Health & Fitness: The Truth About Detox Diets

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Exploring the myths: Toxins exist. They are typically defined as a poisonous substance that enters the body and has a damaging effect – like pesticides, lead or antifreeze – or in excessive quantities, like alcohol and medication.

The body has evolved a well-developed, sophisticated system for eliminating toxins; numerous organs collectively detoxify the body. The liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, skin and lungs all play a vital role in the excretion of unwanted substances. Our body constantly filters out, breaks down and excretes toxins and waste products like alcohol, medications, digestion products, chemicals from pollution and bacteria.

There are no pills, specific drinks or lotions that act as the magic bullet. If you have over-indulged on alcohol, the liver will be activated to break down the alcohol into innocuous products it can remove. The notion that one can overlook their caloric sins by implementing a detox is a surreal antidote to fast-food lifestyles and alcohol-fuelled social lives. Although the intuitive appeal of detox diets is apparent, it remains an illusion.

No robust scientific evidence exists that supports the claim that a juice cleanse, or any other food, is relevant to removing toxins. This is not to say that drinking vitamin-rich, antioxidant-filled vegetable juice cannot be beneficial for one’s health.

Is there a role for nutrition in detoxification?: There is preliminary evidence to suggest that certain foods such as coriander, nori and olestra have detoxification properties. There is evidence that coriander, malic acid (found in grapes and wine), citric acid (found in citrus fruits), succinic acid (found in apples and blueberries), citrus pectin (found in the peel and pulp of citrus fruits) and chlorella (a type of green algae) may induce the elimination of toxic metals. However, most of these studies have been carried out on animals. Selenium supplementation has been shown to attenuate the toxic effects of mercury in some animals. Less is known about the potential of selenium supplementation in mercury detoxification in humans. However, a recent study of long-term mercury exposed individuals in China found that three months of selenium supplementation almost tripled the urinary excretion of mercury.

The bottom line: The human body is designed to combat most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence. If you are generally healthy, concentrate on supplying your body with the sustenance it requires to support its robust self-cleaning system — a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise and sufficient sleep — this will prevent chronic disease and deliver the necessary energy and vitality to function optimally and feel good.

Detox diets carry many health risks that should not be dismissed, including severe energy depletion and nutritional inadequacy, protein and vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalance, lactic acidosis and even death. Detox dieters are also at risk of overdosing on supplements, laxatives, diuretics and even water.

Detox diets are a marketing myth rather than nutritional reality. Many of the claims made by detox promoters are exaggerated, not scientifically sound and the benefits are short- lived. While positive habits may be encouraged, such as eating more fruit and vegetables, it is best to enjoy a healthy, varied diet and active lifestyle rather than following a strict detox regime.