Don’t Believe the Detox Hype: A Registered Dietitian’s Take on Cleansing

Juicing, 48-hour cleanses, fasting, colon cleanses… there continues to be a lot of hype around detoxing and cleansing diets. Celebrities swear by them and more and more people have been getting in on the action, but do they really work? Let’s take a closer look.

DetoxIllo_v2
Dave Barnes Illustration

By Suzie Cromwell, RD

Bowel or colon cleansing has been around since the early 1900s, with roots based on an ancient theory called auto-intoxication—a belief that feces poisons the body and leads to the onset of disease. The American Medical Association refuted the theory and condemned the practice in 1919.

With the rise in popularity of alternative health practices, we’ve seen a resurgence of bowel cleansing fads known as detoxification (detox) or cleansing diets. These diets are popular after periods of indulgence, holidays, or between seasons, and are promoted as a method to help the body remove toxins such as food additives, pesticide residues, caffeine, heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and more.

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Cleanse diet supporters have reported rapid weightloss, feeling re-energized, and enhanced overall health. But the established medical community remains dubious. How truthful are these exaggerated health claims?
What are detox and cleansing diets?

Ranging anywhere from 3 to 15 days, detox and cleansing diets claim to facilitate the removal of accumulated contaminants in our bodies found in the food we eat, the beverages we drink, and the air we breathe. They are often purchased as a kit, or found online. Common detox methods, either alone or in combination, include:

  • Fasting or eliminating major foods or food groups
  • Consuming large amounts of water or juice
  • Using laxatives and/or herbal ingredients.

“The best way to live healthy is to eat healthy and exercise frequently all year long, not in spurts or with quick fix cleanses.”

Do detox and cleansing diets really work?
The truth is there is insufficient scientific data to categorically support the claim that detox and cleansing diets actually remove more toxins than a properly functioning body would. Our bodies are naturally well equipped with detoxifying agents — our skin, lungs, kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal tract are efficient at removing, or neutralizing, toxic substances.

For example, the liver collects waste from the blood stream and delivers it to the kidneys where it is filtered and excreted in urine. The intestine eliminates solid waste after nutrients and water have been absorbed. Our organs have always worked together to remove toxins from our bodies without the need for specialized diets or restrictions.

Are detox and cleansing diets safe?
Detox and cleansing diets are often low in calories, protein, fibre, and other crucial nutrients. For example, the popular “Master Cleanse” consists of nothing but 6–12 glasses of water with maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper, plus laxatives. Seven to ten days of the master cleanse promotes side effects such as headaches, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue. Longer duration or repeated use of cleanses like this can result in more serious side effects such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and a weakened immune system.

“The truth is there is insufficient scientific data to categorically support the claim that detox and cleansing diets actually remove more toxins than a properly functioning body would.”

Are there benefits to detox and cleansing diets?
Definitely. Cleanses promote the avoidance of processed foods and often replaces them with fruits and vegetables, thus increasing the consumption of more nutritious foods. This is likely the reason many claim to feel better after cleansing. Cleanses may also encourage one to continue on the path to a healthier overall lifestyle.

Bottom Line: The best way to live healthy is to eat healthy and exercise frequently all year long, not in spurts or with quick fix cleanses. Here are some basic recommendations for maintaining a healthy gut,
staying regular, and preventing chronic disease:

  • Avoid processed foods, added sugar, and alcohol
  • Consume a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein and/or lean sources of animal protein
  • Drink two litres of water daily
  • Get enough rest and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

Having a balanced diet, including adequate fibre and fluids, combined with physical activity, is a safe and effective method for staying regular and eliminating toxins. Don’t be fooled by the hype, be mindful—there are very few shortcuts to healthy living, so ditch the temporary detox and instead review your long-term eating patterns, set specific realistic goals, and work continuously towards developing a healthier lifestyle.

 

Read how one 560 lb man is taking control of his weight by biking across America here.

And how one Edmonton man is helping others heal from PTSD through paddling here.

Be sure to check out more from the new issue of Mountain Life Coast Mountains.

 

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