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Despite growing popularity and extensive marketing, detox diets and treatments are not supported by any solid medical evidence. Many researchers and medical organizations consider marketing detox products to be deliberate misinformation.

Detoxification, some believe, is a type of treatment to remove damaging toxins from the body. No doubt, the industrial age has added lots of chemicals to our environment and our diet. As a result, the buildup of these toxins in the body is believed to decrease immunity, slow metabolism, decrease overall energy and set the base for chronic diseases.

The main idea behind detoxification is to cleanse the body of this toxic waste, so that the body functions better and the metabolism returns to normal. But do these detox diets and treatments actually work?

Detoxing: Marketing Vs Science

To date, there has been no scientific evidence which supports the theory of cleansing or detoxification in terms of following any diet, taking supplements, fasting, colonics, or saunas. These treatments and diets, which often carry an expensive price tag and are marketed by celebrities, may actually have various side effects attached to them like nausea, headache, lightheadedness and so on.

In ancient practices such as Ayurveda, fasting and dietary restrictions were considered to purify body, mind and soul. But in recent medical times, cleansing has become just a marketing word for the industry and services manufacturing these detoxification products. One may go on a detox diet for a week and lose weight — but losing weight is no way connected to cleansing your body of the toxins.

There has been a lot of debate related to the pros and cons of detoxification by many medical experts, nutritionists, dietitians and fitness experts. Though some believe that detoxing has no place in nutrition care and eating healthy and balanced meals is the only way to keep your body healthy, others believe that detoxing and fasting can be used as a motivational tool to inculcate healthy eating habits. It not only gives you a break from your old eating habits, but also helps you to reset your habits in an easier way.

The Risks Of Detoxification Programs

  • Almost all detox plans include "colon cleansing", which may cause dehydration, nausea, bloating, vomiting and cramping.
  • There may be physical harm caused by toxic components in the cleansing products or by drug and nutrient interactions.
  • Long-term fasting may alter the metabolism and weaken gut integrity. Once the gut is weakened, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and cramping occur frequently once the food is reintroduced.
  • These long periods of fasting and restrictive diet may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiency, lower blood sugar levels, skin breakdown and muscle wasting.
  • Detox treatments that use laxatives in the long term may cause serious constipation and various other gastrointestinal distresses, once their use is discontinued.
  • Detox diets may impair immune function due to a lack of essential nutrients and anti-oxidants, resulting in frequent sore throats and other illnesses.
  • Weight loss is pretty common after a detox but unfortunately, it is due to losses in water and muscle tissue, depending on the diet followed. If a person's diet and activity levels remain the same, all weight will be regained over time.

Detoxification Kits: Can They Be Harmful?

Until now there has been no clear evidence to prove that detox kits do anything at all. There has been no single clinical study that supports the idea that detox kits and treatments remove toxins from the body. 

So what is it that these detox kits actually contain?

Though contents may vary from one kit to another, mainly they contain two types of ingredients:

1.      A liver "booster": Milk thistle (Silibum marianum) is the most popular product used to boost liver effectiveness. So far, there are no published studies that demonstrate milk thistle having any detoxifying effect on the liver. A study done on patients suffering from hepatitis B or C and alcoholic liver disease didn’t show milk thistle having any meaningful effect on the liver. Therefore, whether the consumption of milk thistle improves the liver functionality or removes unnamed toxins is still unknown.

2.      A laxative: This is the main ingredient in many detox kits that gives you the feeling, and makes you see and conclude, that toxins are being removed from the body. They are typically Senna, magnesium hydroxide, cascara, and similar ingredients. Regular use of these laxatives may cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. These laxatives are normally used for short periods to lessen constipation or to clear bowels before a medical procedure. Taking them regularly may make the bowels get accustomed to their effects and cause constipation once they are stopped.

These detox kits have no place in the pharmacy and there is no published evidence that they have any beneficial effects.

These kits and products underline faulty impressions and focus on irrelevant issues, giving an impression that a bad lifestyle habit can be fixed quickly. Remember that improved health isn’t found in a box of herbs and laxatives. A poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise and other lifestyle implications cannot be flushed away just in couple of days.

How Should You Cleanse Your Body, Then?

A healthy body does not require any form of cleansing treatment. Its organs, liver, lungs, and kidneys are capable enough to cleanse themselves on a daily basis by converting toxins into non-toxic substances which are further excreted by the body.

There are specific food groups and foods which help to boost our natural detoxification system. Foods like green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, citrus fruits, turmeric, and leeks are all great components to include in your daily diet.

A brief detox diet for a healthy person may still be acceptable but avoid any detoxification treatment if you are pregnant or nursing, or suffer from a medical condition. Do not offer these products to growing children, adolescents, or elderly people. Increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables can by default improve your health. This is a better approach than opting for any of the cleansing techniques.

A Few Final Remarks...

Do not be fooled by the words "detox" or "cleanse" on the products; they will only be effective at cleansing your wallet of cash. It is advisable to consult your doctor before opting for any detoxifying treatment. Your doctor will examine whether your body has enough nutrients to sustain over the period of fasting and altering your diet and if your body is capable of taking that much stress by skipping food and other nutrients for five to seven days. If you choose to follow any of these detoxifying treatments or diets, try to use them as a "habit breaker" that will allow you to live a health lifestyle in the future.

Read full article

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  • Photo courtesy of Times Up Linz via Flickr:
  • Photo courtesy of Times Up Linz via Flickr:
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