health

Thinking about "detoxing"? Read this first.

Detoxes are totally unnecessary for most healthy people.

It’s Summer. And that means it’s beach season, relaxation season, and recovery-from-all-of-the-Christmas-parties season.

It’s also the season when people start to talk about wanting to start the new year in peak health — and a lot of companies make a whole lot of money selling products that claim to remove ‘harmful toxins’ from our systems.

But here’s the thing: with very few exceptions, detoxes aren’t actually a medically proven solution to health woes like tiredness and sluggishness — and indeed, embarking on a ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ may do more harm than good to your body.

Don’t believe us? Read on.

What even IS a toxin?

Here’s a problem with a lot of detox diets: Most detoxes don’t actually identify what a ‘toxin’ is, and therefore can’t prove the validity of their product, as Lifehacker reports.

Obviously our body does have some nasties in it — most of us have been exposed to alcohol and poisonous toxins from air pollution, for example — but assuming our bodies are healthy, we already have an inbuilt ‘detoxification system’ – it’s called our kidneys, our liver, and our lungs, as Emeritus Professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University Edzard Ernst told The Guardian last week. Detoxes are therefore totally unnecessary for most healthy people.

“It’s a scandal,” Mr Ernst added. “It’s criminal exploitation of the gullible [person] on the street and it sort of keys into something that we all would love to have – a simple remedy that frees us of our sins, so to speak.

“It’s nice to think that it could exist but unfortunately it doesn’t.”

Another thing to keep in mind: we shouldn’t automatically assume that because something is a chemical, it’s dangerous to us, as charity Sense About  Science outlines in its myth-busting guide The Making Sense Of Chemical Stories. After all, as the group writes, everything is made of chemicals — and that applies to kale and broccoli as well as flavoured cordial and Christmas dinner.

If you do lose weight on one of these ‘detox’ or ‘cleansing’ programs, it will most likely be “water weight”.

‘But my friend lost weight on a cleanse!’

People on cleanses and detox programs are prone to gloating about the benefits in the days and weeks following their program’s conclusion.

“I dropped a dress size,” they boast. “My stomach is so much flatter!”

But here’s the thing. If you do lose weight on one of these ‘detox’ or ‘cleansing’ programs, Lifehacker points out that it will most likely be “water weight” – which means that once you return to a normal diet again (and you will, because you can’t sustain those ‘detox programs’ forever) it’s likely you’ll stack the weight back on.

“You can go on a seven-day detox diet and you’ll probably lose weight, but that’s nothing to do with toxins, it’s because you would have starved yourself for a week,” The Guardian writes.

As Making Sense Of Chemical Stories makes clear, the excretion of the excesses of life, like saturated fat or alcohol, simply can’t be sped up by special diets or juice programs.

“This process does not occur any more effectively as a result of taking ‘detox’ tablets, wearing ‘detox’ socks, having a ‘detox’ body wrap, eating nettle root extract, drinking herbal  infusions, following a special ‘detox’ diet or using any of the other products and rituals that are promoted,” the guide makes clear.

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As the Daily Mail reports, the guide adds that it’s just as effective to “(h)ave a glass of tap water and a good night’s sleep.”

You’ll save a heck of a lot of money that way, too.

And another (scary) thing..

It’s also likely your body will actually suffer in a range of ways from many of the ‘cleanses’ and ‘detox programs’ available on the market.

Many of those programs don’t provide enough essential nutrients like protein, fibre and fat, Lifehacker reports — and when your body lacks protein, your muscles actually begin to break down.

So basically, a lack of protein will break down your muscles, you’ll feel like throwing up and you won’t be able to exercise without needing to faint.

You might even have flu-like symptoms during a detox, according to Lifehacker. You can blame that nauseous, sick feeling on the lack of fibre your detox is giving you, which impacts the function of the large intestine.

Now we all know exercise is essential to health and weight loss, but you’ll probably have to skip the gym during a detox, too: As your caloric intake is so low when detoxing, fatigue and dizziness during exercise is almost unavoidable, Lifehacker reports.

So basically, a lack of protein will break down your muscles, you’ll feel like throwing up and you won’t be able to exercise without needing to faint.

Doesn’t sound so healthy now, does it?

So what should I do instead?

All this is not to say you shouldn’t have a break from unhealthy food, or that you shouldn’t lay off the alcohol when you can.

“It’s definitely good to have non-alcohol days as part of your lifestyle,”  dietitian Catherine Collins told The Guardian. “But the idea that your liver somehow needs to be ‘cleansed’ is ridiculous.”

Instead of ditching solid food and only drinking solids for a week, try cutting down on nasties such as preservatives and artificial flavours for a while. By eliminating so-called ‘toxins’ like this from your body, you’re much more likely to achieve a healthy, realistic and maintainable cleanse.”

“‘Detoxing’ is about cleaning up your act. It’s saying I’m going to make a mindful decision to make healthier choices. That is what I consider a ‘detox’,” Dr Kerryn Phelps, an adjunct professor at Sydney University’s faculty of medicine, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

In short? Although drinking blended broccoli and water for a week sounds healthy, depriving your body of other much-needed nutrients like protein, fat and fibre is never a good idea.

But if you’re looking to feel healthier — and even slim down — as a new years’ resolution? Your solution boils down to three words: (Balanced, non-faddish) Diet — and Exercise.

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