Cleansing and Detoxing Myths

Anyone eager to jumpstart his or her way back to health and fitness, might think, “Ah ha! Time for that two-week detoxification!”  But is going on a juice or fasting diet the best way to rid one’s body of the yucky sludge that resides deep inside the gut? Do these “cleanses” even help you lose weight?

According to Hollywood, yes. Of course, often times these same stars are being paid to endorse these “miracle” cleanses. One popular Hollywood celebrity detox diet is the Master Cleanse: a concoction of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water. Beyonce supposedly shed 20 pounds prior to the filming of “Dreamgirls” on the Master Cleanse. Many of these do-it-at-home detox regimens aren’t cheap.  The Fat Flush kit, for example, costs $75.00. The pills are made with herbs and nutrients like dandelion root, milk thistle and Oregon grape root. There’s even a juice cleanse that costs an incredible $95 a day…. to be clear you are spending $95 a day to not eat.

But what does the medical community think of these detox concoctions? Not much, actually. “It is the opinion of mainstream and state-of-the-art medicine and physiology that these {detox} claims are not only ludicrous but tantamount to fraud,” Dr. Peter Pressman, an internist with the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, told the New York Times in 2009.  “The contents of what ends up being consumed during a ‘detox’ are essentially stimulants, laxatives and diuretics. There is absolutely no scientific basis for the assertion that the regimens popularly defined as ‘detox’ will augment the body’s own capacity for identifying and eliminating your own metabolic wastes or doing the same for environmental toxins.”

The fluids in your body constantly pass through the liver and kidneys; both serve as the primary heavy lifters when it comes to removing toxins and wastes. In addition to being in the waste disposal business, the liver is key to hormonal balance, fat regulation, digestion, and blood circulation. It performs over 500 different chemical functions and metabolizes the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and even controls triglycerides, cholesterol, and other blood fats. This critical organ can execute its job perfectly without outside assistance… but only if you avoid overloading it with drugs (even over-the counter NSAIDS like Advil) and alcohol.  You can also support its ability to function optimally by eating healthy foods such as broccoli (and all of its cruciferous relatives, like cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, arugula and watercress) which contains sulforaphan, an important compound for natural liver detox because it helps produce glutathione — the most powerful antioxidant in the body.

Understandably, the public is always hungry for that quick detox fix or next superfood like the Acai berry, whose health-curing properties have not been fully investigated. Fifty-four new food and beverage products debuted in 2008 with the word “detox” in their descriptions. Many of these pills, fasting kits, and juice regimens will promote short-term weight loss because you are consuming far fewer calories, but the pounds usually return afterwards. Some detoxers even believe that bowels should be irrigated several times a day, and suggest colonics, enemas and herbal laxatives to hurry things along. This regular practice, however, can cause long-term harm to one’s gastrointestinal system. Laxatives can contribute to fainting, muscle cramps, dehydration and laxative-dependence.

The body is pretty good at flushing out the toxins on its own, provided you avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol… and take in plenty of fiber and fluid to help keep things moving on their merry way.  And for those with lactose intolerance or have an allergy to gluten-based foods, keeping away from dairy and wheat makes affordable, nutritional sense. Your gut and wallet will thank you.

Dr. Ronald Strum, medical director and founder of the Center for Integrative Health and Healing in Delmar, told the New York Times “that eating whole foods always trumps fasting or juice diets – and that education overrules everything. People are getting their info from the massage therapist or the clerk at the health food store who may not know the potential risks.” These whole foods include plenty of leafy green vegetables, especially broccoli and kale, apples, onions, and carrots, and don’t forget to drink a lot of water throughout the day because the body needs fluid to transport toxins to the kidneys and through the intestines for disposal.

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