Current Issue

We’ve heard a lot about the need to detox lately. It’s the term used to describe a strict program of elimination and supplementation that’s meant to rid your body of impurities, cleansing your liver and kidneys, and flushing your bowel. It’s suggested that toxins build up from consuming too much fat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, and pollution. There’s no shortage of detox books, kits, and programs claiming to help you shed weight, improve your wellbeing, causeF your skin to radiate, and make you feel younger. The kits usually contain a dietary program, which is supplemented with a variety of vitamins, minerals, tonics, digestive aids, and laxatives. They are particularly popular in January as people feel the urge to begin the new year afresh after overindulging during the festive season.

Do we need to detox?

People will make drastic changes when they go on a detox diet, and often feel better for starting a structured regimen. However, detox kits made up of herbal laxatives and diuretics are unnecessary and have generally shown to have no proven benefit. Detox regimes do not improve kidney and liver function. These organs are well designed to filter your blood of fats, alcohol, and other nasties—all without the help of a fancy box from your local pharmacy. There is no scientific evidence to support specific detox diets, programs, or supplement kits. However, there’s no debate about the fact that eating less junk food, cutting out cigarettes and your alcohol intake, etc., will benefit your health. For example, drinking more water and cutting out caffeine will improve your hydration levels, while reducing your portion sizes and increasing your vegetable intake will improve bowel function. These changes will enhance your well-being, but there’s nothing magical about the detox diet itself. Rather, it’s the associated lifestyle changes that benefit your health.

The dangers of detox diets

Detox kits that contain laxatives and diuretics or encourage you to fast could, potentially, do more harm than good. Laxatives speed up your bowel motions, but also prevent the absorption of nutrients, while diuretics can results in partial dehydration.

The fasting component of a detox should only be minimal, and not extend beyond a day or two. By eating next to nothing, you are not getting enough nutrients for the essential functions of your body. Supplements are no substitute for real food, and relying solely on them can result in vitamin deficiencies.

Fasting is also known to slow down your metabolic rate, which encourages your body to store fat, making it harder to lose body fat in the future.

No quick fix

If you’ve spent weeks, months, or years overindulging, drinking, and smoking, you can’t hope to fix yourself in a few days. Detox diets aren’t an instant cure to health and wellness. Short-term changes to your diet and lifestyle only result in short-term changes to your health and wellness. If you can’t stick to the lifestyle changes you make over the long term, there’s no point starting them, as they won’t have any serious impact upon your health.

Detox diets and weight loss

Swapping junk food and alcohol for fruit, vegetables, and water will cut your calorie intake and help you lose a little weight. It’s also a good move for your general health if you stick to it over the long term, especially if you combine your dietary changes with regular exercise. Detoxing that involves the use of laxatives, diuretics, and fasting will also dramatically cut back on how many calories you absorb or consume, and can result in rapid weight loss. But this type of weight loss can also be achieved by having a sauna. The weight lost from fasting, laxatives, and diuretics— and from sweating profusely in a sauna—is predominantly from a reduction in the amount of water stored in your body. In other words, you weigh less.

But you will also be dehydrated, and not necessarily any healthier. Severe calorie restriction can also trigger the breakdown of muscle to provide fuel for essential functions. If you use the bathroom scales as a measure of success, then short-term detox diets may appear successful. If you are also concerned about losing body fat, staying strong, and feeling well, then a longer-term lifestyle change will be considerably more successful. It’s also worth considering that any weight lost without exercise is likely to return in nearly all cases.

Psychological benefits

One positive from do-it-yourself detox kits is that they provide a form of psychological comfort, because action is being taken and changes are being made to improve one’s health. They offer a set plan to follow, which is often the structure people need to initiate change. Some people also don’t like to think long term about their health, so a short-term plan sounds achievable.

What about after the detox?

It’s also important to think about how you intend to eat and live after the detox. It’s what you do most of the time that has the biggest impact on your health and body shape, not what you do occasionally. A two week change in habits is hardly going to have a dramatic impact on your well-being. It’s long-term lifestyle habits that have the strongest influence over your current body shape, and your health.

Try to use your detox as a time to increase your awareness of the way you eat, what you eat, how much you eat, and why you eat. Take a closer look at your activity levels, the amount of sleep you get, and how you deal with stress. Try to get a better picture of what’s working and what isn’t. Then you will be in the best position to do something about it—now and in the future.

The do-it-yourself detox

You can boost your body’s natural functioning by adopting good health habits every day, rather than going on a two-week program. Why not structure your own healthy lifestyle plan without having to pay for an expensive detox program.

Instead of detoxing, why not just de-junk? Look for ways to bring your diet back to basics without cutting out whole food groups. Give your body a break from digesting saturated fats and excess calories, especially from take-out meals, sugar, and processed foods. Mother Nature has blessed us with an incredible variety of food to choose from. Why not try eating more plant foods, experimenting with new colors, flavors, aromas, and textures in your diet?

Plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, whole grains, and legumes are less processed, so they are high in fiber, and have a high ratio of nutrients to calories. This slows down their absorption rate, helping to satisfy your hunger and boost your well-being. Packaging, processing, and preserving foods reduces their nutritional value. Processed foods often include refined ingredients, such as salt, sugar, and chemically altered fats. Be wary when you’re pouring something out of a box, opening a can, or reconstituting something with water. When the ingredient list includes a bunch of numbers and chemicals you can’t pronounce, there are probably better food choices you could make.

In Conclusion . . .

Detox diets fail to live up to the hype and promises. Be wary of extreme detoxes involving fasting or laxatives, which ironically, make shedding extra pounds harder in the future, and can lead to potential vitamin deficiencies. There are a number of better, healthful choices you can make over the long term that will have a greater impact on improving your health.

The Detox Debate

by Andrew Cate
From the February 2008 Signs  

10 tips for a do-it-yourself detox

  1. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  2. Take a multivitamin tablet daily.
  3. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily, and cut back on soda.
  4. Avoid foods containing salt and high levels of preservatives.
  5. Avoid foods containing artificial coloring or flavoring.
  6. Eliminate your alcohol and reduce caffeine intake.
  7. Eliminate tobacco.
  8. Avoid full-cream dairy products, fatty meats, animal fats, and simple sugars.
  9. Include some form of physical activity on a daily basis, or at last five times a week. Increase the intensity of exercise as your fitness improves.
  10. Focus on whole grains, and avoid processed grain foods like white pasta, white bread, white rice, and low-fiber breakfast cereals.