Detox Diets: Helpful or Full of Hype?

There it was, posted on the SparkPeople message board: "Need encouragement for 21-day detox".

A member was feeling tired and run down. She had decided to cleanse and detox her body as well as jumpstart her weight loss program by using a special diet. By eating only fruits and veggies and drinking tea for the next 21 days, she was convinced that she would be ridding her body of damaging toxins. She was asking for feedback on her plan and support and encouragement during her 21-day detox adventure.

As the dietitian for SparkPeople, I could provide neither. On its own, a healthy body is designed to take care of toxins. Various detoxification programs, colon cleansing, and water irrigation devices are not needed and at times can be harmful or dangerous.

Most toxins reach the bloodstream when we swallow or inhale them. Others pass through our skin. Still others are released by dying cells or invading bacteria. The liver is the body’s purification plant. Toxins are filtered and removed from the blood and broken down in the liver before they can do harm. Toxins are also broken down by the kidneys and eliminated in the urine. Digestive acids and enzymes neutralize toxins which are then eliminated in the feces. Toxins can also be exhaled out of the body. The large intestine also contains hundreds of beneficial bacteria which also help to reduce toxin activity and side effects. As you can see, the body is designed to protect and cleanse itself. Here we'll discuss some of the most popular body cleansing programs: detox diets and colon cleansing.

Detoxification Diets, or detox diets for short, seem to be the current buzz word regarding health. According to these theories, by restricting certain foods and drinking specific beverages, you can clean and detoxify designated body systems. These programs can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Some people do report feelings of energy, lightness, better attention and focus, but this is likely a placebo effect—people believe they are doing something good for themselves.

Other people who detox may report large amounts of weight loss. This weight loss is primarily water loss and dehydration; it is not permanent weight (fat) loss. There is no medical evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. And although they are not necessarily unsafe, they are far from being nutritious and healthy for the body, and they are a terrible way to lose weight.

Colon Cleansing uses herbal ingredients, laxatives, enemas, colonics, and/or irrigation devices. These can disrupt the normal functioning and balance of the large intestine, resulting in electrolyte imbalances, diarrhea, dehydration and damage to the protective bacteria in the large intestine. Doctors don’t recommend colon cleansing for improved health and well-being or for the prevention of disease. The colon doesn’t need to be cleansed. In fact, the only appropriate use for colon cleansing is in preparation for a medical procedure used to examine the colon.

Rejuvenate Your Body the Healthy Way
Of course, eating fresh produce, drinking water, and exercising regularly will help you feel healthier and more energetic. But meeting your body's nutritional needs for protein, calcium and other nutrients is also important. Any "diet" that recommends eliminating certain food groups entirely is risky and nutritionally unbalanced. Since detox diets and colon cleansing lack medical evidence to prove they are successful (and can be dangerous), what can you do to improve your health and start losing weight? Enjoy a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. These are the best ways to revitalize and rejuvenate the body.

Include in your diet: In addition, the following practices will help your body perform at its best and reduce your risk of disease:
  • Take part in moderate exercise all or most days of the week.
  • Avoid smoking and inappropriate drug use.
  • Get plenty of sleep every night and take steps to reduce stress and relax.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Remember, your body is designed to purify itself. When you are healthy—eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly—your liver and kidneys will do the job they're supposed to do. If you're feeling tired or are having trouble losing weight, talk to your health care provider. Using the steps above (and ruling out any underlying conditions) will help you feel your best. Your body will thank you!

For more information about detox diets, check out these resources: