Detox diets, regimens and supplements are supposed to rid your body of toxins acquired from food, lifestyle, or the environment. Some people also say that detoxing can improve your health and promote weight loss. But what does the research say about detoxes? Are these methods and supplements safe?
What is a detox?
There is no clear-cut definition of a detox. If you’d asked someone 30 years ago, they’d have most likely associated it with a medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life-threatening levels of alcohol, drugs or poisons. These days, we associate detoxes with products and diets that promise to eliminate daily toxins from our body’s, purge pounds of excess fat, clean our complexion and bolster our immune system.
A few weeks ago, I discussed in detail the harmful toxins we come across in our daily lives and how they can impact our health. The exposure and accumulation of these toxins play a significant role in numerous conditions, from reproductive issues to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It is a well-known fact that several toxins, such as POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) and some heavy metals (e.g. Mercury and Lead) can accumulate within the body where they can remain for many years. Does this mean that we should try and detox our bodies? or can they rid themselves from these harmful chemicals without our help?
If you haven’t already read my previous article “The Invisible Toxins Hiding in Your Home”, I highly suggest you do this before continuing. There you’ll find an in-depth description of the harmful toxins we come in contact with daily and how we can minimise our exposure.
A seemingly infinite array of products and diets are available for detoxifying the entire body. One of the most popular is the Master Cleanse diet, favoured by several Hollywood celebrities. This diet and many others claim to rid your body of toxins, help you lose weight, restore your energy levels, and even relieve the symptoms of chronic conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Detox diets can range in their severity and length, lasting anywhere between three days to several months and can involve:
- Drinking only juices or similar beverages or foods over a specific period.
- Ingesting dietary supplements or commercially available shakes or drinks over a specified period.
- More extreme detox diets may involve colonic cleanses using enemas, laxatives or colon hydrotherapy (colonic).
Do detox diets work?
1. Can they help with weight loss?
Given that many of these programs typically restrict calories, short-term weight loss is common. However, similarly to crash dieting, there is no compelling scientific evidence to suggest that these methods are effective for long-term weight management.
Most of the weight lost during a detox is the result of fluid loss, glycogen depletion (body’s carbohydrate store), muscle loss, and frequent bowel movements or diarrhoea produced by saltwater or laxative consumption. These extremely low-calorie diets lead to a rise in the stress hormone cortisol, which puts your body into starvation mode, increasing your appetite and decreasing your metabolism – resulting in weight quickly being regained following the end of the diet. Interestingly, a study has shown that consuming 1200kcal/day resulted in persistently increased cortisol levels for 21 days after the diet ended. This highlights the importance that we eat a sufficient amount of calories for our bodies to function.
2. Can they help detox your body?
There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that following a specific diet programme can help eliminate toxins from your body. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that they can paradoxically exacerbate their health risks by redistributing the toxins around the body rather than eliminating them (more on this later). Furthermore, a prolonged lack of protein causes your body to break down its muscle for energy which can compromise your immune system and thus your bodies natural defence against toxins.
What’s more, if we are talking about preventing toxin build up in our bodies, when we starve ourselves, we go into ketosis. This leads to the build-up of ketones, resulting in nausea, dehydration, weakness, light-headedness and irritability. So, if you want to feel rejuvenated, following a highly restrictive diet is not the answer!
To conclude, investing in expensive detox products and programmes are a complete waste of money, time and energy. There is no scientific evidence to date that following a highly restrictive detox regime will give you the benefits they claim, whether it’s weight loss, toxin elimination or improving your health. In fact, after reading numerous research papers, it appears that there are a lot more warning signs against following a detox than there are proven benefits, with the latter being close to zero.
The Danger Of Detox Diets
Blindly following a detox that you find on the internet or that an influencer claims to have transformed their body is a recipe for disaster and can have some detrimental, long-term effects on your health.
The main health risks associated with detox diets relate to their severe energy restriction and nutritional deficiencies. These diets lack sufficient protein, fatty acids, and other essential nutrients. Some even advocate calorie intake as low as 400 calories a day, which would put your body into starvation mode. I’ve already discussed in a previous article how cutting calories too low can lead to reduced metabolism, fatigue, as well as weight rebound following the end of your diet, but did you know that detox diets can also cause the following?:
- Vitamin Deficiency
- Muscle Deterioration
- Heart Palpiations
- Hair Loss and Thinning
- Abdominal & Digestive Pain
- Reduced Immune System
- Skin Health
Danger Of Weight Loss
As mentioned above, detox diets are often accompanied by weight loss. You might be thinking, great, who wouldn’t want this as a side-effect?
Suppose you are looking to detox your body from environmental toxins. In that case, sudden weight loss might exacerbate the health risks associated with the toxins that have accumulated in your body rather than help eliminate them.
