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Is Detoxing Necessary?

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Are you thinking of going on a detox diet? Learn more about how detoxing can help and if it is beneficial for your health below.

Research doesn't support most detox diets. Most detox diet plans make vague statements about "toxins" but do not state which toxins they are supposed to eliminate. There are few scientific studies that back the idea that dexoxing through a special diet is necessary.

Research does show that your body eliminates toxins on its own all the time. Your liver, sweat glands, urinary system, and digestive system are all designed to remove harmful substances from the body.

A few materials are difficult for the body to remove naturally, however. Toxins from metal, plastic, pollutants, and phthalates are all extremely difficult for the body to remove on its own.

However, a 2015 study published in the journal Chemosphere found that most commercial products have low levels of these harmful toxins. The study authors tested breast milk of nursing mothers (as most of these toxins appear in breast milk) and compared it with milk gathered from women in the 1980s. The study authors found that for almost all of the toxins, the breastmilk levels were undetectable or well under the amount stated to be harmful.

This indicates that since the 1980s when this toxic poisoning first came to light, most manufacturers have greatly reduced their use of toxic products in food.

Can Detox Diets Work?

Most people who try a detox diet report feeling amazing after their diet. As most detox diets restrict unhealthy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and other junk foods, it is possible that the person feels better not because mysterious "toxins" are eliminated, but simply because they are eating more vegetables and fruit and increasing their nutrient intake.

Certain toxins can be reduced with certain foods. For example, cilantro has been shown in multiple studies to remove metal from the body. Detox diets don't make everyone feel good however, which likely depends on the type of restrictions. Diets that restrict all calories or only allow a few calories per day are likely to leave a dieter feeling tired, sluggish, and terrible.

The Science on Detoxing

A few studies have examined the effects of detox diets.

A 2015 review of some of these studies found that most of them were small and not randomized, making their data suspect. However, the studies did show some indication that detox diets may enhance liver detoxification to some extent.

A study from 2015 published in Nutrition Research examined the results of the "lemonade diet," which is a seven to 10 day restrictive diet where a dieter eats only maple syrup-sweetened lemonade. Some version of this diet spike the lemonade with cayenne pepper. Not surprisingly, this diet reduced body weight, fat, and body mass index.

Less expected were the health books of reduced inflammation and a reduction in insulin resistance. Leptin levels, too, were reduced. However, benefits were short lived unless the dieters continued to eat healthier than before they started the lemonade diet. 

Detox Diets Have Similar Benefits to Fasting

Recent research has found that fasting can have health benefits when implemented correctly. Fasting for short periods can have benefits on mental clarity, reduce insulin resistance, and improve leptin levels. Intermittent fasting, where a person only consumes food in a 9 or 12 hour window also provides benefit on the metabolism and weight control.

Possible Detox Benefits
  • Increased water intake, which prevents dehydration.
  • Possible reduction in heavy metals found in the body (if cilantro is eaten).
  • Promotion of healthy lifestyle changes (if you lose weight quickly you will want to find ways to keep it off).
  • The avoidance of processed foods.
  • May help get past a weight loss plateau and encourage additional healthy habits.

Dangers of Detox Diets

Just like detox diets can have some benefit, there are dangers as well. Watch for these dangers if you are considering a detox diet.

Calorie Restriction

Most detox diets call for extreme calorie restriction. Over time, this can lead to vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, irritability, and bad breath. In extreme cases, calorie restriction can cause death.

Overdose

Some detox diets call for taking large quantities of a certain food or supplement. It is possible to overdose on these substances, and it is also possible to overdose on water.

Drug Interactions

Some detox products may contain ingredients that are not regulated, which may interact with health conditions or existing medications that you are taking. If you want to try a supplement-based diet, consult with your doctor first to ensure it won't cause health problems or interactions with your current medication.

The Right Way to Detox

No one wants to hear this, but the right way to detox is simply to avoid eating bad foods. If you never eat trans fats, for example, then you will never have to worry about it oxidizing in your bloodstream. If you make an effort to keep harmful substances out of your body, then your liver and other detoxing organs can do their job properly without any additional help from you. Detox diets can be used to jump start a new healthy eating plan, but they should never be the only thing you to do support your health.

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