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Detoxification is one of the more widely used treatments and concepts in alternative medicine. It is based on the principle that illnesses can be caused by the accumulation of toxic substances (toxins) in the body. Eliminating existing toxins and avoiding new toxins are essential parts of the healing process. Detoxification utilizes a variety of tests and techniques.


Detoxification is helpful for those patients suffering from many chronic diseases and conditions, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, chronic infections, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar levels, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. It is helpful for those with conditions that are influenced by environmental factors, such as cancer, as well as for those who have been exposed to high levels of toxic materials due to accident or occupation. Detoxification therapy is useful for those suffering from allergies or immune system problems that conventional medicine is unable to diagnose or treat, including chronic fatigue syndrome, environmental illness/multiple chemical sensitivity, and fibromyalgia. Symptoms for those suffering these conditions may include unexplained fatigue, increased allergies, hypersensitivity to common materials, intolerance to certain foods and indigestion, aches and pains, low grade fever, headaches, insomnia, depression, sore throats, sudden weight loss or gain, lowered resistance to infection, general malaise, and disability. Detoxification can be used as a beneficial preventative measure and as a tool to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease.



Detoxification methods of healing have been used for thousands of years. Fasting is one of the oldest therapeutic practices in medicine. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek known as the "Father of Western medicine," recommended fasting as a means for improving health. Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional healing system that has developed over thousands of years, utilizes detoxification methods to treat many chronic conditions and to prevent illness.
Detoxification treatment has become one of the cornerstones of alternative medicine. Conventional medicine notes that environmental factors can play a significant role in many illnesses. Environmental medicine is a field that studies exactly how those environmental factors influence disease. Conditions such as asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, and many others are strongly influenced by exposure to toxic or allergenic substances in the environment. The United States Centers for Disease Control estimate that over 80% of all illnesses have environmental and lifestyle causes.
Detoxification has also become a prominent treatment as people have become more aware of environmental pollution. It is estimated that one in every four Americans suffers from some level of heavy metal poisoning. Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, are by-products of industry. Synthetic agriculture chemicals, many of which are known to cause health problems, are also found in food, air, and water. American agriculture uses nearly 10lb (4.5 kg) of pesticides per person on the food supply each year. These toxins have become almost unavoidable. Pesticides that are used only on crops in the southern United States have been found in the tissue of animals in the far north of Canada. DDT, a cancer-causing insecticide that has been banned for decades, is still regularly found in the fatty tissue of animals, birds, and fish, even in extremely remote regions such as the North Pole.
The problem of toxins in the environment is compounded because humans are at the top of the food chain and are more likely to be exposed to an accumulation of toxic substances in the food supply. For instance, pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on grains that are then fed to farm animals. Toxic substances are stored in the fatty tissue of those animals. In addition, those animals are often injected with synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals. When people eat meat products, they are exposed to the full range of chemicals and additives used along the entire agricultural chain. Detoxification specialists call this build up of toxins bioaccumulation. They assert that the bioaccumulation of toxic substances over time is responsible for many physical and mental disorders, especially ones that are increasing rapidly (like asthma, cancer, and mental illness). As a result, detoxification therapies are increasing in importance and popularity.
Common Herbs Used for Detoxification
Antibiotics Anticatarrhals
(Help Eliminate
Blood Cleaners
Clove Boneset Burdock root
Echinacea Echinacea Dandelion root
Eucalyptus Garlic Echinacea
Garlic Goldenseal root Oregon grape root
Myrrh Hyssop Red clover blossoms
Prickly ash bark Sage Yellow dock root
Propolis Yarrow
Diuretics Laxatives
Boneset Cleavers Buckthorn
Burdock root Corn silk Cascara sagrada
Cayenne pepper Horsetail Dandelion root
Elder flowers Juniper berries Licorice root
Ginger root Parsley leaf Rhubarb root
Goldenseal root Uva ursi Senna leaf
Peppermint Yarrow dock Yellow dock
Oregon grape root
Yellow dock
Toxins in the body include heavy metals and various chemicals such as pesticides, pollutants, and food additives. Drugs and alcohol have toxic effects in the body. Toxins are produced as normal by-products in the intestines by the bacteria that break down food. The digestion of protein also creates toxic by-products in the body.
The body has natural methods of detoxification. Individual cells get detoxified in the lymph and circulatory system. The liver is the principle organ of detoxification, assisted by the kidneys and intestines. Toxins can be excreted from the body by the kidneys, bowels, skin, and lungs. Detoxification treatments become necessary when the body's natural detoxification systems become overwhelmed. This can be caused by long-term effects of improper diet, stress, overeating, sedentary lifestyles, illness, and poor health habits in general. When a build up of toxic substances in the body creates illness, it's called toxemia. Some people's digestive tracts become unable to digest food properly, due to years of overeating and diets that are high in fat and processed foods and low in fiber (the average American diet). When this happens, food cannot pass through the digestive tract efficiently. Instead of being digested properly or eliminated from the bowel, food can literally rot inside the digestive tract and produce toxic by-products. This state is known as toxic colon syndrome or intestinal toxemia.
Detoxification therapies try to activate and assist the body's own detoxification processes. They also try to eliminate additional exposure to toxins and strengthen the body and immune system so that toxic imbalances won't occur in the future.

