New Years resolutions always seem to include a need to cleanse and undertake a fresh approach to health and work- life balance. With seasonal celebrations potentially leaving us feeling jaded and over indulged, it’s hardly surprising the word ‘detox’ suddenly sounds attractive.
What is detox?
Detoxification implies an action that eliminates a build up of excessive (and by implication) harmful toxins in the human body. Popular detox outcomes to removing these toxins or ‘poisons’ from your body include reducing unwanted fat, clearing your complexion, restoring energy and even improving your immune system.
However, undertaking popularised detox practices such as fasts and crash diets which are extremely low calorie and primarily liquid, carry risks such as vitamin deficiencies, muscle breakdown and blood sugar issues including low energy, irritability and headaches to name a few. Depriving the body of vital vitamins and minerals can weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation, plus upset essential potassium and sodium levels.
“Restricting solid foods to survive on only low-calorie beverages for days at a time is supposed to cleanse the body but we don't need an extreme diet to cleanse our insides, as humans already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin” says Dr Robert Przemioslo, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, MD, FRCP, Spire Hospital Bristol.
“These concepts are not based on medical fact. A detox diet is complex, often costly and not judged against any standard other than a perception of improvement due to a placebo effect. On the other hand, a change to a healthy diet with some exercise has been shown in multiple clinical trials to reduce the development of gut conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, bowel cancer, fatty liver as well as heart disease, diabetes and strokes. “
The Fiction: Drink as much water as possible
The current popularity of detox diets which recommend drinking many litres of water a day and, drinking even when not thirsty, could cause problems if taken to extremes. The claim is that drinking more water than usual can do everything from improving your skin tone to "flushing out" toxins from your body. “However, the amount of water actually needed in a day varies from person to person, and depends on other factors such as climate, and exercise", says Lorraine Perretta. She adds: “Too much water could "overwhelm" the body's natural mechanisms for keeping levels in balance. The body already has a brilliant system for doing this, but if water levels in the blood rise too high, it just can't cope.”
The Dangers of Detox Diets
Many detox diets are nutritionally insufficient. Detox diets are not recommended for teenagers, pregnant women, or people with health conditions because of the danger from not getting enough calories and proteins.
Poor nutrition during detox can lead to muscle loss, fatigue and irritability.
Detox diets do not result in long-term weight loss and most people rapidly regain any lost weight once the diet is over.
There is no real evidence that a detox diet is any better at getting rid of toxins than your body's own natural defense mechanisms.