthy people when used as directed. They all have clear and specific directions which should be followed closely.

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