If you watch almost any daily talk show for a period of time, you are bound to hear the words “cleanse” or “detox.”
If you travel down the supplement aisle of your local supermarket or pharmacy, you’re guaranteed to see products claiming to “cleanse” your liver or colon or “detox” your body.
After seeing so many people advertising these products, it seems like it’s a well-known fact that you need special diets or supplements to cleanse your body to stay healthy.
But do you really need to detox your body? Do those “cleanse” diets work? Or are they just a fad?
First, let’s clear up some terms. When I refer to a detox, I’m not referring to the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. For this article, I’m referring to what are commonly called detox diets, cleanse diets or cleanse/detox supplements. These techniques and compounds supposedly cleanse the body from harmful “toxins.”
Let’s examine them more closely.
When you think about the claims from detoxing or cleansing with diets or supplements, isn’t it interesting that the actual “toxin” to be cleansed is never named? It’s always just referred to as some non-descript “toxin.”
This is the first problem with detox and cleanse diets and supplements. They can’t name the toxin that they are supposed to be flushing from your body. And if you can’t name the toxin, you can’t research whether any type of diet or supplement actually gets rid of this unnamed toxin.
Now, you may be thinking, “Hold on Nick, I’ve done a detox diet,” or “I know someone on a detox diet who lost weight. This is how I know it works.”
Well, it’s true that many people lose weight on a detox or cleanse diet, but was it something magical about the green smoothies you consumed all week or the supplement you took? Probably not.
When you drink almost exclusively cucumber water and shakes made up of vegetables and fruit, you likely aren’t ingesting the same number of calories that you were before you started the diet. It isn’t proof that your body got rid of any toxins. It’s simply physiology where you consumed less calories.
How about if you just cut back your calories slightly without going to these extreme methods and starving yourself for a week? Wouldn’t that be more sustainable?
Therein lies the second problem. Many people who do a cleanse or detox diet lose weight for that week. However, they make themselves miserable by consuming such low amounts of actual food that they bounce back only to double their normal calories and gain all the weight back (and more) the next week.
This is a prime example of a yo-yo diet lifestyle.
It’s much more sustainable to figure out what your calorie and macronutrient needs are and simply stay under those numbers, enjoying a treat as you are able to fit into your calorie numbers.
When you think about it, it really is quite ridiculous to think eating nothing but green juice for 72 hours will somehow remedy six months of unhealthy eating habits and bad lifestyle choices.
The last problem I’d like to cover is that your internal organs, if healthy, are more than capable of detoxing your body. In fact, your kidneys, liver, skin and even lungs are “detoxing” your body right this very moment.
The primary organ that aids in detoxification in the body is the liver. Everything you breathe or swallow that is passed into the bloodstream passes through the liver. Many products claim to “cleanse” the liver, but the liver is not a place where toxins are stored. The liver breaks down potentially harmful substances into water-soluble chemicals that can be excreted or sweated from the body.
In people with an unhealthy liver, though, such as in people with viral hepatitis or alcohol-induced liver disease, toxic substances can accumulate.
In addition, certain substances in high doses, such as vitamin A, iron or copper, can be toxic and accumulate in the liver or other organs as part of a disease process. However, there is no scientific evidence that a detox diet or cleanse will treat that disease.
If you really want your body to be healthy, focus on improving your diet by eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lean meats. Exercise more, and drink more water. Those three things over the long term will do much more to keep you healthy than any detox or cleanse diet or supplement.
(Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from the University of Tennessee. He is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He was born in Georgetown and lives and works in Pawleys Island. Send him your health and fitness questions at nmcclaryDPT@gmail.com)
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