Should You Try A Detox Diet ?

The body can do amazing things and we often underestimate its capabilities, especially when it comes to detoxifying itself.  Years of evolution have enabled our bodies to “detox” naturally; those who could not self-detox died out through Natural Selection and “Survival of the Fittest”.

Toxins enter the body through food or water, chemicals used to grow or prepare food, and even the air that we breathe. Luckily, our bodies have the ability to process those toxins through organs like the liver and kidneys and eliminate them in the form of sweat, urine, and feces.

The American diet is low in water and whole grains and too high in refined sugar, caffeine, unhealthy fats and protein.   Over consumption of the aforementioned nutrients can create food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, bacterial overgrowth, yeast infections, weak hair, skin, and nails, and a host of other conditions.

But does that mean we should all “detox” our bodies from harmful toxins?  From my perspective, the whole “detox” craze is just another money-making industry preying on the insecure and teaching faulty eating principles.  “Detox” diets aim to eliminate harmful processed foods and refined sugar a few times a year by limiting us to just a certain few foods for a period of time.  But our bodies are designed to function best with a healthy, well-balanced diet.  I do encourage a diet with minimal processed foods and refined sugar.  But we don’t need to fast to accomplish this goal.  And further, shouldn’t we aim to eat well all the time?  How effective can a few days of restriction really be when we are eating garbage the rest of the time?

Detox diets are designed for short-term use and require fasting.  If used for longer periods of time, they may cause health problems.  Further, significantly lowering one’s calorie intake during a fast will result in a slowing of the dieter’s metabolism, thus making long term weight loss more difficult.

The Master Cleanse (aka lemonade diet) requires limiting our food intake to water with lemons, laxative tea and salt water in order to “cleanse” the body.  Weight loss may occur from this diet but it is mainly from loss of water, not from fat loss.  If used over a long period of time, the body will begin to break down muscle mass for energy.  So while you may see a drop on the scale, it is from metabolically active (and much-needed) muscle rather than from fat.   This diet is nutritionally void and lacking nutrients.  Many dieters quickly regain the lost weight upon completion of the Master Cleanse.  It is clear that we were not meant to live on lemons and laxatives!

Many detox supplements contain herbs and laxatives designed to make the dieter “eliminate” often.  Over-elimination can cause dehydration and mineral imbalances and may permanently affect the digestive system if used for too long.  Make sure you read the ingredient list before beginning any cleansing regimen and research each ingredient so you know what you are ingesting.  These programs often utilize senna, a known laxative.  The other ingredients listed in many cleanse systems are herbs that are not FDA approved and have not been scientifically proven to do anything, let alone “cleanse” the body.  Everyone is different and we don’t know how our bodies will react to these untested/unresearched herbs so be very cautious when starting a detox diet.  If you want to try one of these cleanses, be sure to get your doctor’s approval!

Detox diets are NOT designed for those who have health conditions.  People who have diabetes, heart disease, eating disorders, other chronic medical conditions or are pregnant should avoid these regiments.

Detox diets are also NOT recommended for children or teens.  Kids and teens require nutrients, calories and protein to support their development.  Eliminating macro and micronutrients, even for a short period of time, may disrupt energy levels cause emotional imbalances.

Instead of following the newest trend or looking for a quick fix, try eating a wholesome diet all year round!  Make sure you eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Stick to lean sources of protein.  Drink lots of water.  And try to avoid processed foods as much as possible.  If you are feeling run-down or tired, speak to your doctor.  Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for good health or weight loss!

By Joanna Dolgoff, MD