“Detox” Diets

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TAKE COVER!! It’s 2012! The year of doom and catastrophe! The Mayan calendar is ending! The ice caps are melting! Desperate Housewives was cancelled! What is the world coming to!? Worst of all, chemical and environmental toxins are building up inside your body and if you don’t drink this concoction of lemon juice and cayenne pepper you’re a goner!! Does any of this sound familiar? If you’re looking for answers about the end of days you can go ahead and close the browser window now, but if you’ve heard the hype on these “detox-diets” and you want learn more just stay with me.

Countless alternative medicine practitioners are promoting detoxification/cleanse diets that supposedly rid your body of environmental pollutants, pesticide residues, food additives, artificial sweeteners, and other substances. The goal of these diets is to flood the colon with water from all parts of the body and remove toxic substances that collect over time. These substances, according to supporters of such diets, build up in our bodies and wreak havoc. Cancer, heart disease, weight gain, headaches, chronic fatigue, bloating, and lowered immunity are only a few things that may result if you don’t “detox;” according to the litany of websites selling these plans. In most cases they require you to only consume a few liquid substances – most commonly lemon juice with cayenne pepper — or a variety of juices. Everything else is off limits. No wheat, dairy, meat, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, salt, or processed foods of any degree. Many food faddists SWEAR by such plans, but before you drink the “cleansing Kool-Aid” let’s take a look at the research.

The main issue with detox diets is that there is ZERO research supporting their efficacy. Not one published study exists that shows increased levels of “toxins” are excreted in the urine, feces, or sweat of individuals following a detox program. In addition, our bodies are engaged in detoxification all the time! Our lungs are constantly excreting carbon dioxide, which is toxic to the body if not removed. Our kidneys are consistently assisting in removing toxins and balancing the body’s pH to prevent acidosis. Our body’s main detoxification center, the liver, assists in the removal of substances that are not soluble in water. The fact of the matter is that over the length of human existence, our bodies have become extremely efficient at removing substances that should not be inside of us.
Most detox diets are acute (3-7 days) and are unlikely to cause long term metabolic issues unless they are repeated frequently. However, electrolyte imbalances (resulting in possible heart conduction abnormalities) are of major concern. In addition, reductions in exercise performance, muscle weakness, headaches, dehydration, and fatigue may also result.

Some proponents of detox diets claim significant increases in feelings of well being and rejuvenation after detox dieting. Possible explanations are an absence of caffeine and alcohol, which may cause headaches; therefore, eliminating those substances would be beneficial under any circumstances. Additionally, less overall food intake may relieve feelings of bloating. Looking at the current statistics, too much food is an issue for most individuals. It has also been noted that near starvation diets can elicit boosts in energy and euphoric feelings in some people. Many theorize this may be an evolutionary trait that allowed hungry hunter-gatherers to muster up energy in order to locate food.

Let’s give proponents of these diets the benefit of the doubt and say “detox-ing” does result in improved feelings of well-being, that doesn’t change the fact that their main concept is unsound. Our bodies do not magically correct or forgive dietary imperfections when periodic cleanses are performed. Remember, sound health and nutrition is a lifestyle. STOP searching for the easy fix! Instead, START practicing healthier eating and exercise habits, and assuming the Mayans were as bad at math as I am… You’ll enjoy the benefits for many years to come.

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