Detoxes are clearly trending on the health and wellness front, claiming to promote anything and everything from effortless weight-loss and increased energy to clean skin. From juice-cleanses to fad diets, do these actually work? If not, are they harmful?
Firstly, one needs to take a look at the reason for people doing various detox diets. Some of the reasons include “perceived” general cleansing, to aid in decreasing inflammation and very often for weight loss reasons. When these detox diets are done for weight loss purposes, they often involve very restrictive eating (very low calories), elimination diets and phases of only consuming juices. As a weight-loss technique, this is not sustainable or suitable. Weight-loss needs to be done in a realistic, steady manner where no food groups are completely eliminated from the diet, as they all contribute various nutrients to a balanced diet.
Secondly, the high sugar load involved in juicing is something that needs to be considered. When juices are made, the pulp (fibre content) is removed, and fruit is added in large portions to a blender. This leads to increased amounts of fructose in each juice. The result of this is high blood sugar levels because too much fruit has been added, with no fibre content (as the pulp is often discarded). Fructose is metabolized via the liver, therefore when these juices are being consumed, the liver may become overloaded with excess fructose as well. (Klein, A.V. & Kiat, H. 2014).
The evidence for the effectiveness of detox diets is lacking currently (Klein, A.V. & Kiat, H. 2014) and the recommendation is that one should continue to adopt a diet that is healthy, balanced and contains a large variety of colourful whole foods to promote and support the body’s own detoxification processes.
Research shows that the body does a pretty good job of detoxing on its own through the liver, skin, lungs and colon. Can toxins from the environment, medication, mould, foods etc. accumulate in the body and overwhelm our natural detox organs? If this is the case, what symptoms can we expect to feel?
Detoxification is the process by which harmful compounds are converted into less harmful substances, that then get excreted through our urine or bile (mostly). We need this process to occur so that these harmful substances do not cause damage to the tissues in our body. The body has its own organs and pathways that assist in this process; the lungs, skin, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, colon, lungs and the liver. Our liver is like a built-in garbage removal system, by which end products of metabolism, bacterial endotoxins, medications and various chemicals and pollutants get removed from our system. The harmful substance will first go through phase one detoxification in the liver (oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis, hydration and dehalogenation) and then will enter phase two detoxification (sulfation, glucoronidation, glutathione conjugation, acetylation, amino acid conjugation and methylation), and finally be eliminated as waste via the gall bladder and kidneys. Sometimes, environmental toxins (smoking, water pollution, food additives, alcohol, air pollution, pesticides, medicine, as well as various cleaning products) can result in a toxic build-up, which may result in free radical production, oxidative stress and then inflammation. This leads to damage to various tissues in our body.
here actually a healthy way to detox?
The first step would be to reduce exposure to the toxins, which will assist phase one of detoxification. Here are a few useful ways to reduce your exposure:
- Reducing the amount of smoked products that you consume (e.g. smoked chicken)
- Stop cigarette smoking and avoid second-hand smoke wherever possible
- Avoid chargrilled/burnt food (e.g. meat that has blackened on the braai or burnt toast)
- Reduction of pollution: Exhaust fumes and smog
- Sodium-benzoates in foods and drinks, as well as Benzene in cleaning products
The next step would be to support phase two detoxification. This is done by increasing the intake of both cruciferous and allium vegetables. During the digestion of cruciferous vegetables, 3’3’-diindolylmethan (DIM) is produced. DIM is a phytochemical that can assist with the upregulation of the phase two detoxification process. Besides being able to obtain DIM from cruciferous vegetables, sulforaphane (broccoli sprouts are rich in sulforaphane) can also be found in these vegetables. Sulforaphane contains anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. If DIM cannot be obtained from the intake of cruciferous vegetables, it can be taken in supplement form.
Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Horseradish, Wasabi & Broccoli Sprouts
Fresh Chives, Leeks, Garlic, Onions & Shallots
- Hodges, R.E. and Minich, D.M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
- Klein, A.V. & Kiat, H. (2014). Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: a Critical Review of the Evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.