Detoxing is a process that is continually touted as being extremely healthy, but Aoife Valentine explains why most detoxes should be viewed with more caution
Detox diets often sound like the best and simplest solution to shifting a serious amount of weight in a very short space of time. No dedicating yourself to a life of salads, exercise and monotony – all you have to do is endure a short period of unpleasantness and hunger to achieve the desired results. Simple.
Detoxes claim to rid your body of a build-up of toxins, and the process supposedly results in a wide variety of things including clearer skin, increased energy levels and an improved immune system, as well as the obvious main aim of purging fat from the body.
Usually these diets force you to survive on just liquids; even the inclusion of fruit and vegetables (which must be juiced or blended) in your ‘meals’ is almost a luxury. The most well-known detox is the ‘Master Cleanse’, which comes heavily endorsed by numerous celebrities.
The ‘Master Cleanse’ involves mixing lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper in pure water and drinking up to twelve glasses of it a day, whenever hunger strikes. It continues over a period of ten days (and up, for the foolhardy), and the liquid concoction is your only sustenance. In addition, you have to take a morning and nightly laxative, in order to ensure everything is getting properly flushed out.
The detox is so intense, three day “ease-in” and “ease-out” eating plans are also suggested, though you are allowed eat no more than fruit and vegetables during these days, and you must only choose fruits with the lowest amount of sugar.
The problems with these types of diets are almost infinite, and can cause real danger to your health. It is important to point out that our bodies come complete with complex systems already designed to cleanse the body of harmful toxins. One of the liver’s most important functions is to screen blood from the intestines and then neutralise and destroy any toxins found, while the kidneys remove all excess salts and proteins we don’t use up. Unless you suffer from medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, then chances are your body is already looking after its toxins quite efficiently.
Interfering with these systems does cause you harm, especially if you detox frequently. During these periods, your body is almost in a state of malnutrition. This means that as the days go on, your organs aren’t receiving all the nourishment they need, which causes them to become sluggish, quickly leading to a complete slow-down in your metabolic rate. This doesn’t speed back up automatically when you stop detoxing, so your body won’t be able to eliminate toxins as easily as it should be able to naturally, resulting in a post-detox build-up.
Repeated detoxing and prolonged periods of starvation cause your body to begin breaking down muscle and hanging on to fat cells in order to ensure a supply of calories is present in the body to act as a fuel. This causes a continual slowing down of the metabolism, and as few calories as possible are burned. Even if you stop detoxing completely (as opposed to small breaks between detoxes), fat will continue to build up until all muscles have been restored.
There are more worrying effects on the body than the process not acting as efficiently as perhaps promised. Contrary to assurances of feeling light and energetic, lethargy and fatigue will plague you. With your calorie stores being used to fuel your organs so they can function well enough for you to live, there’s not a lot going on to provide you with boundless energy, to the point where it becomes quite difficult to concentrate enough to complete normal tasks.
Overdoing it on liquids can cause your kidneys some problems too. Excess water creates secretion difficulties for the kidneys and a reduced salt intake can exacerbate the problem. In the utmost extreme cases, this can cause water intoxication, which is potentially fatal.
Such restrictive diets cause deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, which are essential for carrying out various functions in the body. A lack of vitamin A will cause a high risk of infection and occasionally, night-blindness, while losing out on vitamin B causes slowed metabolism, hair loss, poor skin, and impeded growth of red blood cells. A lack of iron will result in dizziness, weakness and headaches, and eventually, anaemia, as well as memory loss and heart palpitations. Low levels of folic acid and vitamin B12 have also been shown to cause or intensify depressive symptoms, so at best you’ll generally be irritable and moody.
While detoxing may seem like a quick fix, it’s not all that. With little or no studies carried out to determine its benefits, for the moment it seems science should win in the battle against marketing. If anything, detoxing encourages the idea that healthy eating is a punishment rather than a lifestyle choice. The idea that any over-indulgence can be put right with a detox allows for the development of some questionable relationships with food, especially when you consider that all evidence points to the conclusion that detoxing is not remotely effective. Bearing in mind the negative affects it can have on your body after only a few days, you really do have to ask if it’s worth the risk.