Detoxing is all the rage right now, and like everything that’s trendy for half a minute, people everywhere are hopping on the bandwagon and extoling the amazing benefits of detoxing. Celebrities like Beyonce, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Drew Barrymore have all said to have detoxed.
I have been intrigued by this concept of detoxing, but like many people I have also been confused about what it is to begin with. Can drinking water with lemon and cayenne pepper for several days really make my skin better, my metabolism faster, and increase my energy? What about juicing? Can juice cleanses really change my life for the better?
Why People Detox
“Detox can mean a lot of things to different people. The main idea is to get toxins – such as heavy metals, plastic, and chemicals – out of the body,” Dr. Jack Wolfson told me. Dr. Wolfson is the author of The Paleo Cardiologist. “When I hear detox, I think, ‘what is the person trying to achieve and how are they trying to achieve it?'”
Cursory Googling indicates people come to detoxing for many reasons. An article on MindBodyGreen.com states toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, and industrial waste, are stored in tissues and cells throughout our body “often for years” and suggests detoxing as a way to eliminate these toxins. The same article suggests detoxing as a way to: prevent chronic disease, enhance immune system function, lose weight, and slow premature aging among others.
Does detoxing really help?
In spite of my curiosity, I have always been a little bit skeptical. After all, don’t we have systems in our body that are designed to eliminate toxins?
“The idea that our bodies are not adept at removing toxins is a false claim,” said Amy Isabella Chalker, a dietitian with a holistic background. “Our liver, kidneys, and lymph system are designed specifically for that purpose: To filter and remove those compounds not digestible or storable by the human body.”
“The human body has amazing systems of detoxification,” agreed Dr. Wolfson. “That is one of the main functions of the liver. Additionally, the lungs, kidneys, skin, and gastrointestinal tract help rid the body of unwanted/unneeded matter.”
Many detoxers believe our body’s detox systems are easily overlaoded, and detoxing is a great way to help our body eliminate toxins more efficiently and effectively. But, and perhaps I’ve been alone in wondering this, why can’t my body seem to get rid of toxins on its own?
Emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University Edzard Ernst told The Guardian if toxins built up in your body in a way that could not be removed, you would likely be dead. “There is no known way to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body [our natural detoxing systems] work better.”
“The word ‘toxin’ is tossed around casually by many in the diet industry without a real definition in tow. Our bodies are designed to naturally remove harmful elements from our bodies: through the liver, through sweat, and through expiration and excretion. The idea that so-called ‘toxins’ can build up in our bodies is not valid.” said Chalker. “If you are trying to consume less sugar, processed foods, and pesticides, the single best way to eliminate these products from the body is to cut back on such foods, choosing organic and unprocessed foods whenever possible; a flush is not necessary.”
Most detoxes are low in calories which can put our body into starvation mode, explained Chalker. “When the body doesn’t have sufficient calories to burn for daily external and cellular activities, it will be begin to burn muscle protein for fuel,” Chalker said. “This is the opposite of what we want to burn for weight loss; muscle protein actually increase our metabolism, helping us burn more calories throughout the day.”
Trendy and Celebrity Detoxes
There are a lot of different cleanses and detoxes on the market – far too many to go through here, but these three are very in right now:
Health junkies like Jennifer Anniston, Kelly Ripa and Gwenyth Paltrow have all admitted to being fans of the Alkaline Cleanse.
“The theory behind the alkaline trend is to cut out or limit acidic foods, and eat raw and fresh alkaline soups, juices and smoothies for a short-period to make the body’s PH balance more alkaline,” explained Breanne Rice, a nutritional therapist. “Our bodies are meant to balance our PH levels naturally, so limiting yourself to only alkaline-based foods may leave you lacking in nutrients, which can lead to a deficiency.”
Juice cleanses are wildly popular. This is a favorite amongst stars like Jessica Alba, Miranda Kerr, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Fruit juice cleanses consist of limiting whole food and drinking fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day for several days in a row.
“While this is a great way to add additional fruits and vegetables into the diet, some fruit juice cleanses can have just as much sugar as a candy bar at the grocery store,” said Rice. “This increase in sugar can have negative impacts on blood sugar regulation, especially if you’re diabetic or have insulin resistance. When choosing a fruit juice, aim for mainly greens with only one type of fruit added so you are minimizing the sugar content.”
The Master Cleanse, which consists of drink water with lemon, cayenne, and maple syrup for several days, is lacking in nutrients. While Beyonce famously used this cleanse to shed pounds before her role in Dream Girls, Rice wouldn’t recommend it because it is too restrictive and nutrient deficient.
The more medically-minded tend to err on the side of what has been scientifically proven. But, there are a lot of people who believe in the power of detoxing, even if their only evidence is anecdotal. Sometimes anecdotal evidence is all you need. You have to find what works for you.
If you feel like you need a reboot, but aren’t feeling like a detox is for you, try adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while reducing alcohol, caffeine, and soda. This will get you on a healther track without embarking on a nutrient deficient “detox.”
If you’re going to move forward with a detox, Dr. Wolfson recommends your detox should be medically supervised. You should never deprive yourself of nutrition. Dr. Wolfson’s other tips include drinking lots of water, heading to a sauna, adding chlorella to your diet, and getting a massage.
Have you tried a detox? How did you feel? Let me know in the comments.