Testing for toxic substances

Detoxification specialists use a variety of tests to determine the causes contributing to toxic conditions. These causes include infections, allergies, addictions, toxic chemicals, and digestive and organ dysfunction. Blood, urine, stool, and hair analyses, as well as allergy tests, are used to measure a variety of bodily functions that may indicate problems. Detoxification therapists usually have access to laboratories that specialize in sophisticated diagnostic tests for toxic conditions.
People who have toxemia are often susceptible to infection because their immune systems are weakened. Infections can be caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses, and a common yeast. Therapists will screen patients for underlying infections that may be contributing to illness.
Liver function is studied closely with blood and urine tests because the liver is the principle organ in the body responsible for removing toxic compounds. When the liver detoxifies a substance from the body, it does so in two phases. Tests are performed that indicate where problems may be occurring in these phases, which may point to specific types of toxins. Blood and urine tests can also be completed that screen for toxic chemicals such as PCBs (environmental poisons), formaldehyde (a common preservative), pesticides, and heavy metals. Another useful blood test is a test for zinc deficiency, which may reveal heavy metal poisoning. Hair analysis is used to test for heavy metal levels in the body. Blood and urine tests check immune system activity, and hormone levels can also indicate specific toxic compounds. A 24-hour urine analysis, where samples are taken around the clock, allows therapists to determine the efficiency of the digestive tract and kidneys. Together with stool analysis, these tests may indicate toxic bowel syndrome and digestive system disorders. Certain blood and urine tests may point to nutritional deficiencies and proper recovery diets can be designed for patients as well.
Detoxification therapists may also perform extensive allergy and hypersensitivity tests. Intradermal (between layers of the skin) and sublingual (under the tongue) allergy tests are used to determine a patient's sensitivity to a variety of common substances, including formaldehyde, auto exhaust, perfume, tobacco, chlorine, jet fuel, and other chemicals.
Food allergies require additional tests because these allergies often cause reactions that are delayed for several days after the food is eaten. The RAST (radioallergosorbent test) is a blood test that determines the level of antibodies (immunoglobulins) in the blood after specific foods are eaten. The cytotoxic test is a blood test that determines if certain substances affect blood cells, including foods and chemicals. The ELISA-ACT (enzyme-linked immunoserological assay activated cell test) is considered to be one of the most accurate tests for allergies and hypersensitivity to foods, chemicals, and other agents. Other tests for food allergies are the elimination and rotation diets, in which foods are systematically evaluated to determine the ones that are causing problems.
Detoxification therapists usually interview and counsel patients closely to determine and correct lifestyle, occupational, psychological, and emotional factors that may also be contributing to illness.

