Detox is a popular theme and idea in the health and weight loss world. In particular, we may be encouraged to detox after over-indulging during the Christmas and holiday break.

The concept is based on the idea that there are accumulated toxins requiring removal, many claiming intestinal sluggishness allows the gut contents to putrefy and release the toxins to the bloodstream and contribute to many symptoms and illnesses. This theory existed in medicine some time ago, but modern physiology and biochemical evidence has lead to the scientific community abandoning the idea in the 1930s. No such toxins have ever been isolated, measured or identified.

Detoxification usually involves one or more elements of fasting, avoiding certain foods or supposed irritants ( such as fats, carbohydrates, gluten,  vegetables, fruits or juices), colonic cleansing and chelation therapy. Claims made regarding the benefits include rapid weight loss, energy increase, improved sleep, improved skin/nails and hair, treating digestion problems and boosting the immune system. There are also claims regarding reversing aging effect, curing cancer and treating heart disease and autism.

Rapid weight loss can occur with any form of fasting and diet, but the weight loss  is largely water and glycogen, rather than fat. The result is a rapid return to your weight on returning to your usual diet.  It is also likely that during the fast, a drop in blood sugar can cause dizziness and fatigue and prevent exercise and activity.

The body has a well-developed system of mechanisms for detoxification and removal of wastes and toxins. We constantly filter out, break down and excrete products such as alcohol, medications, products of digestion, dead cells, bacteria  and chemicals from pollution. The skin, lungs, liver, kidney and gut continually detoxify our bodies by responding to hormonal signals to remove waste products.

The dangers of various practices depends on how much they are used, and whether they are used as a substitute for necessary medical care.There can be economic, physical and emotional side-effects.

A one day fast is likely to be harmless, but prolonged fasting can cause serious complications. 'Cleansing' with various herbs, chemical potions or fibre can be physically harmful ( for example the recently fashionable  Clay cleanse diet has bee associated with accidental arsenic poisoning) Colonic lavage is therapeutically worthless, but can cause electrolyte imbalance, infection from contaminated equipment and even bowel perforation. Chelation therapy can lead to electrolyte imbalance and is marketed as an alternative to medical therapy, particularly for cancer treatment. Suggesting that a brief intervention can reverse the effects of over-indulgence may also encourage unhealthy cyclical binge and fast episodes. Severely restrictive eating plans also restrict your ability to socialize and mix with friends and family.

The apparent anecdotes and satisfaction found on internet searches may be due to legitimate users experiencing the placebo effect, natural recovery from an illness despite the detox, companies and promoters posting false comments and anecdotes, psychological improvement when following goals and plans or :

There is no doubt that eating more fresh vegetables and fruit, reducing salt, drinking water, reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, high sugar and high fat foods  and controlling portions will improve well-being for everyone.

Healthy, happy people do not frame their lives about their next meals or a restrictive diet. The 80/20 rule of following a healthy lifestyle most of the time with occasional treats is sustainable and fits with the scientific evidence linking lifestyle, biogenome, and long term evidence  whether it be the Mediterranean, The Low Carbohydrate/High protein or Low Fat Diet, the diet  that works for you is one you can stick to long term.

( note: standard medical practice uses the word detoxification to describe programs to minimize withdrawal symptoms in those reducing or ceasing alcohol, medication and drugs)

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