There are no short-cuts to health: no quick-fixes, no magical potions consisting of kale juice with activated charcoal which will instantly strengthen your bones, shed the pounds and make you look as you did when you were a fresh-faced 19 year old. But that doesn’t stop plenty of misguided “gurus” and money-hungry marketers from pushing a series of juices, teas, or any other so-called ‘detox’ products in consumers’ faces.
These promoted detox diets and cleanses promise to ‘eliminate harmful toxins’ and basically cure whatever it is which ails you.
The prison sentence
Presumably, the goal of a detox is to cleanse the body of harmful substances — often termed as toxins — through some type of highly restrictive diet. If the marketers are especially desperate for a payday, they’d also advise you to enhance your diet with supplements which (surprise) they happen to carry and are able to sell at a discounted price. Some cleanses are targeted at specific organs, while others aim to purge you from head to toe.
Detox diets tend to be very restrictive in nature — dieters are generally only allowed to consume fruit, vegetable juices or other approved drinks. It is impossible to mention cleanses without bringing up the Master Cleanse. It was first developed by Stanley Burroughs in the 1940s and it later made a grand re-appearance in 1976 in the book The Master Cleanser.
The Master Cleanse prescribes 6–12 glasses of lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper as your only sustenance and supposedly removes all the toxins from your body, eliminating every kind of disease possible.
The Master Cleanse is only one single variant of a detox diet, and is brought up as an example. There are many other examples and protocols of “cleanses” but no specific protocol is worth studying in details as new variants pop up every other day.
What about the toxins in my body?
It is indeed true that some substances can accumulate in body tissues and over time, lead to serious health problems.
A well-researched and widely-recognised substance is that of heavy metals. Some people have chosen to steer clear of fish in their diets as it contains mercury — a heavy metal with a half-life in humans of approximately 50 days — and have missed out on its healthful omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned in this article, when it comes to toxicity, the dose usually makes the poison. Fish-lovers worried about mercury poisoning can choose to eat fish less frequently, vary the type of fish eaten or focus on fish with lower mercury content.
But what about the toxins which “cleanses” target? Do they exist?
Well, ironically, when a network of scientists contacted numerous manufacturers of products claiming to detoxify in 2009, not a single company could define what they meant by “detoxing”.
To make matters worse, they were also at a loss for words when asked to name the toxins their products were meant to remove.
The fact that no company can name the toxin their product targets reveals just how little of an effect “cleanses” have.
I don’t care — my body needs cleansing
Newsflash: the liver, kidneys, lungs and several other organs work around the clock to remove harmful substances and excrete the waste products of metabolism. Fad diets do not help them at all. At all.
What can help them, though, is a healthy diet. While it’s not sexy to tell people to eat their vegetables, it’s actually the only advice which actually works to promote health (and doesn’t cost $27.99 a bottle).
It’s been found that the detoxification systems of the liver, for example, benefit greatly from eating green vegetables such as broccoli, which provides sulforaphane, a compound which up-regulates the liver’s detox processes.
Now, excuse me while I go eat my broccoli.
But my friend lost, like, 10 pounds
The reason why fad cleanses and detox diets spread like wildfire is because of the observable rapid weight loss. But weight loss does not mean fat loss.
The body uses 3 grams of water to store 1 gram of glycogen in the liver and muscles: if the body isn’t getting enough carbohydrates, the glycogen stores are depleted, resulting in a weight loss of several pounds.
Once a regular eating schedule and pattern is resumed, all the glycogen and water (and yes, unfortunately, weight) come rushing back.
Save your money
Rather than doing an unsustainable “spring cleanse” which would lead to the regaining of weight in a matter of seconds, focus on fostering healthy habits which can be maintained for the long-run.
The evidence in support of detox diets or products just doesn’t exist.
You (and your wallet) are better off entrusting the detoxification process to your handy liver and kidney. Also, in the off chance you happen to actually have been poisoned, please, please get yourself sent to the hospital and be attended to by medical professionals, not commercial cleanses!
Thanks for reading! If you want an evidence-based approach to nutrition, start by learning how to estimate your daily protein requirements. You’ll like it — I promise!