DETOXING HAS BECOME DE RIGUEUR, BUT MEDICAL EVIDENCE BETRAYS PROPONENTS’ CLAIMS. WE GIVE THE SCIENCE A SWEEP.
According to general practitioner Dr Fran Bruce of Wesley LifeShape Clinic (wesleylifeshape.com.au), the kidneys and liver are constantly detoxing the body by filtering and eliminating most ingested toxins. “Your body doesn’t need added help to complete this process,” Dr Bruce says.
What’s more, the practices of detox often don’t match the promises of feeling lighter and looking trimmer.
The visible effects are likely to be water based. “While on a detox, most people will have a fluid shift initially but this apparent drop in weight typically isn’t fat loss, rather a water loss and is not maintained at the end of the diet once you return to normal eating habits,” Dr Bruce says.
Gastroenterologist Dr Philip Chang says that if detox diets result in any weight loss that lasts beyond the diet, it is likely to be muscle, as the body resorts to feeding on its own lean mass in the absence of adequate calories. Dr Chang says catabolism can culminate in difficulty maintaining body weight. “When the detox diets finish, there is often a rebound effect, as the body is firstly preferentially storing fat as it believes it is in a starvation state,” he says. “And secondly, the muscle loss leads to a negative shift in the fat/muscle ratio within the body, and this muscle then needs to be regained through oral consumption of calories and exercise.” “Therefore, the weight loss promised by detox diets is only short term, and should not be considered as part of a long term weight program. ”
Dietitian Lyndi Polivnick eschews the detox idea. “Expect to lose weight, but mainly due to water and muscle loss after depriving your body of essential nutrients such as protein.” Detox diets that severely limit protein or require fasting can result in fatigue, dehydration, light- headedness, headaches, mood swings and constipation. Long-term fasting can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, while colon cleansing can cause gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, cramping and bloating. Gastrointestinal problems are also common while detoxing, so water intake is critical. Proponents say it helps to carry waste from the body, transporting nutrients that help muscle function. Herbal concoctions can be detrimental with medications for conditions such as high blood pressure.
DR PHILIP CHANG, gastroenterologist, The Sydney Clinic for Gastrointestinal Diseases (nssc.com.au): “We have no real need to detox per se. Physiologically, we have a brilliantly complex system of toxin removal that connects the intestinal system, the liver and the kidneys, which work together to systematically process and excrete by-products and unwanted waste from our system. There are no scientifically valid studies to show that any of the current forms of detox truly result in any long-term benefits for health and wellbeing.”
Laxatives should be avoided – especially osmotic- type laxatives, which can lead to serious medical problems. Herbal teas containing senna can also have long-term consequences for the gut. The standard Western diet combined with busy schedules can cause or worsen digestive issues such as constipation or colonic inertia and segue to intestinal permeability and skewed gut flora. Our diet not only influences our muscles and adipose (fat) in our bodies, but also causes long-term and sometimes drastic changes in our intestinal microbiome – small and large intestinal gut bacteria and viruses,” Chang explains.
According to Chang, this gut microbiome is crucial to our immediate health. It’s also thought to be implicated in regulating key bodily functions such as the development and function of the immune system and associated diseases including gut permeability (the ‘leaky gut’ phenomenon), systemic metabolic rate, and the ability of our bodies to properly absorb electrolytes and micro- and macronutrients from food. The general principles of lowering caloric intake, increased consumption of water, and a trend towards the consumption of natural, minimally processed foods such as fruit, green leafy vegetables (i.e. cabbage or kale) and psyllium (natural insoluble fibre), which are present in some part of many of the detox diets today, are beneficial.”
LYNDI POLIVNICK, Dietitian: “Detox diets promise enticing benefits, but most are medically meaningless. The belief that your body needs help ridding itself of toxins is not based on science; the human body is truly amazing in its ability to eliminate toxins naturally. Laxative use messes with your digestive system and absorption of nutrients while juice fasts and cleanses lack protein, encouraging the body to cannibalise its own muscle mass, in turn reducing metabolicm. Juicing also robs you of fibre, which is hailed as a weight loss hero for its ability to prolong satiety and prevent cravings. If you are tempted, keep your cleansing period short and favour wholefoods rather than liquids.
Also aim to eat close to your maintenance calories to guard against muscle loss and metabolic slowdown. Unlike trendy juice diets, raw fruit and veg provide fibre, which is the body’s natural cleanser. If you are going to detox, remember to keep your fluids up. The best way to detox is to eat more fibre, drink plenty of water and get exercising as keeping fit will supercharge your body’s natural ability to clear toxins.
DR FRAN BRUCE, GP, Wesley LifeShape Clinic: “To healthily detox your body, simply avoid highly processed foods that are high in fats and sugar, reduce your alcohol intake (if it exceeds the recommended guidelines) and limit caffeine consumption for a week or so. Often this is all your body needs to feel cleansed and refreshed, leaving you with a sense of wellbeing. If you are going to detox, it’s important to choose one that promotes the intake of fresh, nutrient-dense wholefoods to ensure you can maintain your energy and not feel tired or lethargic. Maintaining regular meals and snacks is important to eliminate large gaps and avoid fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
“For long-term results regarding health and weight management, it is a much better idea to eat a healthy diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein and enjoy regular exercise,” Dr Bruce suggests.
“Don’t forget to also drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep to feel more refreshed.”
If you have a specific diet-related dysfunction such as candida: “I would recommend you see your GP to discuss.
The key to long-term health and weight management is not a short-term diet, If you have a specific diet-related dysfunction such as candida: “I would recommend you see your GP to discuss. The key to long-term health and weight management is not a short-term diet, ” Dr Bruce says.
“Make lifestyle changes for the long term and seek support from experts including dietitians, exercise physiologists, psychologists and your GP.”