Let's Talk Detoxes: Risks of Cleansing

Source: Mind Body Green

Source: Mind Body Green

On Thursday, we published an article about the different kinds of detoxes and what different cleanses do. Here is part two of Let’s Talk Detoxes – Risks of Cleansing! With the seemingly high increase in detoxes around this time of year (must be that summer is still ahead of us…) appearing on social media, it’s important to educate ourselves before considering or embarking on a detox. I have to admit, when I first saw logs and pictures of peoples’ detoxes on social media, I was tempted to start one myself. So, when I researched the different kinds out there and the benefits of going on a detox, I also found a lot of research talking about the risks of detoxing. Needless to say, I am reconsidering going on a detox and looking at the prospect with a much sharper eye than I did previously. Here is what I found out!

What are Detoxes?

Let’s do a bit of recap! Detoxes are the process of removing toxins from the body through a specific kind of cleansing or purifying. People go on detoxes for different reasons; some people will have a specific goal in mind they want to achieve through a detox, while others will go on a detox for the overall results and effects that come from the detox. Though some will claim they see noticeable changes in their bodies because of detoxes, scientists have repeatedly denounced the overall health benefits of detoxes, as there is no concrete evidence to support the claims of specific results through detoxes.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Who are Detoxes for?

In this Globe and Mail article, dietician Leslie Beck notes that detoxes are not for everyone. “Some detox programs involve replacing one or two meals with a high protein, vitamin-rich shake,” Beck states. “Most include detoxification ‘boosters’ in the form of herbal laxatives and diuretics, probiotics (to replace healthy bacteria in the gut), nutrients and antioxidants.” For these reasons, Beck recommends that the following people not begin a detox program:

  • People with diabetes, low blood sugar, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, lowered immunity, kidney disease or liver disease
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Children
  • Growing teenagers

Are Detoxes Dangerous?

In an article published in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, detoxes may actually have the opposite effect of what they claim to achieve. In the instance of detoxes meant to promote weight loss, “fasts and extremely low-calorie diets invariably lower the body’s basal metabolic rate as it struggles to conserve energy,” states the Guide. It goes on to add that, “Once the dieter resumes normal eating, rapid weight gain follows.”
As the CBC reported earlier this year, our bodies are already equipped with organs that get rid of noxious substances for us. The liver, kidneys and colon make sure that our bodies are not carrying harmful or toxic substances. As quoted by the CBC from the Voice of Young Science’s 2009 Detox Dossier, “is isn’t possible to improve [the functions of these organs] without medical assistance.” While changing your diet up may help you in other areas, evidence suggests that consuming different foods and substances will not actually aid your body in the elimination of toxins.

Source: Vanity Fair

Source: Vanity Fair

Quick Fixes

Are detoxes ‘quick fixes?’ Dr. George Dresser, a toxicologist and internal medical specialist at Western University, thinks so. “I think there is a tremendous promotion of the idea of detox cleanse,” he says, noting that the appeal of detoxes is the fact that they are seen as short-term cleanses that can boost our health. He goes on to say that “the idea that you can take up to six days, seven days, 30 days, and end up with an immediate improvement in your health is a very attractive concept.” ‘Very attractive concept’ is an understatement – companies selling detox cleansing products, books and lifestyles have been created as a result of the belief that we can better our health after a short-term program and continue to reap those benefits. The reality is, if we want to truly boost our health, we would have to adopt a different diet altogether rather than commit to it temporarily.

Alternatives to Detoxing

Overindulgence, weight loss and increased positivity about our bodies are some of the many factors that contribute to our decisions to try a detox. A simple search of ‘reasons why people go on detoxes’ on Google will highlight the fact that people choose to go on detoxes for reasons such as removal of toxins, enhanced immune system, increased energy and to improve quality of life. If these are some of the reasons people feel convinced they need to go on a detox, then these reasons inherently imply that people feel as though their bodies are not able to rid themselves of toxins. The Voice of Young Science, a team of early-career researchers in the U.K., suggest that if you are going on a detox because you feel like you’ve overindulged, try “hav[ing] a glass of water, eating a balanced diet and get[ting] a good night’s sleep” before embarking on a detox.

Source: Savvy Health with Dr. Kim Foster

Source: Savvy Health with Dr. Kim Foster

If you are considering a detox, consider a lifestyle of exercise combined with a balanced and healthy diet before you pursue detoxes any further. Though appealing, restricting our bodies solely to a very strict diet can have devastating effects on our wellbeing, especially if they are short term. Try incorporating recreational activities and healthy meal options into your life before you start a detox. UBC REC can help you with this! Visit our main webpage to find out how you can get active and be fit with our many fun programs!
CBC News: Detox cleanses may not live up to the hype
CBC News: Detox treatments by Dr. Oz and others lack evidence, benefit
Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: The dubious practice of detox
Mind Body Green: Top 10 Reasons to Detox (When You Do It Right)