Detoxification therapies

Detoxification therapists use a variety of healing techniques after a diagnosis is made. The first step is to eliminate a patient's exposure to all toxic or allergenic substances. These include heavy metals, chemicals, radiation (from x rays, power lines, cell phones, computer screens, and microwaves), smog, polluted water, foods, drugs, caffeine, alcohol, perfume, excess noise, and stress. If mercury poisoning has been determined, the patient will be advised to have mercury fillings from the teeth removed, preferably by a holistic dentist.
Specific treatments are used to stimulate and assist the body's detoxification process. Dietary change is immediately enacted, eliminating allergic and unhealthy foods, and emphasizing foods that assist detoxification and support healing. Detoxification diets are generally low in fat, high in fiber, and vegetarian with a raw food emphasis. Processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine are avoided. Nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids are often prescribed. Spirulina is a sea algae that is frequently given to assist in eliminating heavy metals. Lipotropic agents are certain vitamins and nutrients that promote the flow of bile and fat from the liver.
Many herbal supplements are used in detoxification therapies as well. Milk thistle extract, called silymarin, is one of the more potent herbs for detoxifying the liver. Naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recommend numerous herbal formulas for detoxification and immune strengthening. If infections or parasites have been found, these are treated with herbal formulas and, in difficult cases, antibiotics.
For toxic bowel syndrome and digestive tract disorders, herbal laxatives and high fiber foods such as psyllium seeds may be given to cleanse the digestive tract and promote elimination. Colonics are used to cleanse the lower intestines. Digestive enzymes are prescribed to improve digestion, and acidophilus and other friendly bacteria are reintroduced into the system with nutritional supplements.
Fasting is another major therapy in detoxification. Fasting is one of the quickest ways to promote the elimination of stored toxins in the body and to prompt the healing process. People with severe toxic conditions are supervised closely during fasting because the number of toxins in the body temporarily increases as they are being released.
Chelation therapy is used by detoxification specialists to rid the body of heavy metals. Chelates are particular substances that bind to heavy metals and speed their elimination. Homeopathic remedies have also been shown to be effective for removing heavy metals.
Sweating therapies can also detoxify the body because the skin is a major organ of elimination. Sweating helps release those toxins that are stored in the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat cells. Saunas, therapeutic baths, and exercise are some of these treatments. Body therapies may also be prescribed, including massage therapy, acupressure, shiatsu, manual lymph drainage, and polarity therapy. These body therapies seek to improve circulatory and structural problems, reduce stress, and promote healing responses in the body. Mind/body therapies such as psychotherapy, counseling, and stress management techniques may be used to heal the psychological components of illness and to help patients overcome their negative patterns contributing to illness.

Practitioners and treatment costs

The costs of detoxification therapies can vary widely, depending on the number of tests and treatments required. Detoxification treatments can be lengthy and involved since illnesses associated with toxic conditions usually develop over many years and may not clear up quickly. Detoxification treatments may be lengthy because they often strive for the holistic healing of the body, mind, and emotions.
Practitioners may be conventionally trained medical doctors with specialties in environmental medicine or interests in alternative treatment. The majority of detoxification therapists are alternative practitioners, such as naturopaths, homeopaths, ayurvedic doctors, or traditional Chinese doctors. Insurance coverage varies, depending on the practitioner and the treatment involved. Consumers should review their individual insurance policies regarding treatment coverage.


Patients can assist diagnosis and treatment by keeping detailed diaries of their activities, symptoms, and contact with environmental factors that may be affecting their health. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins and making immediate dietary and lifestyle changes may speed the detoxification process.

Side effects

During the detoxification process, patients may experience side effects of fatigue, malaise, aches and pains, emotional duress, acne, headaches, allergies, and symptoms of colds and flu. Detoxification specialists claim that these negative side effects are part of the healing process. These reactions are sometimes called healing crises, which are caused by temporarily increased levels of toxins in the body due to elimination and cleansing.

Research and general acceptance

Although environmental medicine is gaining more respect within conventional medicine, detoxification treatment is scarcely mentioned by the medical establishment. The research that exists on detoxification is largely testimonial, consisting of individual personal accounts of healing without statistics or controlled scientific experiments. In the alternative medical community, detoxification is an essential and widely accepted treatment for many illnesses and chronic conditions.

Key terms

Allergen — A foreign substance, such as mites in house dust or animal dander, that when inhaled causes the airways to narrow and produces symptoms of asthma.
Antibody — A protein, also called immunoglobulin, produced by immune system cells to remove antigens (the foreign substances that trigger the immune response).
Fibromyalgia — A condition of debilitating pain, among other symptoms, in the muscles and the myofascia (the thin connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, and organs).
Hypersensitivity — The state where even a tiny amount of allergen can cause severe allergic reactions.
Multiple chemical sensitivity — A condition characterized by severe and crippling allergic reactions to commonly used substances, particularly chemicals. Also called environmental illness.



