Coming Clean Detoxification Programs Vary in Scope, Effectiveness

Four years ago, Hugette Beauchemin decided to try a detoxification program at Alternative Health in Easthampton. Her initial motivation was to lose weight, but the benefits were so great that she continues to do a detoxifying cleanse three or four times a year.
“I changed my diet and eating habits as a result of the detox program, and each time I finish, I have so much energy, I feel like I can change the world,” the 75-year-old told HCN, explaining that it keeps her aware of the importance of making healthy food choices and drinking water on a daily basis.
Beauchemin is one of a growing number of people, including many celebrities, who tout the benefits of detoxifying programs and treatments.
In the past, the term ‘detox’ was primarily used to describe withdrawal from drug or alcohol addiction, but today, the word has taken on a whole new meaning, and a bevy of products and programs have been created to meet the needs of people who want to feel better and eliminate toxins from their system.
And indeed, such efforts can be important as studies show that cumulative exposure to genetically modified food, industrial chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, and radioactive elements can lead to disease.
Some people don’t believe detoxifying is necessary because the body has its own natural elimination system that includes the sweat glands, liver, and kidneys, but others, including some healthcare experts, disagree.
“If we ate like people in the 1800s and early 1900s when there weren’t so many preservatives, GMOs, and toxins in food, people wouldn’t need detoxification programs. But there is more disease in our country today than in any other country in the world,” said John Hoime, a holistic health specialist and founder of Alternative Health in Southwick, Easthampton, and West Hartford, Conn.
Naturopathic specialist Dr. Kevin Murray, from Canyon Ranch in Lenox, says that, although the body has mechanisms to eliminate toxins, this doesn’t mean they are all working optimally and keeping up with the task.
“We’re exposed to thousands of different chemicals on a daily basis, and for the most part, day to day, our bodies do a pretty good job — except in cases of acute poisonings and significant chronic exposures — of breaking them down and eliminating them,” he noted, adding that, although many chemicals do no harm, others can accumulate in the body and become troublesome over time. They include endocrine, neurological, and immune disruptors; heavy metals; and volatile organic compounds, which can be found in almost everyone in varying degrees.
Murray uses the pesticide DDT as an example of a chemical that most people’s bodies failed to eliminate. It was used in the ’50s and ’60s to eliminate insects, but has since been banned in the U.S.
“For decades, upwards of 95{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of women were found to have traces of it in their breast tissue, and a recent study found a fourfold increase in breast-cancer risk for women exposed to it in the womb during that time period,” he told HCN, adding that no one exhibited any symptoms, and according to the idea that the body has natural detoxification mechanisms in place, there should have been no accumulation.
As a result, it took years until problems with the chemical were exposed, and although DDT didn’t cause harm to everyone, negative effects can be hard to quantify.
“Part of the problem is that, in a typical clinical setting, it can be very difficult to tease this out of a person’s health history, and it is rarely even attempted,” said Murray. “There aren’t any screening tests for chemicals, so you really have to know what you are looking for, and since there are so many we are exposed to, the task is very difficult.”

Seeking Help
The menu of dextox programs is seemingly endless, ranging from herbal cleanses and diets to spa treatments that include lymphatic drainage massage, special types of saunas, body wraps, oxygen treatments, anti-aging rejuvenation, and a bevy of other options.
People can choose a 20-minute treatment at a spa, buy products for a juice fast, spend time at a retreat where they receive personal nutrition planning and slimming spa offerings, or sign up for the ultimate — a seven-day detox immersion program at a tropical island paradise off the coast of Brazil.
However, experts say it’s extremely important for people interested in detoxing to seek out qualified, experienced practitioners with personal and clinical experience who can guide them and oversee their treatments.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of programs in health-food stores and online that are ineffective and may even be harmful,” Murray said. “Many products depend on laxatives as the answer, and simply having more bowel movements does not equate with detoxification.”
Still, he believes most people would likely notice some improvement to their health with the right program administered under supervision. “The key is to take into account someone’s health history and then design a program based on their individual needs. It doesn’t need to be complex and severely limiting to be effective,” he said, explaining that the assessment should include the person’s medical and family history, medications and supplements they are taking, and diet, lifestyle, and exercise habits.
Hoime agrees, and says that, although Alternative Health offers detoxification cleanses that range from seven to 30 days and start at $80, all clients undergo an initial consultation that includes nutritional counseling and education.
People who are addicted to sugar or caffeine need to reduce their intake before they begin a cleanse to prevent withdrawal, while those on prescription drugs should always consult with their physicians before engaging in any type of detox treatment or program.
“People who want to detoxify need to be supervised,” he said, adding that hydration with distilled or properly filtered water is important during a cleanse, and his clients have access to 24/7 telephone support, which is important as a detoxification cleanse can initially cause flu-like symptoms.
Canyon Ranch has its own programs. One is a detoxification consultation with Murray, who creates a program based on the person’s health history, goals, and what they think they can do, which they then do at home.
The spa also offers a two-day health package in which clients meet with Murray and a nutritionist, then utilize some of the detox treatments available at the Lenox retreat.
“We’re now offering an acupuncture service that incorporates a topical castor-oil pack to the abdomen, and we have both dry and steam saunas,” he said.

