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The detox dilemma

by Valentina Lencautan Published on 3rd Jul 2015

by Valentina Lencautan Published on 3rd July 2015

Detox diets, promising to recharge our systems and start anew are becoming increasingly popular. But do they work and most importantly are they safe?

Holistic Vs. Scientific

The human body is in constant interaction with the environment, we expose ourselves and change in response to our settings, a process which shapes our defense mechanisms when they start affecting our inner balance. Those seeking to understand this interplay and face the damaging side of our complex habitat can be divided into two camps, the ‘holistic’ and the ‘traditional.’

We are told by a certain group of holistic specialists that excess toxin intake, production and over-working toxin elimination processes are the cause of many chronic diseases. To them, toxins, meaning substances which create harmful effects like airborne pollutants, inflammatory food substances such as sugar and caffeine, food allergens, and synthetic household cleaners are causing disbalance in the body. Furthermore, combinations of overexposures to toxins caused by years of consuming processed foods, or experiencing chronic stress can lead to some fatal diseases.

On the other hand, there are the scientists at the British Dietetic Association who agree on the fact that toxins we are exposed to, or those residing in our bodies do not necessarily present an immediate danger to our health. For this reason conventional medicine deals with toxicity in emergency cases only. This is justified by the fact that the human body already possesses an exceptional self-protective mechanism to face unwanted toxic elements we deal with on a daily basis. This defense system consists of our skin, kidneys, and lymphatic and gastrointestinal system, all working together to make our bodies immune to a large number of pathogens. Our kidneys and liver alone are effective at filtering out most toxins from our bodies.

Dealing with Toxins

But experts with an integrative, holistic background assure us that persistent exposure to toxins leads our organs to be under constant overload and stress, meaning that there is the need to strengthen and support the natural systems of detoxification our bodies possess. Due to the risk that our bodies can reach a point where the capacity to self-cleanse is exceeded, we need extra help with eliminating toxins. This is where the detox programs come in.
The holistic point of view is that detoxifying the body is all about regaining vitality and energy. The different types of diets, which include detox eliminating allergenic foods, heavy metal and colon cleansing, invite one to reflect on becoming closer to nature and on the substances that are supposed to replace the ones being gotten rid of.

Naturopathic doctors and nutrition professionals offer programs that claim to make a visible difference in how you feel and look.  The true detox experience, according to holistic doctors, implies careful medical examination which establishes whether one should even consider an intensive supervised toxin detox. That would be the proper way to handle it, with individualised adequate nutrition and hydration indications. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that most of these programs require a lot of patience and effort to obtain the healing effect on the body. Attitude is crucial in taking up this kind of challenge, meaning that a successful treatment can only be accomplished if done with healthy intentions.

However, conventional medicine believers warn that the use of “detoxification” as a term is incorrect, and that it has been deceivingly employed for marketing reasons.  A conventional detoxification procedure is performed in cases of overdose of drugs, high levels of alcohol or poisonous substances. Provided by hospitals in strictly life-threatening situations, a science-based detoxification has very little to do with the popular detox kit you can get at almost any pharmacy. According to traditional medical views, detox diets and their reliability, not to mention their claiming to promote health and well-being should be re-examined. The few clinical studies carried out so far, most of them on animals, and the lacking of proper tests on humans, seem to support doubts that detox dieting strategies are safe or even necessary.

Detox - a marketing strategy or efficient treatment?

Arguing that the accumulation of toxins presents a danger to our wellbeing and leads to possible fatal illness, detox marketeers attribute a number of symptoms to incorrect eating habits, and ingesting illness provoking substances. The solution, according to them is to undertake dietary plans or detox diets, These promise to remove the toxins that have built up over time, consisting of liver and intestine cleansing fruit or vegetable juices, and unprocessed or raw food, designed to aid our own natural cleansing system in doing its job.

Nonetheless, practitioners characteristically fail to make clear which specific chemicals are responsible for the symptoms and diseases which detox programs are supposed to combat. Essentially detox programs blame toxins per se for our vulnerable state of health, without actually providing clear evidence of which toxins are harmful, and how detox relieves the symptoms. This leaves holistic doctors with a weak case.

It is for this reason conventional doctors advise against detox programs, especially when it comes to extreme ones such as fasting, unless monitored by a specialist. Instead, in order to avoid harming the metabolism, they recommend more moderate, whole-food-based detox programs, using doctor approved nutritional supplements. After conducting a review of studies on detox diets, researchers Prof. Hosen Kiat, head of Cardiology at Macquarie University Hospital and Dr. Alice Klein from the Cardiac Health Institute have reached the following conclusion: “To the best of our knowledge, no randomised controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans. This is an area that deserves attention so that consumers can be informed of the potential benefits and risks of detox programmes.”

So to detox or not?

Thus, although holistic doctors believe that if done properly, detox programs lead to significant improvement in health and raise vitality levels, it is clear that mainstream medicine views the detox practice as a dubious industry, particularly when diets that restrict proteins and require fasting may come with fatigue and vitamin and mineral loss.

So if the evidence is weak, and the practice is potentially dangerous, why do so many people claim to feel better and full of life after following a detox cure?

Testimonies of patients who undertook detox programs and saw positive results healthwise may be better explained by the fact that detoxing involved them dropping all kinds of processed foods, which contain solid fats and added sugar. Simply not coming into contact with what we know to be harmful, and adding more fruit and vegetables to our diet, can provide obvious benefits to our bodies. This is something that all doctors would agree upon.
In this regard, although a detox diet may be beneficial in encouraging people to change or adjust their eating habits on a permanent basis, simply keeping a balanced diet at all times without the need to detox at all would seem a better course of action than undergoing periodic extreme fasting-based programs.