Numerous toxins, including POP’s and heavy metals, accumulate in your fat cells. If undisturbed, they can remain there for months and even years before being broken down. However, when we lose weight, our fat cells are broken down, which releases these toxins back into our circulation. These toxins are not being eliminated in our urine or faeces. Instead, studies have shown that these toxins are redistributed to sensitive organs (e.g., the brain and kidneys), which can have severe consequences for our health.
A small study looking at women exposed to a toxin called PBB (found in flame retardants) in the USA demonstrated that in women who lost weight in the last year, their exposure to PBB was a predictor of menstrual irregularities. In contrast, those women who remained weight stable demonstrated no menstrual irregularities, even if they were exposed to the same amount of PBB. This suggests that PBB must be mobilised into the bloodstream before it can affect normal ovarian functioning. Therefore, energy restriction may alter the biodistribution of toxins in the body rather than aid in their elimination. What’s more, it suggests that only when these toxins are freely moving about our bodies can they cause adverse health conditions.
Potential to overdose
Some detox diets advocate excessive consumption of certain foodstuff, vitamins, minerals, laxatives, diuretics, and even water. Over consuming any of these substances can inevitably lead to an overdose and even death in some cases. It has even been reported that a 65-year-old woman following a 10-day detox died from consuming too much green juice.
You might be thinking; juice cleanses are undoubtedly a good thing, even if they’re low in calories. Green juices are packed full of vitamins and minerals which support good health. So drinking a large quantity of them is a good thing. Right?
Believe it or not but you can overdose on green leafy veggies. Like everything else in life, balance is key. Green leafy veggies (including spinach, chard, dandelion greens, kale, collards, beets, arugula and broccoli) all contain a substance called oxalate. Oxalates bind to calcium and iron in the body and prevent the body from absorbing these essential minerals.
What’s more, when oxalate binds with calcium, it can create kidney stones, exacerbate painful gout, and cause other arthritic joint problems. Calcium oxalate is responsible for almost 80% of kidney stones. To prevent overconsumption of oxalates, opt for organic veggies, eat veggies in their whole form, and avoid eating excessive amounts of green leafy veggies.
Damage from overuse of laxatives
Overusing laxatives can cause dehydration, deplete electrolytes and impair normal bowel function. They can also destroy your healthy gut microbiome, essential for proper digestive function and eliminating toxins. A person who goes on detox diets regularly may run the risk of developing metabolic acidosis, disrupting the body’s acid-base balance, which results in excessive acidity in the blood. Severe metabolic acidosis can lead to a coma and even death.
Additionally, the use of laxatives, diuretics and detox teas can inhibit the proper functioning of oral birth control due to the quick elimination of the pill from the digestive tract- not something usually mentioned on the pamphlet of detox products.
You might be thinking, “Okay, so there is some risk involved. But won’t these detox diets help eliminate the terrible toxins that have built up in my body? And don’t these toxins pose a bigger threat to my wellbeing than the risks associated with detoxing?”
Good questions. But the answer to both is no. Keep reading to find out why.
Do we need to detox?
No, no, we do not.
The human body has evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms for eliminating toxins. It is designed to detoxify itself and efficiently handle the running of removing unwanted toxins. Therefore, if you live a healthy balanced life, with the odd indulgence, your bodies detox system can easily handle its daily runnings.
However, there are limits to how much your body can handle. When we overload our bodies with things like processed foods, toxins, caffeine, and alcohol, it can negatively impact our detox organs and cause them to function less efficiently. Therefore, the best way to aid our bodies natural detox system is to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Natural Ways To Support Your Body’s Own Detox System
The detox industry found itself on the notion that chemicals can be neatly divided into “good” and “bad” categories; in reality, it is the ‘dose that makes the poison’ for the vast majority of chemicals. Take oxygen, for example; continuous delivery of oxygen to our cells is essential to survival. However, too much oxygen, termed hyperoxemia, can cause severe physiological and neurological damage and even death.
In all aspects of our lives, balance is key. Doing one thing too much can cause upset as the old saying goes, everything in moderation is the secret.– Catherine Pulsifer.
The best way to aid our bodies natural detox system is to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. When we overload our bodies with things like processed foods, toxins, caffeine, and alcohol, it can negatively impact our detox organs and cause them to function less efficiently.
The key is moderation. Don’t pack your system full of fat, sugar or alcohol, so your detox system keeps doing its job well. If you’re overindulging too often, that can damage your detox organs, such as your liver. And that’s something no detox can repair.
Minimise Toxin Exposure
Minimising your exposure to toxins is vital. If we try to minimise our exposure to harmful environmental toxins, there should be no desire to detox in the first place. There is no doubt that toxins are harmful to our health, and I firmly believe that anyone who cares about their wellbeing should make using natural products as much of a priority as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
The best place to start is to educate yourself on the dangers toxins pose to our health and how you can avoid overexposing yourself. To do this, check out my previous article, “The Secret Toxins Hiding In Our Homes”, for some helpful tips on how you can avoid them in your daily life.
