Let me start by saying that if you have had “success” with losing weight or feeling better due to a detox or cleanse, I am not here to tell you that you don’t feel the way you feel. I will come back to this idea later (and no, I don’t think it is all in your head). There are plenty of people who have used various methods to detox or cleanse who claim to have reaped incredible results; either from a health stand point or a weight loss stand point. However, the research shows that all the reports of the effectiveness of these regimens, protocols, products, or methods are simply anecdotal and not scientific. Let me also say, my research lead me to modern, Western medical research. I simply did not find studies done by alternative medical providers or practitioners (and I tried).
I began researching the need to cleanse and detox several months ago. It seems as though the in vogue thing to do in the weight loss/diet world right now is to cleanse. I follow many health and fitness pages on Facebook and there are no shortage of proponents of cleansing and detoxing. Each product claiming to be safe, effective, and natural (another buzz word in the business right now)! People believe we need to cleanse in order to detox. The belief is that we need to flush toxic chemicals from our bodies to help them function better and to help our metabolism soar. Once this happens, we will shed all those unwanted pounds. It sounds so inviting, so easy, so “no work required of me.”
Celebs get a lot of media attention for cleansing and dropping weight rapidly while doing these quick fix methods and we seem to think that if celebs do it, we should do it too. Beyoncé made the Master Cleanse formula (aka – the Lemonade Diet) famous when she dropped 20 pounds for a movie role. She soon gained the weight back and warned people to steer clear of this method. That part of the story never seems to get publicized.
I would like to look at a few different but related topics. The first one is colon cleansing. There are a variety of methods used to “cleanse” the colon: enemas, laxatives, herbal teas, enzymes, and magnesium (to name a few). An enema can be administered at home or by a colon hydrotherapist (colon irrigation). You simply pump the colon full of water (with or without a host of additives) and the water and waste are expelled. Some believe this is needed because undigested foods build up in the colon and cause a mucous build up producing toxins that enter the blood stream. I could not find any research to support that this actually happens.
What the research does show is that we have natural bacteria in the colon that can detoxify food wastes. The liver also neutralizes toxins. The mucus membrane in the colon can keep unwanted substances from reentering the blood steam and surrounding tissue. The colon sheds old cells about every 3 days, thus you don’t get a build up of harmful materials (referred to as “spackle and paste” according to some colon cleanse promoters – gross). The research also shows that colon cleansing (especially if done too frequently) can cause some real problems such as: dehydration, bowel perforation, greater risk for infection, and electrolyte imbalance.
The second topic is detoxifying. There are toxins all around in the air we breathe, the containers or bottles we drink from, the foods we eat, and on and on. There are several methods believed useful to get these toxins out of our body. There are detox footpads that supposedly pull the toxins out of our bodies through our feet while we sleep. There is no scientific evidence to support this. There are also detox body wraps. Again, there is no evidence that supports the idea that you can pull toxins out of your skin by wrapping your body in something. The effects are basically the same as sweating (which you can do without paying someone to wrap you).
The third topic to explore is fasting. People fast to lose weight, detox, and/or cleanse. There are different kinds of fasts: fluids only, fruit and vegetable juice fasts, alternate day fasts, raw foods fasts. and so forth. Again, there is no evidence that fasting detoxifies or cleanses the body. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that you slow down your metabolism, are prone to bingeing, feel hungrier after a fast due to a hormone response, and have very little lasting weight loss.
The fourth topic is natural cleansing (at the cellular level). The idea is that you can cleanse your entire body at the cellular level (as opposed to in the colon) naturally (implying it is good for you and safe). I could not even find that phrase used in any medical or scientific studies or research. The only place I could find this term, (phrase, method) used was in the literature by the company that makes the product that claims to be able to cleanse at the cellular level.
There is not real evidence that we need to be detoxified. Our bodies were designed to take care of this problem. Our bodies remove toxins through our skin, liver, colon, and kidneys. Dr. Fank Sacks, a leading epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, says, “There is no basis in human biology that indicates we need fasting or any other detox formula to detoxify our body because we have our own internal organs and immune system that take care of excreting toxins.” You don’t need any pills, special detox diets, or potions to help your body do its job. Experts agree that there is no credible science to support claims that detoxifying works or is beneficial. Most all claims are testimonial.
Marketing is such a BIG industry! People get paid a lot of money to help product manufacturers convince you that you need their product. After all, who wants spackle and paste in their colon?!?! I sure don’t. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if you have fallen for these marketing claims. Thousands (or more) people buy into these products each year. Even doctors promote these products (usually for profit) and SO many people say they work!! We all want what works. We all want what is easy, let’s just be honest with ourselves.
“But it worked,” I hear some of you saying. I said I would come back to this later; well, it’s later. I don’t think that the benefits you experienced are all in your head. I do think the benefits had less to do with the cleanse, fast, or detox per say, but rather what you eliminated while doing whatever it is you did. Let me explain. You probably did not consume white flour, sugar, “bad” fats, processed foods, or any of the other nutrient poor foods you usually consume. I believe the research (and personal experience) demonstrate that we do not need to detox or cleanse. We need to eat a healthy diet day in and day out and we need to get moving!
While I don’t like the title of the book, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt wrote a book entitled Doctor’s Detox Diet in which she states that, “…detox diets are a way of ‘clean eating,’ which means natural, less-processed foods that are closer to the earth without artificial ingredients.” She encourages lots of water, whole fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains allowing for 1500-1600 calories per day. Wait a minute! That is the detox plan? Clean eating? That sounds just like the lifestyle so many promote for health, wellness, and maintaining a healthy body weight (myself included). Dr. Michael W. Smith, Internal Medicine, put it this way, “There is a lot of hype around “detoxing” and “cleansing” these days. Most of what you’ll hear is untrue, and can be just a waste of your time and money. There’s no evidence that detoxing and cleansing has any health benefit. Nonetheless, there are lifestyle changes you can make to “detox” your body. Cutting back on saturated fats, daily calories, refined grains, sugar, and sodium can help you reap all kinds of health benefits. Instead, choose fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, lean protein, seafood, and healthy fats.”
When referring to “the real cleansers,” Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D, (a certified nutrition specialist) said, “…whole fruits and vegetables “act like little scrub brushes for your digestive tract. A cleanse can feel like a psychological jump-start to healthy eating, it’s not the solution for long-term wellness. Being healthy is a lifestyle. “
According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman (author of Eat to Live), “We cleanse all the time if we eat properly, because that enables our bodies to function optimally.
So, what is the bottom line? Save your money and consistently eat well as part of an active and healthy lifestyle! No quick fixes!
Mayo Clinic, Dr. Mark Larson, Gastroenterology, Rochester,Minn.
WebMD, Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH,RD,LD
Mayo Clinic, Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, Dermatologist
Sandra Fryhofer, MD
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