The Detox Dilemma

March 23, 2016

From juicing to teatoxing to the master cleanse, there seems to be something about the concept of detoxing which appeals to the masses. For some, it may be a quick way to lose a few pounds or atone for a less than perfect lifestyle. For others, it may seem like a proactive approach to keeping well and lowering disease risk. But is there any evidence behind this popular trend? Can we really “wipe the slate clean” when it comes to our health? Or does our desire to be healthy make us vulnerable to clever marketing practices?

The concept behind detoxing

Dietary “detoxing” usually involves some manner of short-term fasting, dietary restriction or supplementation, which is claimed to promote the elimination of toxins from the body. Removal of these impurities from the organs is, in turn, argued to encourage weight loss, improve focus, reduce disease risk and increase energy levels, amongst other things. Many commercial detox programs focus on the liver as it plays a principal role in the body’s own built-in detoxification system.

What exactly are “toxins”?

There are different types of environmental pollutants, chemicals and heavy metals, which are difficult for our bodies to remove quickly and can, therefore, accumulate in our tissues. Toxins can also be made through metabolic processes in the body. These are referred to as metabolic waste. However, very often, products that claim to detox the body do not specifically define the substance(s) that they are targeting.

Does detoxing work?

No, not in this respect. Although your body can accumulate toxins, there is absolutely no convincing scientific evidence that any of these substances enhance our natural detoxification processes. But rest assured that, for most of us, the human body does a pretty good job of detoxing on it’s own. Our bodies have their own self-regulating methods of detoxification via the liver, kidneys, skin and lungs. In fact, the liver itself is constantly transforming toxic substances into harmless compounds, which are then excreted from the body through sweat, urination or defecation.

It should be noted that there is also a marked lack of product regulation in the detox industry. This can make detoxing especially dangerous for certain groups, such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with long-standing medical issues, such as Diabetes. Furthermore, detox programs that exclude whole food groups are not nutritionally complete and can deprive the body of necessary nutrients such as protein and fibre.

Detox diets can certainly encourage weight loss due to periods of fasting and, often, severe dietary restriction. However, due to the short-term nature of these interventions, weight loss is unlikely to be sustainable. Weight reduction, in the short-term, is more likely to be a result of fluid loss and reduced carbohydrate stores (glycogen) rather than actual fat loss. Therefore, weight is easily regained.

What can you do for your body?

Although there may be no magic pill, there are many evidence-based choices you can make to stay healthy and keep the body’s natural detoxification systems in good form.

  • Avoid processed foods high in sugar and saturated fat
  • Drink alcohol in moderation (<14 units/week)
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (5+ portions, 1-2 of which are fruit)
  • Make sure you have adequate fibre in your diet (~30g)
  • Regular exercise (minimum 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week)
  • Eat a diet which consists primarily of whole foods (e.g. wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses)
  • Stress reduction techniques such running, yoga or meditation
  • Get a good night’s sleep (~7-8 hours/night)
  • Drink enough fluids (6-8 glasses of water/day)
  • Maintain a healthy weight (BMI = 18.5-24.9kg/m2)
  • Slow, sustainable weight loss if you are overweight (1lb or 0.5kg/week)
  • Avoid environmental toxins such as smoking

What is your opinion on detoxing? Let us know in the comment section below.

More about Laura

Hello - I'm Laura - an American living in London, England. Six years ago, I made a huge decision to leave my established career in Graphic Design to pursue my passion for Nutrition. I earned a BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics at King's College London and am now a Registered Dietitian. I started Kindred as a creative platform to share tips and practical tools for diet, health and wellbeing.

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