Eat the right foods
If you want your body’s detox system to work to the best of its ability, then ensuring you are eating a well-balanced diet is critical.
The liver is an organ that plays a crucial role in detoxing our body’s. It filters the blood to remove large toxins, secretes digestive juice to break down fat-soluble toxins, and maintains the overall health of your body through hormonal regulation.
Fried food, alcohol and sugary drinks are difficult for the liver to process, and too much of each of these things are stored as fat in the liver. This is sadly a one-way street, with no way of removing this fat once it has accumulated. Even if you lose body fat, the fat in the liver will stay. This is what’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and impairs your body’s detoxifying capacity.
This doesn’t mean that there’s no hope. Swapping processed foods for nutritionally dense ones and limiting your alcohol consumption will stop any more fat from accumulating around the liver.
To nourish your body and keep your organs fit and well, minimise your alcohol, caffeine, and processed food consumption and ensure you are including the following to your diet:
- Healthy Sources of Fats
- High-Fibre Foods
- Probiotics & Prebiotics Foods
- Plant-Based Protein
Other than eating a nutrien full diet, there are also some specific foods and supplements you can add to your diet to maximise the body’s efficiency at eliminating toxins. I shall dedicate a whole article to this later on this month.
Support Your Gut
Your gut plays a vital role in your body’s detoxifying processes, helping to flush out nasty toxins and extract critical vitamins and minerals from our food. Therefore, supporting your gut microbiome is vital if you want a smooth running detox system. To do this, ensure you are eating a gut-friendly diet. If you’d like more details on how your diet impacts your gut health and how you can support the growth of good bacteria, give my previous article “You Are What You Eat” a read.
Inflammation is your body’s response to stress – whether from your diet, lifestyle or environment. Too much inflammation in the body impairs the normal functioning of your vital organs and can make you more susceptible to ageing and disease.
The best ways to reduce your body’s inflammation is to make changes to both diet and lifestyle. Start to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, including plant foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed and chia seeds, lots of non-starchy vegetables, and spices like turmeric. Getting plenty of sleep and ensuring you are getting enough vitamin D every day also helps minimises your body’s inflammation levels.
Additionally, try to reduce your stress levels. I know – easier said than done. If you’d like a list of my tried and tested stress busters, check out my previous article, “How To Relieve Stress – Tried & Tested methods”.
Support Your Immune System
Supporting your immune system is vital. Ensure you’re getting plenty of sleep as this gives your body time to produce enough antibodies, which help protect you against toxins and viral illnesses such as cold and flu.
Also, ensure your diet is rich in foods containing Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Zinc. Don’t forget that your gut has its immune system. Therefore, supporting your gut health by eating probiotic foods and following the guidelines mentioned above is vital. Stress also wreaks havoc on your immune system, so try to minimise your exposure to daily stressors.
Exercise assists the lungs, kidneys, immune system, and intestines to become more efficient at naturally detoxifying the body. Exercise keeps our bodies moving, increasing blood circulation and the uptake of oxygen, enhancing the body’s detoxification process. Choose a form of exercise you love, whether it’s running, walking, boxing or strength training.
Drink Clean Water
One of the best ways to detox your body is to drink plenty of water. It is recommended for women to drink 2.7 litres a day and for men to drink 3.7 litres a day.
Make sure you are drinking pure, clean water that has been filtered. Water straight from the tap or plastic bottles often contains toxins that can be harmful to the body and, therefore, paradoxically increases your toxin load rather than reduce them.
Get Enough Sleep
Scientists suggest that sleep may be the best detox for your brain. When you sleep, a toxin removal system for the brain, known as the glymphatic system, is most active. The brain undergoes physical changes: brain cells shrink to increase space between them so that toxic waste can be flushed away more effectively. Therefore, ensuring you are getting enough sleep is vital to supporting your brains detox system and reducing your risk of certain neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Detox products and programmes are a waste of time and money, which are not only extremely unpleasant to adhere to but may also do some serious damage to your health.
We have our own in-built detox system, which can easily handle the daily running of removing toxins from our bodies. However, there are limits to how much it can handle. Failing to nourish your body with the things it needs and instead of overwhelming it will toxins, processed foods and alcohol can negatively impact our detox organs and cause them to function less efficiently.
Therefore, to support our natural detox system, we should aim to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle – ensuring we exercise, get plenty of sleep, use natural products, eat the right foods, support our gut and our immune system, and minimise our stress levels to reduce our bodies inflammation.
Although there is currently no evidence to support commercial detox diets for removing toxic substances from the body, some preliminary studies suggest that specific foods can aid the detox organs in removing specific toxins from the body. I am going to dedicate a whole article to this later on this month.
If you have any questions please send me an email or reach out to me on social media. I’d love to chat!