Detox (short for detoxification) diets claim to flush toxic chemicals out of our body. The theory is that a diet high in processed foods, environmental chemicals and alcohol has left our body full of toxins. We are told they build up in the body, damaging our health and leading to a whole host of problems. A detox diet will help our body get rid of these toxins, leaving us healthy, lean, and full of energy. Or at least that’s the theory.
The word ‘toxin’ is an umbrella term used to describe anything that has the potential to do the body harm and something the body would want to eliminate. Many toxins arise from normal breathing and metabolism, and the body is more than efficient at removing them. Breathing, urinating and defecating are all there to help this process. It’s worth noting that these toxic reactions take place at a rate of millions of reactions per second and are neutralised just as quickly. That’s right. These toxins do not build up in your body.
Of course, we do expose ourselves to other chemicals that have a toxic effect on the body. Alcohol, heavy metals and environmental chemicals all have the potential to do the body harm. Once they have reached the blood stream (and eventually they all will) they will pass through the liver where they are processed and broken down so they can be removed by the body. The body ‘detoxifies’ itself.
The truth is that in terms of basic human biochemistry, detox is a completely meaningless concept.
Unless you have an underlying pathology, toxins simply do not build up in the body. Toxins do have the ability to cause the body damage before they are eliminated (otherwise they wouldn’t be called toxins), but eliminated they are. This process DOES NOT occur more effectively as a result of taking ‘detox’ pills or potions, following a special ‘detox’ diet, drinking herbal infusions or ‘oxygenated’ water, wearing foot patches, having foot baths, having a colonic irrigation or using any of the other products or procedures that are currently being sold.
A detox diet won’t do you any harm to try, will it? As mentioned, the liver breaks down these toxins so they are no longer dangerous and can be removed by the body. This means that the cells of the liver are at risk of damage themselves. The irony is that a low energy detox diet will hinder the protection and regeneration of damaged liver cells because that requires a healthy amount of anti-oxidants, cholesterol, fats and proteins. Something painfully lacking in a detox diet. Think you’re helping your liver recover from some heavy nights? Think again.
Detox diets are also touted as a great way to lose weight. You will find hundreds of testimonials by people who have lost weight in a short space of time on a detox diet. How? A low energy diet causes a drop in carbohydrate stores in the muscle, and with it a loss of water. This is the cause of the initial drop in weight. It will also cause a loss of muscle mass, dropping weight further. This, coupled with the nature of a low energy diet, cause’s the body’s metabolism to plummet. Weight loss will slow, and gradually grind to a halt. Throughout this process, fat stores will remain relatively unchanged. Once a ‘normal’ eating pattern is resumed, weight is regained very quickly, often above the initial amount due to a rock bottom metabolism. That’s the part of the testimonial you don’t hear.
Detoxing is a marketing invention. An easy to sell, short term solution to help ease the guilt over an extended period of over indulgence.
If it simply promotes a period of abstinence from processed foods and alcohol, then I’m all for it. However, many of these detox plans promote extreme calorie restricted diets whilst selling their own brand of supplements to enhance the ‘detoxification process’. I just can’t accept that. It’s not based in science and has no scientific evidence to support it.
Common sense suggests that the best approach is to avoid or at least limit exposure to environmental toxins in the first place. Switching to organically farmed fruits and vegetables is a great starting point. Trying to promote a balanced diet, adequate hydration, a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise may not be headline grabbing, but unfortunately that’s what is required.
Over the next few months I will be looking at ways we can avoid these environmental toxins, so we don’t give them the chance to do our body harm in the first place. In the meantime, if you had a detox planned, it might be worth reconsidering.