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Posted by on Sep 16, 2013 in Fitness Tips | 0 comments

Are Detox Diets Safe?


Liquid fasts, high colonics, cleansing supplements, steamed vegetables. These detox regimens are designed to purge the body of harmful toxins, but do they work? And more importantly, are they safe?

In the modern world, our bodies are bombarded by an endless variety of potentially harmful toxins, like pesticides, food additives, pollutants, and other man-made chemicals.

Detox diets—which are marketed on the Internet and pushed by all kinds of celebrities—promise to not only rid your body of those toxins, but to give you more energy, relief from headaches, clearer skin, less bloating, and help you lose weight.

The term itself can be confusing, because detox diets come in many varieties, from extreme fasting to more gradual (and ongoing) lifestyle changes. In general, though, detox diets include supplements, fasting, and limiting certain types of food.

How Do Detox Diets Work?

The fasting stage—also known as a “cleansing phase”—is often done at the start and consists of two to three days of eating only liquids. During this—and the rest of the detox—caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are restricted (or eliminated).

After cleansing, certain “safe” foods are added like fruit, steamed vegetables, and brown rice. Some detox diets focus mainly on vegetables and leave out the fruits.

More foods are reintroduced about a week later, except sugar, wheat, eggs, red meat, and processed foods. After this, a maintenance phase of generally eating healthy is followed indefinitely.

In addition to the increased intake of fiber, liquids, and raw vegetables (which are intended to purge the intestines of harmful substances) detox diets often include various supplements. These, also known as “cleansing boosters,” include herbal laxatives, enemas (aka “colonics”), probiotics (to boost the body’s natural intestinal bacteria), and antioxidants.

Some detox programs, especially those that take place at retreat centers or resorts, may also include relaxation therapies such as saunas, massage, aromatherapy baths, walking, deep-breathing exercises, and meditation.

Are Detox Diets Effective?

liver-detoxIn spite of the intense marketing around detox diets—including the resort vacations and ongoing “cleansing” supplements—few scientific studies have been done to show that these types of cleansing diets can rid the body of toxins. In fact, there’s little scientific evidence that harmful chemicals build up in the body, other than those that may end up in the fat cells.

One of the main reasons that people may not need extreme detox diets is that the body has its own well-designed system of detoxication which includes:

  • liver: breaks down or deactivates chemicals, which are then removed by the kidneys or excreted into the intestines (in the bile made by the gall bladder)

  • kidneys: remove substances from the blood, which then ends up in the urine

  • skin: in addition to salts, your body can rid itself of certain chemicals in the sweat

  • intestines: chemicals not absorbed into the blood are excreted in the feces

In an article [] in the LA Times on detoxification, toxicologists Linda Birnbaum from the Environmental Protection Agency and A. Jay Gandolfi from the University of Arizona provide their take on detox programs:

  • Drinking more water might help the body eliminate certain water-soluble toxins like arsenic.

  • Eating more fiber could help get rid of toxins from the liver, which end up in the bile excreted into the intestines.

  • Raw vegetables have no detox powers other than providing extra fiber.

  • Many toxins are fat-soluble, meaning they end up in the body’s fat stores. The best way to eliminate these from your body, then, is to lose weight.

What Are the Dangers of Detox Diets?

In moderation, detox diets are probably safe for most people. Many alternative medicine practitioners suggest that they be done only under medical supervision. In addition, people who are weak, pregnant, nursing, or have serious illnesses should avoid these diets.

Extreme versions of detox diets—such as those that overdo the amount of fiber or hydration—can lead to serious side-effects like:

  • dehydration

  • muscle cramps

  • metabolic disturbances

  • fainting episodes

  • depletion of the body’s protein and nutrients.

The last one should be of particular interest to people who are involved in intense exercise, because limiting your protein intake can lead to a loss of muscle mass and a slower metabolism (aka less fat loss).

Are There Any Benefits to Detox Diets?

Some people who complete detox diets actually experience positive changes, but these may not be the result of the detox diet, itself. For example, decreased bloating can come from not overeating, clearer skin may be the result of increased hydration, and a drop in headaches can happen by exercising more and learning relaxation techniques.

Most of the benefits you are likely to see from detox diets will come from short-term (1 to 3 days) programs. By slowing down and paying attention to how you eat, you will start to identify the healthy and unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle. In addition, you will:

  • eat less

  • examine your health habits

  • rid your diet of junk like processed foods, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol

If you want the benefits of a detox diet, you are better off changing your eating habits over the long haul rather than just for a week or two.

An alternative “gentle cleanse” is a good—and safer—way to go. This includes:

  • eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein from non-meat sources like beans and grains

  • drinking more water

  • limiting (or eliminating) nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol

  • learning relaxation techniques

  • doing regular physical exercise

  • avoiding detox supplements, laxatives, and enemas.

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