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Are Detoxes for Everyone?

Are Detoxes for Everyone?

Here in Southern California, detox programs proliferate. It’s hard to go to a farmers market, exercise studio or health food store without bumping into someone promoting a detox regime. There are a myriad of detoxes to choose from, with some claiming to cleanse your liver or kidneys and others promising quick weight loss with the removal of toxins.

detox dietsIf you’ve ever seen anyone drop weight quickly due to a liquid diet, it’s easy to jump on the detox bandwagon. But is it wise to go on a severely restricted diet–or liquid detox–for a week or longer without doctor or nurse supervision?

To shed light on this issue, I interviewed Debra Nessel, RN, CDE (certified diabetes educator), who conducts hospital nutrition outpatient programs as well as corporate wellness programs throughout the South Bay.

“Advocates of ‘detox’ dieting claim that our bodies are constantly overloaded with toxins from pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods. The thinking is that, as these toxins build in our bodies, they can be responsible for a number of health problems, such as weight gain, energy loss, and dull skin. You then rid your body of toxins by following a special diet that significantly restricts and reduces food intake,” explained Nessel.

The nurse and nutritionist pointed out that there are so many different types of detox diets—from juice fasts to raw food plans to diets that only include fruits. Clearly, they are only meant to be used for a short period of time. For those who want a mental boost to embark on a healthier lifestyle, Nessel said a two- to three-day detox is fine. This can jump-start someone by helping them mentally prepare to start a long-term diet that restricts alcohol, sweets, caffeine, red meat and dairy. Nessel pointed out several of her concerns with detox plans; she advises her patients to consider these before signing up for one:

  • Detox diets can cause people to lose weight too quickly; this weight is often gained back quickly as well.
  • Many of the diets lack essential nutrients and protein. If followed for too long (more than one week), they can cause the loss of electrolytes, leading to side effects including fatigue, headaches, vomiting, and nausea.
  • There is no scientific evidence to suggest our bodies need help to get rid of waste products if we’re healthy, and there’s little proof to support the claims that detox diets work.
  • If someone follows a strict detox diet over the long-term, it could lead to nutrient deficiencies and health problems.
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