Dieting is getting a bad rep, which is unsurprising given that the majority of diets fail. People these days prefer to talk about detoxing and cleansing instead, and many methods have been proposed and publicized in the last forty years. Today’s approach to detoxes started gaining popularity in the 1970s.
There is little to no scientific evidence to support the majority of the “miracle cures” out there. So let’s dig in deeper. What are the most popular types of detox, and do they work?
What Is Detoxing?
Detoxing is generally taken to mean a method you use to remove harmful “toxins” from your bloodstream. It can take the form of a diet or fast, adding certain foods or limiting others, but there are also more literal interpretations such as colon cleansing.
There are many supposed benefits, from weight loss to improved energy levels and better overall health. However, depending on the methods used, the results may be short-lived, and some detoxes can be harmful to your health.
It’s also noteworthy that generally, the “toxins” that detoxing removes are not particularly well-defined. They can include heavy metals, synthetic chemicals, atmospheric pollutants, and so on. But the actual target of each detox method is rarely identified, and how it actually works to remove them from your system is hardly ever defined.
The Real All-Natural Detox
The thing is that your body already has a wide range of processes and organs devoted to removing these harmful elements, and many others, from your body. Toxins are cleansed internally from your system by the healthy operation of your liver, kidneys, and your digestive tract, and they are then removed from your body via sweating, peeing, pooing, and breathing.
The word “healthy” is the important one in that last sentence. The best thing you can do to detoxify your body is to do things that will support and improve the function of the organs that do that specific job.
Most of the detoxes currently bandied about suggest that certain types of food, or entire food groups, should be removed from your diet to reduce your toxin intake. While this can have a positive effect on your health, it can also cause malnutrition if not done correctly. Like with dieting, food restrictions can be difficult to maintain.
Removing certain food groups from your diet can be beneficial, such as dairy or gluten, but this depends on your personal dietary requirements. You may find that you feel better after removing them from your food intake, but if you’ve also removed a wide range of other foods, it makes it impossible to tell which one was actually having a negative effect on you.
Food restriction can also result in short term weight loss. This is generally because it is coupled with a restricted caloric intake, and relies on burning your body’s stored energy. However, as soon as you return to your normal number of calories, you will likely put the weight straight back on, because your body will replenish its depleted reserves. It can even lead to weight gain compared to your starting point, because your body may try to mitigate future shortages by packing in more energy storage – i.e. fat.
Juice or Smoothie Cleanse
The ultimate form of food restriction – don’t eat any food at all. Rather, replace it with fruit and vegetable juices or smoothies. At least, so the suggestion goes with this popular form of detoxing. A cleanse of this sort can go from anything between three days to three weeks, or even longer in some more extreme examples.
It has similar effects to food restriction, in terms of the reduced caloric intake leading to short term weight loss. Supporters claim that by not eating any solid food, you are allowing your gastrointestinal tract to have some time off digesting. This should allow it to recover from toxins and to improve its function.
Are Juice Cleanses Good for You?
While there are a number of benefits to certain types of fasting, there is no conclusive, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that shows that ‘resting’ your intestines has any health benefits. In fact, you’re likely to be missing out on important nutrients that help the system to function properly.
Generally, liquid-only cleanses are very low on protein, fiber, and fat. This means you will likely feel hungry most of the time, you may end up constipated, and you will potentially have low blood sugar. All this will lead to you feeling tired, and it reduces the effective functioning of your brain. Conversely, fruit juice is also high on the glycemic index, meaning that it will spike your blood sugar levels, and then cause them to drop sharply, which can also make you feel more tired and hungry.
Freshly-made smoothies are likely to be better for you, particularly if they have plenty of vegetables in them, as they contain more fiber, protein, and other important nutrients. But really, you’d be better off adding that smoothie to your daily diet, rather than relying on it as your sole source of nutrition.
While most detoxes focus on what goes in your mouth, one of the other popular methods places its attention on what comes out the other end.
Colon cleansing can involve either cleansing your digestive tract by using laxatives and various supplements, or colonic hydrotherapy, which is where the colon is flushed out with a liquid (normally, but not exclusively, water) in order to manually remove built-up waste.
Neither method is a particularly pleasant approach, and unless your doctor has specifically said it is necessary for your health, they can actually be potentially harmful. There’s a risk of diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, and infection. There is also evidence to show that it may remove helpful bacteria from your colon, which will actually increase the amount of toxins in your bloodstream.
A generally healthier approach is to have a diet that includes plenty of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which helps to promote regular, effective bowel movements, and so clears out the accumulated undigested food and debris from your colon.
Ways to Support Your Body’s Natural Detox System
Here’s a quick list of ways that have been proven to help improve the function of the liver, kidneys, and other aspects of your inbuilt detox system:
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Drink more water
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Eat fewer processed foods, as well as less sugar and salt
- Add antioxidant-rich foods to your diet
- Eat prebiotic foods
Demystifying the Detox
Despite what you may have heard from natural healthcare practitioners, there is very little science to support the idea that detoxing actually removes harmful toxins from your system. Now that you know what are the most popular types of detox, you can start to decide for yourself which parts – if any – you want to add to your healthcare regime.