Mar 4, 2008

The Joy of Health: Detox: does it work?

by Joyanna Gilmour

With summer just a few months away, many college students trying to improve their overall health have turned to controversial detoxification programs.  Detox regimens claiming to help participants purge toxins, lose weight and gain energy are wildly popular, gaining support from celebrity testimonials and a flawed understanding of human metabolism. 
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The basic premise of detoxification is that toxins such as pollutants, pesticides, sugar, medicines and alcohols accumulate in the body’s digestive system, sapping energy and causing a variety of negative health effects.  Consequently, the body needs to be periodically “cleansed,” often through laxatives and liquid diets.  Unfortunately, the dramatic claims of many popular detox diets are not scientifically supported.
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Detox diets range from the fairly minimal fruit-and-vegetable fast to extreme versions, such as the “Master Cleanse.”  Popularized by Beyonce Knowles, the “Master Cleanse” is a glorified fast in which participants drink a mixture of water, lemon juice, pure maple syrup and cayenne pepper for 10 days.
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“Detox approaches...are contrary to scientific consensus and medical evidence,” said an article by Roger Clemens and Peter Pressman in Food Technology.
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The human body is adept at cleansing itself if a healthy diet is followed.  As food enters the body, it goes directly to the stomach where it is broken down by stomach acid.  The digested food then passes to the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed and next to the large intestine where solid wastes are eliminated. Toxins absorbed into the bloodstream are filtered through the kidneys and liver and finally eliminated through urine.  Because of the body’s internal mechanisms to clean out toxins, many medical experts question the need for a “cleanse.”
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 “The body’s own detoxification systems are remarkably sophisticated and versatile…. It is remarkable that people are prepared to risk seriously disrupting these systems with unproven ‘detox’ diets, which could well do more harm than good,” states
Professor Alan Boobis, a toxicologist at Imperial College London.
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“Our lungs, kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system are effective in removing or neutralizing toxic substances within hours of consumption,” according to Clemens and Pressman.
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Since the body is capable of removing toxins on its own, the supposed benefits of detox diets such as weight loss and increased energy may in fact be due to other causes.
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One reason for these dramatic results is that participants refrain from sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and other substances while on the diet, all of which can negatively affect the body. 
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Clemens and Pressman address the increased energy experienced by many detox dieters, saying, “It is not surprising that individuals following a detox diet report feeling better and more energetic — these results reflect a negative energy balance rather than elimination of toxins. A heightened drive state and even a sense of euphoria often accompany the initial stages of this sort of regimen. However, the suggestion that elimination of noxious agents is enhanced because of this regimen is categorically unsubstantiated and runs counter to our understanding about human physiology and biochemistry.”     
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Rather than going on potentially dangerous detox diets, college students should focus on eating a balanced and healthy diet and avoiding “toxins” such as excessive sugar or caffeine. 

Contact Joyanna Gilmour at jgilmour@liberty.edu.


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