OPINION: Getting down and dirty with detox

Written by Bharat Bhatia.


Many people go on diets to detoxify their body. The belief is that the accumulation of toxins in our bodies can be removed by certain diets... But do detox diets really work for cleansing the body and weight loss? Read on for my opinion!

Detoxification diets, or detox diets for short, involve consuming only certain foods or juices. Different people may have contrasting definitions of what constitutes a detox diet, but generally most of these diets consist of only fruits and vegetables.


In many cases, detox diets prescribe juices only, as opposed to solid fruits and vegetables. The idea behind this is that the digestive system is given time to rest so that the detox process can take place.


What is it about these foods and juices that allegedly remove toxins? According to naturopath Linda Page, ND, it appears to be vitamin C and water that does the trick. But is there any evidence that any nutrient can help with detox?


Where’s the evidence?


The human body naturally removes toxins through the liver in two phases: oxidation and conjugation. During oxidation, the liver burns toxins with the use of oxygen and enzymes. Oxidized chemicals are then combined with sulfur, amino acids or organic acids, and excreted in bile during the conjugation stage.


It goes without saying that our bodies need food to function properly, but do certain foods allow the liver to do a better job of detoxification? There is no evidence of that.


Excess body fat from unhealthy lifestyle choices can lead to fatty deposits in the liver, and such fatty deposits can inhibit the liver’s ability to remove toxins. By reducing body fat (which can be done with exercise and proper diet), we can in turn reduce fatty liver disease, and thus improve the liver’s ability to detoxify.


But there aren’t any special foods that the body specifically uses to remove fats from the liver. It’s important to note the body’s ability to detoxify all by itself.


Detoxing to shed pounds


When going on a detox, it is likely that people will ingest higher levels of fruits and vegetables. Certainly getting more fruits and vegetables in our diet is beneficial, but the problem is that most detox diets are juice-only.


While many of the nutrients are preserved in juicing, fiber is completely removed. High levels of fiber found in fruits and vegetables aid in weight loss, but because of its removal, juice detoxes do very little in this regard.


“It’s not a great way to lose weight,” says James Dillard, MD, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “You’ll gain it all back … It’s just like the Atkins diet. The weight you lose is water weight.”



Along with weight loss, fiber also helps lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Thus, a lack of fiber is one of the dangers of juice-only detox diets. So not only do juice fasts fail to detox the body, the lack of fiber increases the risk of chronic health problems.


Just as excessive body fat inhibits the liver’s ability to detox, so does excessive alcohol consumption. Avoiding or consuming less alcohol also reduces damage to the liver. While there isn’t anything we can consume to improve detoxification, we can avoid things that inhibit it. In fact, alcohol itself is a toxin and thus one of the things the liver removes when detoxifying. So cutting back on alcohol and losing weight will aid in detox, but again, no special foods will in this process.


Instant gratification with detoxing


Some people report feeling better on detox diets. Part of the reason these claims exist is because of the removal of processed foods. These foods typically have solid fats and added sugar that promote poor short-term and long-term health.


Likewise, as detoxes typically remove meat and other animal products, the ridding of these unhealthy fats is another benefit that people feel almost instantly.


But it’s not all good when it comes to detoxing. These diets have side effects which can include cramping, bloating and vomiting, as well as deep-rooted issues such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Such side effects are caused by electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, disrupting good bacteria (which is helpful for the immune system), impaired bowel function, and lack of necessary fats.



Detoxing vitamins


Because detox diets are extremely low in fat, this reduces absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. tBWhile many vitamins are water-soluble, there are four critical vitamins that are fat-soluble: A, D, E, and K.



Here’s a quick breakdown of each:

  • Vitamin A is important for eyesight as well as maintaining mucous membranes. So while mucous removal is one of the reasons for detoxing, the lack of fat in such diets may inhibit the absorption of vitamin A for this function.

  • Vitamin D is important for calcium and phosphorus absorption, which develops bones.

  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant. That’s a buzzword we hear a lot nowadays. But what really is the importance of antioxidants and why would we want to anti-oxidize? Isn’t oxygen good? Here is an analogy to better explain. Humans are social creatures. If we are lonely, we seek groups. Hopefully our friends are a good influence on us. However, if engaged in unhealthy friendships, we are more at risk for other harmful friendships and behavior. Oxygen seeks “companionship,” and if it doesn’t get it the healthy way, it joins the wrong crowd. This can include binding with metals and other toxins. Antioxidants make sure oxygen stays away from the wrong crowd.

  • Finally, Vitamin K allows the liver to produce proteins that are important in blood clotting.

Getting enough of these fat soluble vitamins reduces the risk of cancer, liver diseases, and other conditions. Insufficient fat reduces absorption of these vitamins. As detox diets generally are very low in fat, they may cause some of the very conditions they seek to prevent.


Detox un-diet


Most people who detox do such temporarily, such as for a week or sometimes up to 30 days. But after engaging in a detox, people typically revert back to their normal diet.


Although detox diets use fruits and vegetables that provide many health benefits, the risks of such diets can weigh heavier than the pros. A much better approach would be to consume an abundance of fruits and vegetables as a regular part of one's diet.


And while people subsequently remove processed foods on a detox, it is best to simply have a diet of minimal processed foods on a regular basis. Above all, eating your fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and plant-based proteins will give the overall healthiest results.


Just as Dillard said, “the old-fashioned way of eating the right foods, getting exercise, clean living, [and] keeping a positive mental attitude” is what works best.

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