The truth about detox diets*


What does “detox” mean, anyway?

The term “detoxification” was used for years to refer to the process of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs by people addicted to those substances. Today “detox” has become a catchall term for any number of nontraditional diets, fasts or procedures that claim to reset your metabolism, remove unwanted pounds and eliminate so-called “toxins” from the body. There is no evidence that any of these detoxing methods actually rid your body of harmful substances or do any of the other claims.

What are these toxins that so many plans claim to eliminate?
Toxins are generally defined as substances created by plants, animals and microorganisms that are poisonous to humans. Some medications can be toxic when used in large amounts. However, that definition has changed so much that it has become meaningless. Detox plans may refer to refined sugar, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, gluten and a host of environmental contaminants as toxins. These plans may list obesity, fatigue, skin rashes, various cancers, bloating, depression, insomnia, joint pain and chronic nasal congestion as evidence of toxicity in the body.

Aren’t the body’s organs aleady designed to “detox” us, if functioning properly?
Yes. The human body is an efficient detoxing machine. The skin — your body’s largest organ — provides a barrier to harmful substances. Your airways trap and expel noxious particles, while your intestines screen out parasites and other harmful organisms and allow nutrients to be absorbed into the blood. The liver acts as your body’s primary filter, digesting food and ridding the body of toxic substances. Your kidneys also filter out toxins via your urine. Eating enough fiber and drinking enough fluid assists your organs to detox you naturally. Those organs act in concert with the immune system to keep you well.

Are some detox diets or cleanses dangerous?
Yes, especially the more extreme or restrictive regimens. Some detox plans eliminate critical nutrients, like protein, which can lead to malnutrition. A prolonged juice cleanse or juice fast could, over time, lead to an imbalance of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Colon cleansing or enemas are not only unnecessary but can lead to serious complications, including dehydration, diarrhea, life-threatening blood infections and perforation of the intestinal wall.

Bottom line:
Healthful eating, sleep and exercise habits help your body run optimally; unhealthy habits compromise it. There is no evidence that a special detox diet or fast can take the place of or supplement what your own body is naturally programmed to do.

Eat as well as you can as often as you can.

*Adapted from Berkeley Wellness Newsletter