There’s a plethora of misinformation out there about toxins in general. We’re led to believe, or scared into believing and buying some scammy product or pseudoscientific therapy to relieve ourselves of this bogeymen that appears to be everywhere.

If any massage therapist or bodyworker ever tells you you need to keep seeing them to flush out toxins out of your body, run for the hills. This prompts the question, “Which toxins are we flushing out via massage and bodywork?’

So what is a toxin anyway?

Toxin: “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues, and typically capable of inducing antibody formation.”

By this very definition, toxins are biological agents produced within living cells and organisms. What lifestyle journalists are most likely fear-mongering are pollutants like insecticides from food, flame retardants, PCBs in plastics which are now banned, to ingredients in food such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, table sugar, etc.

We are not squishing any of these pollutants out of people’s bodies. The body does a fine job of this for us. Our bodies sequester these agents in our fatty tissue anyway. You don’t have to really worry about them causing you any ills. Of course, too much exposure would be deadly but you are NOT going to a bodyworker to flush them out are you?

I think this is an example of therapists of the handsy kind appropriating a medical term to promote more business. Definitely self-interest at play here.

Do I need to drink water to flush away toxins?

No. Your kidneys and liver are the primary detoxifiers. They don’t need any extra water to perform this job.

You can drink water after some bodywork but not due to misguided information. Drink water because you want to. Follow your thirst. You do not have to excessively worry whether you’re dehydrated or not or if you’re drinking enough water. We get enough water from daily intake of coffee/tea/soft drinks/solid food. Oh yeah, you can even include mild consumption of alcohol as water intake.

Too much of anything can be deadly. It’s safe to say we are health-obsessed and carefully monitoring our water intake has been a very popular health fad. In this Scientific American article, a woman died of water intoxication called hyponatremia. She drank too much water than her kidneys can process.

As for the ‘8×8’ recommendation (i.e., drink eight 8-oz glasses of water/day), no one really seems to know what the origins are. There is no scientific evidence promoting this habit (Valtin, H, 2002). With the exception of certain diseases, long airplane flights, hotter climates, and vigorous exercise, we’re probably getting enough water from food and beverages that mainly consist of water (i.e., coffee, tea, beer, soft drinks, etc).

How about lactic acid?

Actually, lactic acid is viewed as a way to boost performance, not hinder it like it used to be thought of. In other words, lactic acid fuels our muscles.

Ever hear therapists say massage and bodywork help prevent buildup of lactic acid or flush it out?

Well, now there’s a study that found massage actually impairs removal of lactic acid when we now know it’s helpful for our muscles (Wiltshire EV, Poitras V, Pak M, Hong T, Rayner J, Tschakovsky ME, 2010). The hypothesis was to see if sports massage improved blood flow to flush out lactic acid from removals. The study concluded the opposite.

Bottom line:

I’m not here to poke holes and anger people but if bodyworkers want to be taken seriously then we need to understand basic biology and base our claims on realistic science-based information. We can’t just regurgitate casual claims just because we’ve heard it from instructors or from fellow colleagues. Carelessly sharing misinformation to our clients can create more harm, fuss, worry, and stress than intended.

So go on and drink water. But not because you’re blindly following conventional wisdom. Also, don’t stress that you’re not getting enough water because recommendations for daily intake have no scientific basis. If you drink water fervently because the act of doing something healthy for yourself makes you feel good, then I’ve got no problem with that. I’ve got a problem with unwarranted health behaviors creating more harm than good in folks who are otherwise very healthy.

And you’re not flushing out toxins by washing your insides with cascades of water. Trust in your body’s regulatory systems. The inherent design of the human body has got you covered.


Sources:

  1. Ballantyne, C. (2007, June 21). Strange But True: Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-drinking-too-much-water-can-kill/
  2. Valtin, H. (2010). Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Really? Is there scientific evidence for ‘8×8’? Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 283: R993–R1004. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00365.2002.
  3. Kim, M. (2006). Lactic Acid – Friend or Foe?. Retrieved from https://rolfing.nyc/lactic-acid-friend-or-foe/
  4. Wiltshire EV, Poitras V, Pak M, Hong T, Rayner J, Tschakovsky ME. (2010). Massage impairs postexercise muscle blood flow and “lactic acid” removal. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jun;42(6):1062-71. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c9214f.

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