Some people swear they get health benefits by cleansing their bodies of toxins with special diets. But some experts doubt the claims.
For most of their lives they’ve heard warnings about unsafe drinking water, environmental pollution and pesticide-laced food.
So it doesn’t take much prodding for Sarah Lohmeier and Kristen Snyder to seek out healthier ways of living – including detoxing their bodies on a regular basis.
“It’s definitely part of everyday life as far as avoiding things I know will add to the toxins in my body,” Snyder, 24, said. “My husband and I buy only organic, and we drink mineral-filled bottled water.”
Lohmeier, 23, drinks four juiced carrots a day and uses Metagenics products under the supervision of her boss, Tucson chiropractor David Hancock, who offers the service to clients. “Carrots are really good for detoxing the liver, and it helps with my acne. I still have scars but no breakouts” since she’s been on a program, she said.
Detox diets have become big business. There are hundreds of books, pills and supplements that make up this multimillion dollar industry. Among the most popular detox books are those by Anne Louise Gittleman, “The Fat Flush Plan” and “The Fast Track One-day Detox Diet.”
So just what is a detox diet, and is it healthy?
“Detoxification is giving the body permission and space and the ability to be able to move out matter that’s in the body that is actually poisonous to it,” said David Rainoshek, a fasting coach at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, who holds a master’s degree in live food nutrition. It supports the organs of elimination and that includes lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the gallbladder and the colon.
While the Tree of Life programs are not geared toward weight loss, it is often a side effect, Rainoshek said.
Some people try these programs for weight loss, but many others consider it an alternative way to treat digestive problems, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, skin conditions and allergies, among other things.
“I feel good,” Lohmeier said. “Since I started detoxing, I haven’t been sick. I used to get sinus infections all of the time, and I haven’t gotten any colds or flus. You feel like brain fog is gone, and you have so much more energy.”
(See how Body Plus reporter Sandra Valdez Gerdes did on her fruit fast, How I Did It, Page 4)
While popular among users, however, critics say detox diets are “unnecessary” and hogwash because there is no scientific evidence to support the use of a detox diet.
Wanda Howell of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Arizona said, “There is no such thing as a detox diet. It is not a standard of practice among dietitians and nutritional scientists. No credible source will promote a detox diet. It is not legitimate.”
Often it can lead to a loss of lean muscle tissue, and any weight lost comes right back. Many users report discomfort with fasting plans and drinks they’ve done during their hectic schedules and find it’s easier to do a plan through a naturopathic doctor, who will guide them toward a more healthful eating plan.
Erika Jaramillo, a firefighter with the Air National Guard, tried a “fat flush” diet in November and lost about nine pounds but stopped after a few weeks. The low-carb diet didn’t agree with her strenuous schedule. Instead, she watches her eating and has switched from bad carbohydrates to good ones.
“Anything that promotes eliminating a food group or endorses eating only one food is dangerous,” Howell said. “I don’t agree with the notion that processed foods stay in the body. The kidneys and liver clean out that stuff through bile or urine.”
Rainoshek disagrees: “If that’s true, if the processed food doesn’t stay in our bodies and we’re not getting toxic, why is it that the country that eats the most processed conventionally grown food in the world has the highest rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes?
“Why are we the sickest nation in the world,” spending $2.2 trillion on medical care every year? she asked.
Despite the ongoing debate, Jason Aberbach, 37, credits juice fasting and intestinal cleansing with clearing his eczema more than 10 years ago during a stay at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center. He went on supervised spiritual fasting retreats and learned the value of juice fasting, which he still does.
“When those things are removed from the system, it creates an overall self sense of renewed energy and allows your system to focus on healing and allows your body to function more efficiently.”
THOSE IN FAVOR
DO OR DON’T
Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center
Viewpoint: Physical toxins accumulate in many ways: The food we eat, the environment we live in and daily emotional stresses all contribute to stored toxins in our system. We have found juice fasting to be the best and safest method to allow for cleansing while still maintaining energy and rejuvenation levels. These programs promote autolysis, which involves the body digesting its own dead and dying cells. Juice feasting (green juice) can help people who are overweight, have arthritis, acid reflux, chronic pain, high cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease.
Detox method: It specializes in vegan live food nutrition, spiritual fasts and meditation. It also offers Personal Detoxification Programs where guests can do medically supervised juice fasts and feasts.
Dr. Bruce Sadilk
Tucson naturopathic physician
Viewpoint: Toxins are stored in fat cells. Detoxing lets some of this toxin burden go and reduces stress on the liver and digestive system. Detoxing without eliminating protein allows you to retain lean muscle.
Detox method: Diet modification by eliminating all common food allergens from the diet, including dairy, gluten or wheat, corn products and syrups and processed foods. Eat organic whenever possible. Patients take a health assessment and body composition test.
Web site: www.drsadilek.com
Viewpoint: Fresh fruit is nature’s perfect cleansing food. It is high in water content, fiber and natural slow-releasing sugars. The nutrients in fruit help dissolve toxins, and the water and fiber helps flush out toxins. The Fruit Flush 3-Day Detox provides a safe way to keep your body fat levels low and energy levels high. Fruit should make up the majority of the diet. The food pyramid should be changed to fresh fruits on the bottom, followed by vegetables, proteins and fats on top. Grains are used to beef up cattle and (Americans) are beefing up on them.
Detox method: Three days of clean fruits and vegetables in limited amounts. A nonaggressive detox compared with herbs or laxatives. It’s a semifast (about 900 calories per day) intended for short periods. Otherwise the low caloric intake would slow the metabolism.
