Every day, we are confronted with products being advertised on social media that claim to flush toxins from your body, giving you more energy and weight loss. They promise dramatic weight loss within days. These usually come in the form of tea or juices and are said to detoxify the body and get rid of harmful toxins. The process by which they work is called detoxification or simply detox. Another way it is promoted is by going on a fruit and vegetable fast which requires one to take only blended fruits and vegetable juices. Usually, consumers are advised to drink only juices for about 3 – 10 days, sometimes weeks or even a month. Detox diets often require you to fast and prevent you from eating whole food groups like breads and cereals, dairy or meat. Components of some programs include juices, exercise, massage, use of steam and sauna. There are however health concerns about the safety and nutritional benefits of these juices and teas.
Detoxification is the process by which the body identifies, neutralizes, and eliminates things that are unhealthy for us. These include physical substances such as toxins from our environment or by-products from the chemical processes that keep us alive. Fortunately, healthy adults have efficient systems for removing toxins from our bodies every day. Our lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, gastrointestinal tracts and immune system neutralize and remove toxic substances within hours after we come in contact with toxins. However, the manufacturers of detox juices and those that encourage fruit and vegetable fasts suggest that our bodies need ‘help’ to remove these toxins faster and better. There is no scientific evidence yet to back this up.
The safety of commercially produced and packed detox juices and teas is questioned because some of them contain preservatives and additives that have been shown to be potentially harmful to the body while some have components that have not been properly studied. Consumers of these products, however say they feel ‘cleaner’, ‘lighter’ and have more energy after using them. Weight loss occurs because these detox juices are low in calories and the lighter feeling is associated with fasting. It is for this reason a common side effect of detox is fatigue.
When Detox is dangerous
Detox programs can affect energy levels, blood sugar, sodium and potassium levels in the body. Although people are free to decide on their own whether ‘detoxing’ is the right choice for them, there are people with certain conditions for whom detoxing or fasting can be dangerous even for a few days. These conditions are:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
- Eating disorders
- Extreme fatigue
- Pregnant women
- Lactating mothers
- Growing children and teenagers
Choosing to Detox
The choice to undergo a detoxification program is up to you, but if at all you choose to, it is advised to do a fresh fruit and vegetable detox program rather than choosing a commercially prepared and packed juice or tea. The American Dietetics Association does not endorse detox diets for weight loss or for any other purpose. A healthy weight loss regimen is a combination of adequate diet and exercise. Using detox as a means to lose weight is not sustainable and it does not encourage healthy food choices. The juices used are nutritionally inadequate as they lack calories, proteins and some vitamins and minerals. For those that choose a detox programme, it is best done with the consultation and supervision of a health care professional. Long term detox diets can cause serious life- threatening electrolyte imbalances and can lead to heart failure at worst and be ineffective at best. Long term detox is not advised, but a 3 to 5-day detox plan based on fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals and yoghurt is not likely to lead to problems and may even motivate someone to make dietary changes in a healthier direction such eating more fruits and vegetables, being more physically active and drinking more water. However, it is noteworthy that eating an adequate diet based upon variety and moderation such as less saturated fat, less sodium(salt), simple sugars and more plant based foods is the best way to stay healthy.
It is most likely that you or someone close to you have tried one detox programme or the other for various reasons. Let me know if your discovery aligns with what I have shared with you in the comment section below