Is Detoxing Really a Myth?

Green Drinks Are Often Touted to Help Detox

It’s not uncommon to encounter websites that try to “bust” what they claim are common health myths. One “myth” I’ve frequently encountered is that detox effects—using diets, supplements or other tools to remove toxins from the body—are completely ineffective or unnecessary. While there are unproven and dangerous detox supplements and strategies that are often promoted, the underlying concept, that you can support the body’s natural clearance of toxic substances, is broadly supported by numerous research studies.

Do Toxicants Build Up in the Human Body? 

Heavy Metals

The first question worth asking is whether or not there is evidence that toxic substances, or toxicants, can build up in the human body causing harm. Probably one of the most well-documented examples is heavy metals. 

With exposure, lead, aluminum and arsenic are well known to accumulate in bone (Rodriguez 2018). This accumulation of toxic metals can cause problems with bone fracture healing while contributing to bone loss or osteoporosis (Brown 2007). 

Beyond bone, heavy metals can also build up in different soft tissues and organs, compromising their function. Lead is known to accumulate in the kidneys and liver. Similarly, mercury is known to build up in numerous tissues, including the brain and central nervous system (Clarkson 2002). Arsenic, another toxic heavy metal, also accumulates in numerous tissues. A study in rats found the greatest levels in the kidneys, lungs and urinary bladder from continued exposure (Kenyon 2008).  


Pyrethroids are common pesticides, often used against mosquitoes. They are typically touted as being safe for use around humans, with claims that they do not build up in the human body. Unfortunately animal and human studies show the reverse. Human breast milk samples taken from rural areas where pyrethroids are used against mosquitoes show high levels in breast milk, especially when compared to countries with lower use of the pesticide (Azmar-Alemany 2020)

Neonicotinoid insecticides are commonly applied to many different crops. Studies in humans have found increasing levels of the pesticide, more often in individuals from rural environments that live closer to farms. Higher levels of neonicotinoids have been found in hair, urine and blood samples (Zhao 2020). Pesticides are known to potentially damage health, causing more problems as exposure increases. 

Flame Retardant Chemicals

Numerous chemicals have been used as flame retardants in commercial products, including furniture, computers, plastics, mattresses and clothing. Organophosphorus flame retardants are commonly utilized even though they are known for their significant toxicity (Du 2019). Unfortunately, they have also been shown to accumulate in tissues, including muscle and fat (Hou 2016). 

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are flame retardants that are commonly found in the environment due to commercial use in numerous products. They also have been found to accumulate in human tissues, including blood, breast milk, hair, placenta and other organs (Cai 2020). 

And the List Goes On…

The substances listed above prove a point: toxicants have been shown to accumulate in the human body and are known to cause health problems. And the list above is not exhaustive. There are numerous other chemical toxicants that are known to accumulate as well. As such, it should be obvious why it could be of benefit to utilize treatments that facilitate the elimination of toxicants from organs and tissues as a method to support overall health. The question remaining is whether or not such tools and mechanisms exist and if they are helpful for restoring health.

Detoxification Techniques


A Traditional Sauna

Probably the most well-researched technique to detoxify the body is sauna therapy. A study on police officers, some of whom were disabled due to chemical exposures from illicit methamphetamine labs, were treated with sauna therapy to treat the multiple health problems attributed to toxicity. Previous research has shown that amphetamines and amphetamine metabolites can be released in sweat (Vree 1972). With the use of sauna therapy, improvements in the police officers’ health were fairly robust. Physical health symptoms improved 38%, pain scores decreased 28% and fatigue levels were almost halved (Ross 2012).

Other evidence strongly suggests that sauna is a safe way to encourage the removal of heavy metals from the body. Sweat has been shown to increase excretion of a number of toxic metals beyond levels typically found in urine. Evidence suggests that sweating can be useful for treating excess arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury (Sears 2012). 

A case report of solvent-induced bipolar disorder was effectively reversed with nutritional supplements and sauna therapy (Sprouse 2013). Solvents are chemicals known to cause brain and nervous system damage. A separate case study of an individual that developed debilitating symptoms after repeated exposure to chemical solvents at work also demonstrates potential detoxification benefits from sauna therapy. In the case study, blood levels showed elevated solvent levels which were effectively reduced with a combination of sauna and nutrient supplementation. After sauna treatment, the patient’s symptoms were markedly improved (Krop 1998).  

Supplements and Detoxification

Beyond sauna therapy, other approaches have been found to decrease the toxicity of substances and facilitate their elimination. A review study evaluating the effects of different vitamins and minerals on mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic describes comprehensive benefits from these basic micronutrients. Micronutrients can help reduce absorption, mobilize metals from storage sites, reduce the outright toxicity of the compounds and assist in their excretion. The authors note that, “people eating a diet deficient in micronutrients will be predisposed to toxicity from nonessential (heavy) metals (Peraza 1998).” Based on the research, consuming a micronutrient-rich diet can be seen as a simple strategy to help the body to detox more effectively. 

A separate broad review of herbal plants and their ability to help detoxify the body also notes their protective effects (Al-Snafi 2015). Brassica-family vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and others are known to upregulate detoxification enzymes in the liver. This effect has been shown to both help protect the body from toxicants and to help eliminate them from the body. And the effect is not trivial, as preliminary evidence suggests that brassica-family vegetables may help protect from inflammation and cancer (Poppel 1999, Nandini 2020). 

Detox Scams

While there is conclusive evidence that there are ways to detox the body, and that these techniques can provide potential benefits when used appropriately, there are numerous scam products that are marketed for detox. Commercial products sold for detoxifying the body are often promoted for quick weight-loss effects. And many of these products are often adulterated (White 2022). As such, most detox weight-loss products should be avoided. They often contain unapproved drugs or other substances in a misguided attempt to boost their effects which can cause serious health problems.  


Natural detoxes are often touted as a sham or a myth, that there is no effective way to help the body eliminate toxic compounds and no health benefits from such techniques. A careful review of the research clearly shows this is not the case. The body can and does accumulate toxicants, and, with proper treatment, these compounds can be more effectively eliminated. However, detoxification protocols are often complicated and should not be attempted without medical supervision. When utilized appropriately, detoxification techniques may play a role in improving or restoring health for some individuals.

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