What Are Detox Diets and Do They Really Work

What Are Detox Diets and Do They Really Work

How can we know what detox diets are and if they are safe? Also called cleanses or cleansing diets, detox (detoxifying) diets are the subject of much controversy. Followers claim they are necessary for clearing the system of toxins and reaching optimal health and wellbeing. People also use detox diets to lose weight. Those who challenge detox diets say they are not based on science, and are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful. Opponents of detox diets consider them dangerous fads.

People who promote detox diets believe that if toxins are allowed to accumulate in the body they can lead to minor and major health problems. The diets vary in particulars, but most include a fasting period followed by a highly restricted diet for a total of five to twenty-one days. Many include enemas, laxatives, or other methods of colon cleansing to clean out the intestines.

Opponents believe that the body has its own mechanisms for getting rid of toxins– the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. The highly restrictive diets that are the cornerstone of detox diets can be particularly dangerous for young children, teenagers, pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and older people. Possible side effects of detox diets include dehydration, anemia, low blood sugar, nausea, fatigue, and dehydration. The consequences of following a detox diet for people with chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes can be especially dire, even life threatening.

Eating disorders experts voice concern about the use of laxatives in detox diets. Besides being ineffective for weight loss, they state, frequent use of laxatives can result in severe dehydration as well as damage to the heart and colon. Colon irrigation, which involves forcing large volumes of water into the intestinal tract and is part of many detox regimens, can cause bowel perforation or infection, both of which can be very serious.

It is not uncommon for people who follow a detox diet for ten days or more to report positive effects such as fewer headaches, clearer skin, and more energy. Doctors counter these claims by asserting that they are related to certain lifestyle changes the diet requires, such as consuming less alcohol and caffeine, drinking more water, and eating less. They suggest that such changes themselves are beneficial and do not carry the risks of the detox diets.

What are Examples of Detox Diets?

Following are brief descriptions of a few of the many popular detoxifying diets:

  • The Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet is one of the most popular detox diets. Followers consume large amounts of a lemonade, maple syrup, and water beverage and cleanse their intestines with herbs or laxatives. Singer and actor Beyonce Knowles followed this diet to lose 20 pounds in 10 days for a movie role. She quickly gained the weight back.
  • Quantum Wellness is the 21-day detox diet that Oprah Winfrey followed.  It includes meditation, visualization, conscious eating, exercise, spiritual practice, self-work, and service. It recommends a vegan diet. Oprah gained back the weight she lost on this diet.
  • Raw Food Diet. A variety of diets based on fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, sprouted seeds, dried fruit, fruit juices, grains, herbs, and spices qualify as raw food diets. While many “raw foodies” are vegan, some eat fish and poultry.
  • The Clean Program is a 21-day detox program designed by a cardiologist to treat chronic problems such as allergies, headaches, depression, fatigue, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia.
  • The Beauty Detox Solution is designed to help individuals feel young and look more beautiful by eating foods that are easy to digest and eating them in specific orders and combinations to promote better digestion and elimination of toxins.
  • Detox for Women claims that women can achieve a sleek body and radiant health in four weeks by increasing the intake of alkaline foods to normalize yeast and bacterial imbalances.
  • 28-Day Raw Detox is a vegan diet rich in fruits, vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, and fresh juices. It involves replacing harmful foods with healthy foods and changing eating habits.
  • Ayurvedic Cleansing and Detoxification is accomplished through fasting, enemas, diets, and body treatments based on traditional medicine of India.

Before You Start a Detox Diet

Know what a detox diet is before you start. Before starting, it is very important to consult a medical practitioner, preferable someone familiar with you and your health situation and medical needs. This is particularly important if you have heart or kidney disease, diabetes, or another chronic condition. If you take medication regularly you should not stop it or decrease it without consulting your doctor. Abruptly stopping or cutting back on prescription medication can cause serious health problems.

Your doctor may suggest that before you take the somewhat radical approach of a detox diet you try eating a healthier diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and plenty of water.  In combination with consuming less alcohol, caffeine, and sugar and increasing your physical activity, a simple dietary change may accomplish what you expect from the detox diet, without the risks.

If you have consulted your physician and gotten the green light for a detox diet, you can make it easier on yourself by doing some preparation before you jump in. Start by drinking more water, at least eight eight-ounce glasses every day. If you are a coffee or black tea drinker, gradually cut back on caffeine a week or more before you start the diet to avoid caffeine withdrawal.

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