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Detox or Not to Detox?

Detox or Not to Detox?

Short term, drastic detox diets have been around since the mid 1900’s. Nowadays, they are part of a booming health industry. There are many varieties of these diets, each involving different steps and methods. What most of them claim to do is help rid the body of toxins, pollutants, promote better function and health. On paper, this sounds great, but unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific evidence to show that detox diets actually do what they are advertised to do i.e. detox the body. So, are they worth it? Let’s discuss.

How does a detox work?

Most short-term detox diets follow a similar approach. They generally start with a period of fasting or drastic calorie restriction, which is then followed by a strict diet plan that may involve drinking only juice, abstaining from processed foods, reducing or eliminating particular macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), taking a number of different herbs and supplements, or a combination of all of these. This can also be combined with activities like enemas to help “cleanse the lower intestines”. Due to the drastic changes and processes that people must go through; these detoxes are generally only done for a few days through to one to two weeks at a time.

The fasting section of the detox plan is supposed to help give the organs in the body a break from digesting highly processed foods, while the foods, herbs and supplements (and enemas) that are part of the diet plan are thought to help boost the body’s ability to cleanse itself of toxins and pollutants, as well as boost energy and general health levels.

Effects of a short-term detox

Anyone doing a short-term detox will notice a few things. Most notably, there is rapid weight loss, mostly due to the restriction of calories and macronutrients. The fasting period of the detox can also promote better sensitivity to leptin (the I feel full hormone) and insulin (the hormone responsible for controlling glucose levels). This can lead to less feelings of hunger and better control of blood glucose levels, which can be beneficial for diseases like type two diabetes. Some people report feeling better while doing the detox, most likely due to the restriction of highly processed foods and higher intake of beneficial vitamins and minerals, while others feel worse, which could be the result of the calorie/nutrient restrictions most of the detox plans employ.

The major issue is that as soon as a person finishes the detox and returns to their normal diet, they tend to put all the weight they lost back on. This is because most of the weight lost during the fasting stage of the detox comes from carbohydrate stores, not fat, and carbs tend to pull a lot of water with them. As soon as they start to eat normally again, the body replenishes its store of carbs, leading to weight gain. Also, returning to a normal diet – particularly one full of highly processed foods – can lead to a decrease in insulin and leptin sensitivity, essentially bringing the person back to where they were before the detox.

In a healthy person, the body naturally get rids of toxins and pollutants through the liver, kidneys, digestive system and sweat. There are some conditions that affect the function of these organs and systems (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kidney disease, etc.)  and even in a healthy person, there are heavy metals and substances called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that can stay in the body for years. But, there is no evidence to show that drastic, short-term detox diets have any significant effect on helping to heal those conditions nor clear any toxins out of our body. However, there is evidence to suggest that some of the foods and supplements used in these detoxes can be mislabelled and contain different amounts of ingredients or entirely different ingredients altogether to what is advertised. This may cause negative, and sometimes serious side effects, particularly if someone is already dealing with a health condition or has an allergy or intolerance to an ingredient.

Is it worth doing?

So, are short-term, drastic detox diets worth it? I would lean towards no. So long as we don’t have any conditions that affect our detoxification organs and systems, our body will be able to naturally cleanse itself. Limiting processed food and alcohol consumption, eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep and keeping well hydrated will help to further help to augment our detoxification system and keep our body fat and energy levels in balance.  

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