Alternative Therapies Magazine. P.O. Box 17969, Durham, NC 27715. (919) 668-8825.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 1114 N. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60004. (847) 818-1800.


American Holistic Medical Association. 4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27607. 〈〉.
Cancer Prevention Coalition. 2121 West Taylor St., Chicago, IL 60612. (312) 996-2297. http:\\
Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 7510 Northforest Dr., North Charleston, SC 29420. (843) 572-1600. http:\\
Northeast Center for Environmental Medicine. P.O. Box 2716, Syracuse, NY 13220. (800) 846-ONUS.
Northwest Center for Environmental Medicine. 177 NE 102nd St., Portland, OR 97220. (503) 561-0966.


A Citizens Toxic Waste Manual. Greenpeace USA, 1436 U St. NW, Washington, DC 20009. (202) 462-1177.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. reduction of the toxic properties of a substance.
2. treatment designed to assist in recovery from the toxic effects of a drug.
metabolic detoxification reduction of the toxic properties of a substance by chemical changes induced in the body, producing a compound which is less poisonous or more readily eliminated.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Recovery from the toxic effects of a drug.
2. Removal of the toxic properties from a poison.
3. Metabolic conversion of pharmacologically active principles to pharmacologically less active principles.
Synonym(s): detoxication
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


1. The process of detoxifying: detoxification of drugs by the liver; detoxification of industrial waste.
2. A medically supervised treatment program for individuals with alcohol or drug intoxication, designed to rid the body of toxic substances and manage withdrawal symptoms.
3. A short-term health regimen involving procedures thought to remove toxins from the body, such as drinking large amounts of liquid, eating a restricted diet or fasting, taking nutritional supplements, and undergoing enemas.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


1. Recovery from the toxic effects of a drug.
2. Removal of the toxic properties from a poison.
3. Metabolic conversion of pharmacologically active principles to pharmacologically less active principles.
Synonym(s): detoxication.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


1. The alteration of a substance in the body to a non-poisonous form, either as a spontaneous biochemical reaction or as a result of medical treatment with an antidote.
2. The process of treating a person for an addiction to a drug such as alcohol or heroin. This usage is largely metaphorical; in practice the process involves prohibition rather than removal of a toxic substance.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


the process by which poisonous substances are rendered less harmful, e.g. the liver converts ammonia into the less toxic compound urea (see ORNITHINE CYCLE), and hydrogen peroxide is split into water and oxygen by the enzyme CATALASE.
Collins Dictionary of Biology, 3rd ed. © W. G. Hale, V. A. Saunders, J. P. Margham 2005


1. Recovery from toxic effects of a drug.
2. Removal of toxic properties from a poison.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Patients should be educated that their level of tolerance is reduced during detoxification. The dose of illicit opioid that was used prior to detoxification may subsequently cause overdose.
In fact, they may be contributing, in large part, to the excess waste that is the burden of an already overworked detoxification system.
Craig Towers said, "This is the first study to prospectively report outcome data on a designated OUD clinic that offers detoxification during pregnancy."
* Detoxification methods: no opioids (clonidine or adjunctive medications), 3- to 5-day methadone taper, and 3- to 14-day BUP taper
Practitioners are typically good at supporting the organs of detoxification (liver & kidneys) but fail to "seal the deal" by not using intestinal binders properly or if they do use binders they are not broad-enough range to bind a plethora of toxins.
The idea that detoxification can have a positive effect on health is a reasonable assumption.
Patients who are motivated to stop using heroin can continue detoxification with support and follow-up.
Toxic burden does not require a point source of major chemical exposure, although this would be a critical area requiring detoxification and elimination of ongoing exposure.
The aim of the present study was to determine the frequency of bad sleep and the development of sleep quality in a population of alcohol dependent patients hospitalized for qualified detoxification treatment.
Collectively, councils which receive grants from Public Health England chopped their spend on detoxification by PS3.16m in just four years from PS12.92m in 2013, according to UKAT's data.
Vivitrol is Alkermes' once-monthly, non-narcotic medication for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence, following opioid detoxification. In the 12-week, open-label, randomized-controlled study, 159 patients with opioid dependence were randomized to treatment with either Vivitrol or buprenorphine-naloxone, following detoxification.
M2 EQUITYBITES-October 2, 2017-AAC Holdings to inaugurate new Townsend detoxification unit in New Orleans East Hospital