Fad diets come and go. Ones that always seem to resurface are detox and cleanses. With promises of a quick fix and celebrity endorsements, detox diets seem to have quite a following. They usually go something like this: Eat only fruit and vegetable smoothies 3 times a day to cleanse the body of toxins found in junk food, alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Supporters of detox and cleanses don’t seem to realise that our bodies do this naturally through the kidney and liver.
You can expect to lose weight on such a diet because of the limited food choices. Nearly all of the initial weight lost will be due to a loss of water, stored glycogen and waste products, which you can expect to regain once a normal eating pattern resumes. Some detox diets can be very extreme, leading to nutritional deficiencies if sustained over a long period of time. For example, if you were to follow a raw fruit and vegetable diet for a prolonged period of time then you can expect to be deficient in protein which will eventually be muscle wasting. You are also likely to build up deficiencies in B-vitamins and most minerals.
If you follow any sort of regular exercise regime then you can expect a detox to have a negative impact on your performance. Significantly reducing calories will have you feeling like you have rather stayed at home for a hot bath. Expect your squatting and bench pressing to feel very heavy and your runs to feel sluggish and lethargic.
Detox and cleanses don’t have much science backing either. In fact you will be hard pressed to find a definition for either of these terms. It’s important to remember that the human body is extremely resistant. Organs such as the liver and kidney are constantly removing harmful substances from the body. A pepper infused lemon tea or skinny detox cucumber water are not going to do this job any better. In fact a 2009 study found that not one of fifteen companies investigated in popular cleanses could name the toxins their treatments were targeting neither could they agree on the definition of the word ‘detox’. They also have no evidence to support that their products actually work.
This all reveals how little effect these cleanses and detox have. To scientifically determine the effectiveness of a treatment, the toxin investigated needs to be identified in order to accurately measure its accumulation in the body and at what dose it becomes harmful. For example scientists who are researching the effects of organochlorine pesticides, which are known to accumulate in mammals, know that accumulation can be limited by the pharmaceutical Orlistat. Organochlorine pesticides move between the liver and intestines. Orlistat confines toxins to the intestines where they are removed as waste, doing a far better job than drinking cucumber and mint water for 2 weeks on end.
Given that detox and cleanses have no scientific backing, it’s safe to say that sticking to a healthy diet of whole foods will do a better job. Its all hype with little to no health benefits. Leafy greens, ample protein and meals full of vitamins and minerals don’t just taste better, but are healthier too.