Wellness Wednesday: The Downlow on Detox Diets

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Lately, it seems like everyone is ‘going on a cleanse’ or a ‘detox diet’.  These diets claim to improve your immune system by removing harmful toxins from your body. However, many of the most popular diets (like the Master Cleanse and the 21 Day Cleanse) go against established best nutrition practices and may even cause adverse effects. Detoxification diets are often misused, especially because the body has its natural ‘detox’ system.

Detoxification In The Body

Detoxification is a process performed around the clock, wherein the body removes ‘toxins’ or chemicals  that are harmful to the body. These chemicals fall into two groups: those made inside the body as a result of normal metabolism (called endotoxins) and those that are absorbed into the body from the surrounding environment (called exotoxins).

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Endotoxins include substances such as waste products produced in the muscles and gut like lactic acid. Exotoxins include environmental toxins like pollution, pesticides on foods, mercury in seafood, and lead in drinking water. Regardless of source, both exo- and endotoxins can cause inflammation and sickness if not removed from the system. Since toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted from the body through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Each person's ability to detoxify varies on an individual basis and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, overall health, and genetics. This suggests some people may need more detoxification support than others. Regardless of natural ability to detoxify, if total amount of toxins that a person is exposed to exceeds their body's ability to neutralize them, the remaining toxins may be stored in body fat, soft tissue, and bone, negatively affecting health. It is due to this fact that supports the use of practices that support the body's own detoxification capabilities.

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Most detoxification programs recommend removing processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat, and eating mostly organically grown vegetables and fruit, whole non-glutenous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein. Other programs recommend fasting, a potentially risky practice for some people, which may suppress natural detoxification pathways in the body. This is why many health practitioners advise against this practice.

Detoxification programs can vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as those with more than one chronic illness, those who are on multiple medications, and pregnant/ breast-feeding women). Therefore, it is important to work with a licensed health professional anytime you are contemplating a detox program to evaluate it for safety and effectiveness.

Supporting Your Body's Natural Detox Mechanisms:

Practicing any or all these suggestions can support your body's natural detoxification processes:

·       Maintain adequate hydration by drinking plain water.

·       Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

·       Consume fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

·       Consume adequate protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body's master detoxification enzyme.

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·       Consider taking a multivitamin/multimineral to fill any gaps in a healthy diet, since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body's detoxification processes to function.

·       Eat fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut — or take a high-quality probiotic — to maintain gut health.

If you are in good health and are interested in learning more about detoxification, check in with a registered dietitian. They can help steer you in the right direction.