Short-term Measures
Rachel Ginther has worked at Abundant Wellness Center in Chicopee for 10 years. The certified massage therapist and detox specialist owns a holistic retreat center called the Garden at Thunderhill in Rensselaerville, N.Y.; produces more than 50 of her own health products, has worked in healthcare for 28 years; and treats clients in the Chicopee center once a month.
“I feel detoxification should be an integral part of our modern lifestyle. But it’s good to have some guidance when starting out,” she said, adding that she has seen clients who tried detoxification procedures on their own and ended up feeling worse.
Ginther has helped clients with many complaints, and although she never attempts to diagnose medical issues, she often suggests treatments they can research or discuss with their healthcare providers.
Although some programs focus on one organ or system in the body, such the liver, kidney, colon, or lymphatic system, Ginther focuses on two modalities that are gentle, painless, and soothing: ionic detox and cleanse footbaths, and far-infrared sauna treatments, which she claims work universally to release toxins from the entire body.
History backs the use of saunas; heat therapy is not only an ancient, effective, and proven method of cleansing, but the Environmental Protection Agency says saunas increase the excretion of heavy metals from the body, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, as well as fat-soluble chemicals such as PCBs, PBBs, and HCBs.
Ginther says the far-infrared sauna at Abundant Wellness was designed to detoxify heavy metals and aid in the elimination of arsenic, formaldehyde, and industrial chemicals stored in the body. It is a dry sauna that contains infrared heaters, which emit infrared light that is absorbed by the surface of the skin.
By comparison, traditional saunas heat the body by the conduction and convection of heated air and surfaces in the sauna room that absorb, then transmit the heat.
Far-infrared sauna treatments at Abundant Wellness cost $10 for 20 minutes, although Ginther notes that some people get a massage, have other bodywork done, take a yoga class, or engage in other forms of exercise to kick-start the detoxification process.
Others who want more frequent sauna treatments can purchase portable far-infrared saunas for under $400, which she often suggests using for 20 minutes in the morning and an equal amount of time in the evening.
She told HCN that the sauna treatments dilate blood vessels and capillaries, providing an increased flow of rich, oxygenated blood to muscles and joints; reduce muscle spasms and promote healing of injured and sore muscle fibers; boost the immune system; and promote the adhesion and osmosis of water molecules across the cellular membranes.
Ginther also supervises ionic-footbath treatments and says they are an effective way to remove toxins, as the feet contain the largest pores on the body.
“The footbath creates a field of charged particles, and when the water reaches a saturation point, the body starts to exchange the particles with toxins that are released into the water,” she explained. “But people can go overboard with it, and a monthly treatment is usually enough.”
Although Ginther and other spokespeople tout the benefits of ionic footbaths, some studies, including one conducted by Inside Edition, show there is no scientific evidence that they work. Meanwhile, a report in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health states that, contrary to claims made by one ionic-footbath manufacturer, no toxic release was found when it was used according to specifications.

Change in Lifestyle
Hoime was inspired to launch Alternative Health after he went to naturopathic Dr. Linda Nelson, who now serves as medical director for his business.
He keeps a large photo in his office of what he looked like before he embarked on the detox program she suggested.
“I lost 60 pounds of fat in five months and went from constantly feeling sick and depressed to a state of improved health. I never even take an aspirin now,” the 66-year-old said.
Hoime’s experience doesn’t mean others will have the same results, but Murray thinks most people can derive some benefits from a detox program — if it is properly administered by an experienced practitioner.
“I like to think of detoxification as being anti-inflammatory,” he said. “Toxicity creates inflammation, and inflammation creates toxicity, so by addressing one, you are addressing the other.”
But the bottom line is this: people considering a program should do some research, check the credentials of the person who will be overseeing their treatments, and, most importantly, check with their own doctor before embarking on any regimen to ensure it has the potential to help without causing harm.