What is a detox?
The idea of a detox is to expel unhealthy substances and toxins from the body. This is generally a short term measure and involves manipulating your diet and often (but not always) taking supplements. The dietary specifications and supplements will vary depending on the program undertaken.
Some common programs that you may have heard of include the ‘Lemon Detox’ diet and Isagenix. The lemon detox diet became particularly popular after Beyonce Knowle’s 20 pound weight loss. This may sound appealing but when life gives you lemons, I would not recommend using them for the lemon detox diet – all you’ll be consuming for roughly ten days is the below ingredients (and I should mention that ‘hot bowel motions’ is one of the unpleasant, yet unsurprising, symptoms).
What do these programs promise?
These programs promise many positive health outcomes. You can probably find one for any ailment you have. The most common claims include weight loss, increased energy levels, alleviation of headaches and improved overall wellbeing – though all of this can sometimes come at a hefty price.
Do they work?
It’s important to firstly acknowledge that these diets are not scientifically proven.
Are the results sustainable?
Detox diets are short term only and hence the results will also likely be short term. This should be kept in mind before undertaking a detox diet. Results may be achieved initially but the chances of sustaining these are often low and there are much healthier ways to get the same outcomes, in a more maintainable fashion.
If they are not recommended, why are they so popular?
Perhaps the appeal of the detox is that it is more of a gimmick than ‘eat healthy and exercise’. They are marketed in a more attractive way and many people think that eating healthy and keeping active is too difficult.
Results may also be brought about quicker but they may not always be what they appear and they will be at the cost of your nutritional health. For example, that 5kg you have lost in one week is probably largely due to fluid losses opposed to fat loss.
How does your body handle toxins?
“Detoxing” the body is a large part of what your kidneys, liver, lungs and skin are there for! In fact, they do this very effectively. So as long as you’re a healthy individual, you don’t need to rid the toxins yourself. This can often be much more harmful than good.
Toxins will be naturally removed via sweat, stool, urine and exhalation.
The processes simply explained:
The skin is the body’s first line of defence against toxins. It aims to prevent them entering in the first place. It acts like an impenetrable barrier and the salty concentration of sweat makes it an undesirable environment for bacteria.
The other parts of our body that are in contact with the environment have additional defences that perform the same role. For example; mucus, tears or tiny hairs that aim to stop toxins entering and that help to remove them. The acidic environment of the stomach helps to provide protection from toxins that manage to get that far.
The above are ‘passive defences’. Other defences include coughing, vomiting, fever, loose bowel motions, sneezing and having a runny nose – attempts to rid unwanted substances.
Elimination of toxins is then performed by the liver, kidneys and lungs, as previously mentioned. These toxins are expelled via exhalation, stool or as urine. This is one reason why we need to keep our bowel motions regular, so that our insides are not exposed to our waste products (and toxins) for extended periods of time – fibre, a healthy diet and exercise is enough to achieve regularity. Similarly, you need to drink adequate amounts of water to keep everything flushing through.
No “detox diet” will match your body’s complex pathways for detoxing.
What about the health risks associated?
In serious cases, longer detoxes can lead to electrolyte imbalances and acidosis. In less serious cases, they will simply be ineffective. Often the only “flushing out” that occurs is the flushing of good bacteria from your intestine – normal digestive microorganism balance can be disturbed during a detox. Surely these diets can’t be that good for your body if it is stressed that they are followed in the short term only.
These diets tend to slow your metabolism. They are normally extremely low in calories so your body slows its basal metabolic rate in an attempt to conserve energy. This is the first reason behind the frequent weight gain upon return to a normal diet.
The weight loss experienced will be largely due to fluid losses. Many of these detox diets and fasts have a very low quantity of carbohydrate. Given that carbohydrate is your body’s main source of fuel (in the form of glucose), your body then needs to turn to alternate sources of energy (ketones). However, the process of using this new energy source requires much more fluid to be used up than does glucose. Additionally, many of these detox diets use some form of laxative – this as well increases fluid losses. This is the second reason for expected weight gain following a detox. Once you return to a normal diet, start consuming carbohydrates and forgo the laxatives, your body can gain back that weight in fluid.
Muscle loss can also occur during a detox. The body needs adequate energy and protein to sustain muscle mass. If you do not get enough, the body will deplete muscle stores for energy.
Our ability to fight off infection and illness can also be decreased due to insufficient nutrients to keep the immune system healthy.
Many people who detox find that they suffer from headaches, stomach cramps, fatigue, nausea and many other unpleasant symptoms. Advocates of the detox usually say that this is the toxins working their way out of your body. However, it is more likely due to a lack of proper nutrients and dehydration. Many people report feeling confused and foggy headed which is again due to a lack of carbohydrate and hence energy. After all, glucose is your brains only source of energy.
My detox tips
If you want to “detox” your body, the suggestions below provide a healthy and sustainable way to do so. Following these suggestions will help your energy levels and help you to lose or maintain weight as well. These are healthy tips that you can continue right throughout your life.
√ Steer clear of takeaway and fast foods and limit dining out
√ Ditch the chocolates, lollies, pastries and other sweets
√ Avoid processed meats e.g. salami, bacon, ham
√ Drink plenty of water each day. Two litres each day is good as a guide but most of us actually need more than this!
√ Bulk up your diet with lots of colourful veges and 2 pieces of fruit each day
√ Consume sources of healthy oils each day e.g. nuts/ seeds, salmon, olive oil
√ Eliminate alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, cordial and any sugar laden drinks. Tea is good.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about alcohol and diabetes or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns.
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