Web site: www.jayrobb.com
Charles Kane author/herbalist, Tucson Clinic of Botanical Medicine
Viewpoint: Dietary lifestyle problems lead to chronic illness. Proper elimination (of waste) means that the colon and intestines, skin and kidneys operate freely. You are not chronically constipated, you sweat appropriately and you drink plenty of fluids and have no urinary tract problems. If someone feels toxic, that’s a symptom, not a cause. The root cause is a lifestyle out of order, not getting enough rest, high stress and not dealing with it properly, and poor nutrition such as a high intake of artificial foods, hydrogenated oils, saturated fats and eating on the run.
Detox method: Herbal therapies and products he collects and prepares.
Web site: www.tcbmed.com
Dr. David Hancock
Hancock Chiropractic & Hancock Natural Health Clinics of Tucson & Prescott
Viewpoint: Diet, stress and toxicity directly increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, weight gain, hormone imbalances and fatigue.
Detox method: Nutritional and diet consulting, body composition analysis and intestinal detoxification programs. Health appraisal to analyze more than 20 body systems. (Radio show, 8:30 a.m. Sundays on KVOI 690-AM or noon Saturdays on KNST 790 AM.)
Web site: www.drdavidhancock.com
Arizona spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association,
Viewpoint: The ADA doesn’t stand behind any particular detox diet. The ADA considers these fad diets, and many of them prey on people using alarmist pitches. When you eat a balanced healthy diet that includes whole fresh natural foods, your body is getting the nutrients you need to detox. Diseases are often linked to a poor diet, not to toxins. We don’t eat grains just for the carbohydrates. They also give us fiber, magnesium, iron, folic acid and vitamin E. It’s better to make healthy permanent changes to your diet. Buyer beware when buying herbal remedies and supplements. Colon cleanses add to the risk of dehydration.
Web site: www.eatright.org
Wanda Howell professor of nutritional sciences, University of Arizona
Viewpoint: Food won’t build up in toxic levels in the body. It just doesn’t happen. Our body isn’t made to hoard toxins, and anything that is toxic is naturally removed through bowel movements and urine. If a diet suggests eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, then it promotes good bowel habits, because a good diet has 30 grams of fiber.
Dr. Andrew Weil
Viewpoint: There is no scientific evidence to promote the claims made for detox diets, but there are things you can do to rev up the body’s own elimination system. I am not opposed to cleansing regimens such as the Master Cleanse; however, they are not effective as weight-loss tools.
Dr. Victoria Maizes
Program in Integrative Medicine,
University of Arizona
Viewpoint: I don’t think people can get all of their nutrition from fruit. I have seen fasting to be helpful with some problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fasting has been in many healing systems and spiritual practices, but then you would have to have a plan of how your diet will look different as you start including more foods. The body is good at detoxing if we are smart about what we put into it. The problem with diets is people go off of them. The real trick is to go on a healthy diet. We recommend the anti-inflammatory diet or Mediterranean diet.
Mary Horn Director of Nutrition and Exercise Science, Miraval Life in Balance
Viewpoint: Detoxing is very stressful on the body. Our internal organs cleanse themselves and have through the ages. If you drink plenty of water, then your body will be cleansed. You need 25 grams of fiber per day, but eat your fiber because you get the nutrients and you get the bulk into your system which cleanses you. Eating clean is one thing, but fasting or cleansing is rapid loss of water and muscle tissue. After deprivation, we will overeat because our bodies are starved. You will put your weight back on and then some because your metabolic rate has slowed down. By restricting foods, the body will metabolize lean tissue, because it’s not getting what it needs. Any type of fasting or cleansing is hazardous to chronically ill people, like those with diabetes who need to monitor their blood sugar.
Web site: www.miravalresort.com
What is a detox diet?
Detoxification is the removal of environmental and dietary toxins from the body. Diets can vary from strict avoidance of all solid foods by drinking liquids such as fruit juice, vegetable juice and water to solid-food diets that focus on fresh, raw fruit and vegetables. Diets can last from one day to three months.
Why do people go on a detox diet?
Proponents believe we ingest toxic chemicals daily through our food, water and environment, and these chemicals get deposited into fat cells in the body. Toxins put extra stress on the organs. A poor diet also can hinder the body’s ability to detoxify chemicals and ultimately lead to illness.
Signs that you are toxic
The effects of accumulated stress and toxins can be observed in many ways. Symptoms include bad breath, skin manifestations, headaches, weight gain, allergies, fungal infections, gastrointestinal conditions, various forms of low back pain, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and depression, which can all be indications of a system overloaded by mental and physical toxins.
Benefits of detoxing
After detoxing, proponents often report having more energy, clearer skin, regular bowel movements, improved digestion and increased concentration.
• Consult your doctor before starting any detoxification, cleansing or fasting program. Know that most detox diets are regarded as fads or alternative therapies.
• Find a reputable program, preferably one that offers supervision or coaching assistance.
• Children and pregnant/lactating women should NEVER do a detox diet.
• People with health problems should detox only if prescribed and supervised by a doctor.
• Common side effects include headaches, fatigue, irritability, nausea and sometimes acne.
• First-timers should use a gentle approach and do it during a weekend or time off.
• Detoxing should be used as a way to cleanse the body, not lose weight.
• Drink plenty of filtered water during your detox.
• Create a plan of how you will reintroduce foods after your detox program.
• Detoxing and cleansing are intended to be done periodically or they can be harmful to your health.
By Sandra Valdez Gerdes, Kathy Van Voorhees