“Detox” therapies have had a bad time over the years. Not only is the premise that the body is full of “toxins” that need to be expelled scientifically weak, some detox therapies are downright dangerous. A coffee enema, for example, can result in sepsis, colitis and worse and has no proven benefits.
Still, there is some scientific evidence for the benefits of the plants and natural substances listed below.
Indian Gooseberry (also called Phyllanthus emblica Linn and Indian amla)
In several scientific studies, gooseberry/amla, an ingredient in some preparations, has been shown to be effective in preventing and lessening the toxic effects on liver of alcohol, heavy metals (including “iron overload”), medications which can be toxic to the liver and environmental pathogens/fungi. The “hepatoprotective” actions of gooseberry/amla appear to be “mediated by its free radical scavenging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and modulation of the xenobiotic detoxification process and lipid metabolism,” says one study.
Chlorella, a single-cell green algae belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta plant, has long been thought to have beneficial effects in the human body – whether against inflammation or disease risks. A study in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology confirms chlorella’s ability to detoxify heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the human body – carcinogens that are created when dripping meat fat is burned. The National Cancer Institute warns against cooking meat over open flames and barbecues because of the dangers of these compounds.
Milk Thistle (silymarin)
Milk thistle is a flowering herb in the ragweed family which some studies have shown is effective in helping the liver detoxify from dangerous elements. In the journal Acta medica Hungarica, workers exposed to the industrial toxins toluene and xylene “significantly improved” when given concentrated Milk Thistle (Legalon) compared to untreated workers. The journal, Investigational New Drugs, wrote that silymarin in mice “markedly protects against chemically induced renal cancer and acts plausibly by virtue of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative activities.”
Pomegranate Bark (also called Punica granatum, producing Punicalagin/PC)
The bark of the pomegranate fruit exerts detoxification processes according to several scientific studies. “We have demonstrated antioxidant and antigenotoxic properties of Punica granatum,” wrote researchers in the open access journal BioMed Research International. Pomegranates contain ellagic acid which can inhibit the breast-cancer linked enzyme aromatase says one report. “Pomegranate bioactives” inhibit the DNA damage done by Benzo[a]pyrene (BP), an extreme carcinogen found in coal tar report the researchers. Pomegranate shows antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic effects says another scientific article.
Cilantro (also called Coriander)
Several studies have demonstrated that the well-known cooking herb cilantro, also called coriander, can be useful in reducing liver toxicity – called hepatotoxicity – by inhibiting undesirable oxidation processes. A study in the journal Toxicology and Industrial Health, for example finds “treatment with coriander leaves and seeds helps in improving the adverse effect … [of] hepatotoxicity” in animals. Another study says cilantro “possesses hepatoprotective activity which may be due to the antioxidant potential of phenolic compounds.”
Foods that contain sulfur like broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale are valuable for two reasons. Their sulfur releases a substance that activates potent antioxidant and detoxification enzymes say reports. Meanwhile, another substance in such cruciferous plants, indole-3-carbinol, helps deactivate potent estrogen metabolites which may protect against cancers caused by the hormone-mimicking endocrine disrupters. The sulfur-related compound, MSM, is also useful in detoxification say some practitioners.
Wolfberry (also called Lycium barbarum polysaccharide, LBP)
Ingredients found in the wolfberry plant called LBP has demonstrated antioxidative and antitumor activities in scientific studies. A study in the Journal of Drug Design, Development and Therapy says “LBPs protect the liver from injuries due to exposure to toxic chemicals or other insults” and “reduce irradiation- or chemotherapy-induced organ toxicities.” The wolfberry agents are also thought to protect against “neuronal injury,” amyloid-related harm and factors thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, says the article.