Health & Fitness: The Truth About Detox Diets

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Health & Fitness: Sophie Bruno looks at the truth about detox diets.

They have infiltrated mainstream dietary trends. In fact, it has become a buzzword. Celebrities do it. Spas offer it. High street health stores promote exclusive bottles of juice to accomplish it. However, this notion that our body requires cleansing is rather nebulous, which perhaps explains why it has eluded public suspicion. What is everybody trying to remove from their bodies?

Spring is commonly associated with cleaning. However, this is now venturing beyond the traditional preparation of gardens, emptying wardrobes of winter coats and entering an entirely new dimension. We are now exposed to a new realm of commercially driven, media-fuelled, bogus health guru-led claims touting the benefits of eliminating the systemic build- up of toxins, which are supposedly triggered by unhealthy lifestyles and diets. Such toxins are allegedly draining our vitality and threatening our health unless measures are taken to ‘detox’ ourselves. The scientific premise sounds legitimate, which perhaps explains the detox diet’s success.

This concept is not novel. For thousands of years, humans have been trying to eliminate perceived toxins. Bloodletting, enemas and fasting were regarded as legitimate medical treatments through the ages. Today’s heightened interest in self-administered detoxification reflects a societally entrenched concern and mistrust of food systems, compounded with the unknown effects of pathogens, pesticides, pollution, heavy metals, smog, pharmaceuticals in the water supply and synthetic chemicals with unknown properties on long-term health outcomes. But do detox programmes deliver the claimed benefits?

What is a detox?: Before it became a dietary craze, in conventional medicine, toxins generally referred to alcohol and drugs. Detox is a medical therapy involving the process of weaning a patient off addictive substances. In recent times, there has been a transition in the meaning of the term detox, which has been appropriated by a health-obsessed, commercially driven market. The detox programmes are largely do-it-yourself, short-term, strict inventions designed to eliminate toxins from the body, promote health and assist with weight loss. Proponents believe build-up can cause allergies, exhaustion and certain cancers.

Detox diets range from total starvation fasts to juice fasts to food modification and restriction approaches and often involve the use of laxatives, diuretics, vitamins, minerals and/or ‘cleansing foods’. Detox products are not available by prescription; they are sold in retail stores, at luxury spas and retreats, and over the internet; the shelves of health food stores are brimming with products bearing the word detox.

Despite the widespread popularity of detox diets, the term ‘toxin’ remains ill-defined. It is based on the principle that compounds in certain foods can help boost the body’s natural detoxification capabilities, while others might hinder it.