It seems everyone is talking about “detoxification” (detox) diets and regimens. These products are also called “cleanses” or “flushes”. This terminology refers to a means of removing toxins from your body or losing weight. These diets can be dangerous, especially since your body already comes equipped with a detoxification system. Understanding how detox works, may help clear up some confusion.
Detoxification is when the body eliminates built up toxins, and these toxins fall into two main categories:
1) Those made in the body during regular metabolism
2) Those that come from outside the body and are introduced by eating, drinking, breathing or are absorbed through the skin.
Because toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted. Fortunately, our body has processes to do this through urine, feces, respiration and sweat.
Commercial detox programs may involve a variety of potentially dangerous approaches, such as:
- Consuming only juices or other liquids for several days
- Eating a very restricted selection of foods
- Using various dietary supplements or other commercial products
- Cleansing the colon (lower intestines) with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (also called “colonic irrigation” or “colonics”)
These approaches can cause headaches, fainting, weakness, dehydration, diarrhea, and electrolyte imbalances. Colon cleanses can be especially harmful if you have a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, kidney disease or heart disease.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have investigated companies selling detox products because they contained illegal ingredients, were marketed using false advertising claims, and/or were marketed for unapproved uses.
The bottom line is that there isn’t any convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health, and in fact may be harmful to your health and performance goals. Weight loss on a detox diet is usually due to very low calorie diets and/or dehydration.
Ways to Support Your Body’s Natural Detox
Detoxification shouldn’t consist of a rigorous plan! Following general healthy recommendations from MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will help you support your body’s built-in systems:
- Stay hydrated, ideally with water
- Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- Consume dietary fiber each day from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains to help maintain bowel regularity
- Include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks and green tea
- Consume adequate amounts of lean protein, which is critical to maintain optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme
- Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut
- Consider taking a multivitamin if you are unable to consume the foods listed above.
If you have questions about your eating and its role in supporting the body’s detoxification, check in with a registered dietitian nutritionist.