Spring Clean Your Body?
By Andrea Holwegner, Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc.
Cleansing and Detox Diets – Are They Necessary??
Almost 90% of Canadian adults identify nutrition as an important factor when choosing the foods they eat and 80% consider that food and proper nutrition play a major role in the maintenance and improvement of their health. 1
There is a growing interest in the area of detoxification (detox) and cleansing diets. The term “detox ” is applied to a range of eating plans, from two-day juice fasts and short spans of consuming only vegetables and water to radical regimes that include colonic irrigations (a procedure similar to an enema). These eating plans claim to help clear toxins from the body, liver and intestines (claimed to originate from pollution and junk food). To date, these diets or regimes are not regulated in Canada.
What Does the Evidence Tell us?
There is no scientific data that supports the claims made by detox and cleansing diets. Proven scientifically, humans are fully equipped with the best detoxification system. The human body draws nutrients for the foods that we eat, and excretes wastes not needed. Organs work together in waste removal: the liver removes waste from the bloodstream and prepares it to be sent to the kidneys for disposal of the urine. The large intestine does not need internal cleansing since it works to reabsorb much needed water and minerals as the wastes passes.
PROS: Many of these detox programs encourage eating lots of fruits and vegetables, which are high in water and fiber and may help move things smoothly through the gastrointestinal tract, and this tends to make people feel better. Taking a temporary break from caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars-as is prescribed by most of these plans-may not only eliminate energy crashes sometimes associated with these ingredients but also could help people realize just how much “junk” they normally consume. In this way, detox periods may inspire longer-term healthy changes.
CONS: Colonic irrigations done improperly can seriously injure the large intestine and create an imbalance for the friendly or good bacteria found in the gut. Other “safer” plans (those that promote eating only select, nutritious foods) may cause fatigue or dizziness if they don’t supply adequate calories. If severe calorie restriction is sustained for more than a few days, the body may sense impending starvation and release stress hormones that cause fat stores to break down rapidly-a response that, ironically, may increase circulating toxins. Finally, the enhanced energy that detox dieters often report may be the result of surging stress hormones too. (Evolutionarily, it makes sense: a “fight or flight” response drives hungry animals to seek out food aggressively.) An adrenaline-charged drive is short-lived, and with prolonged calorie restriction, the body powers down to conserve energy, ultimately slowing the metabolism.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a healthy adult, living on vegetables and water for a few days isn’t likely to do you harm—or much good. If you operate on the mode of ‘live today, detox tomorrow’ you are fooling yourself. Optimizing your body’s natural detoxification systems is best achieved by consistently practicing healthy behaviors: consuming nutrient-rich foods, drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly.
1. Dietitians of Canada. Current Issues- The Inside Story. Detox And Cleansing Diets – Fact or Fiction? January 2007