You’ve heard of these terms, right? Sure you have! They are trendy! Close your eyes, and think of those words, “antioxidants” and “toxins” – I’m sure you are seeing blueberries, kale, water with lemon slices floating in it, maybe even dark chocolate and red wine! The words are linked as being nutrition buzz-words, the both have the letter “x” in them, they are the same kind of thing, right?
These two words cause a frustration for evidence-based nutrition specialists. The short version is: antioxidants are real, and toxins that need to be cleansed are not. Let me explain further.
As simply as possible: within our bodies, every day, our cells go through a process called oxidation. This happens when oxygen interacts with your cells. Obviously, that happens all the time, with every breath! While the human body is generally very efficient in processing oxygen, it is thought that 1-2% of your cells get damaged in the process, and their molecules turn into free radicals (Bloomberg, 2012).
I always thought that the idea of “free radicals” sounded cool, however, in terms of our bodies, this is not so! These molecules are missing a critical electron, and they become erratic. They are looking to find another electron to pair to its odd, unpaired one. Free radicals will steal an electron from another, healthy cell, which in turn then needs to steal one from another molecule, and so on, causing a chain reaction. During this process, the cell can be damaged, and can then reproduce with mutated DNA. This can lead to many varied health problems.
To prevent free radical damage, your body has a defence system of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules (like DNA) are damaged.
In an perfectly balanced world, our bodies take care of all this with its own functioning systems. However, the modern world challenges to this natural system, and most of us are at risk of overwhelming our body’s internal production of antioxidants. So, we have to help it out! Many of the most powerful antioxidants come from essential micronutrients that our body doesn’t produce on its own, and so we need to add them through our diet. That is where those blueberries and kale come into the picture! Part of your nutritional assessment will include a diagnostic of your antioxidant load, and the sessions will help you to even out your needs to improve your health, and more importantly your body’s ability to fight potential disease. We can use our diets to achieve the natural balance that our modern lifestyle has disrupted.
Toxins are a real thing, too. These are harmful agents found in the environment. You will take in these toxins as part of your daily life, and in fact these contribute to the free radical overload discussed above. Your body, however, has several mechanisms to make sure that these toxins are expelled through its normal processes, like sweating, and being processed through your liver, intestines, and kidneys. The liver breaks down potentially harmful chemicals into water-soluble chemicals that can be sweated or excreted from the body.
Cleanses are supposedly diets, fasts, juices, etc., that will help your body get rid of toxins. There is no evidence at all that any foods can help pull toxins from your fat or muscle cells. The liver itself does not need to be “cleansed”, as toxins are not stored there. Colonic cleanses have been shown to do more harm than good, as the microbes that inhabit the colon are vital to good digestion and nutrient absorption. If you ask someone selling you a cleanse, or asking you to sign up for a cleanse, ask them which toxins specifically they are expecting to eliminate, and how – and if they can’t give you a good answer, keep your money!
The reason this causes me frustration as a nutrition specialist is because many people do know that the toxin cleanse is a myth, hype, a non-scientific trend. Yet because the two words – toxins and antioxidants – are at the same time linked, they think that the idea of eating foods rich in antioxidants is also in that same category! So the real, important science is dismissed along with the pseudoscience – baby going out with the bathwater.
I assure you, increasing antioxidants in your diet will help lead to prolonged good health, and is helping your body with its natural processes. Go ahead, have that red wine and dark chocolate, and know you are doing real good for your health!