There’s no doubt that detoxing is something of a buzz word at present. Following a boozy holiday, the festive season, or just a big night out; many of us feel that a complete avoidance of “the bad stuff” could be just what our bodies need. But is this true? And what is “the bad stuff” anyway?
Plenty of celebrities advocate a detox, and everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Beyoncé and Kate Moss has recommended one. Naomi Campbell believes: “It’s good to just clean out your body” while Salma Hayek claims: “A cleanse is a wonderful way to hit the reset button” and Megan Fox pronounces: “Detoxing cleanses out your system entirely.”
But Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, says this is utter nonsense. “There are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.” The respectable one, he says, is the remedial treatment of people with drug addictions who will die if they aren’t treated. The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell bogus treatments.” Strong words, and Dr Nick Fuller, from the University of Sydney agrees. He feels that although popular detox remedies like milk thistle and dandelion are one of the largest-growing markets in the world; there is very little evidence that any of them actually work.
The fact is that we already have what we need to “cleanse” ourselves of toxins. A human liver is one of the biggest organs in the body and it works constantly for us – turning all the stuff we don’t need for nutrition into something harmless. Our kidneys, lungs and even our skin are also functioning night and day to detoxify our bodies. If poisons did build up in us in a way we couldn’t get rid of them – then we’d be dead – or at the very least, seriously ill!
Ironically in fact, a certain amount of “poison” is actually helpful for the liver. This is partly why doctors tell us that moderate drinking can be beneficial – it’s thought that a small amount of alcohol can help the enzymes in your liver cope with processing the other toxins. Much the same process is going on when you eat broccoli – everyone knows it’s good for you – but one of the reasons why is because it contains a tiny amount of cyanide, which seems to prime the liver to help it work better.
So is it a complete fallacy that we can clean out our bodies by following a detox? In order to have a well-functioning liver you need to eat healthy foods and limit your consumption of substances, such as alcohol, that cause it to become overloaded. Smoking also increases your risk of getting liver cancer quite dramatically.
However, the current advice from the NHS is that is definitely good for you to have days when you don’t drink alcohol. And if you want to have a whole week off and call it a detox then that’s fine. But be aware that what you’re really doing is re-assessing how much you drink; realising that it’s too much and then cutting down.
Same thing with weight loss. If you want to lose a few pounds, a seven-day detox will probably get results. But most of this weight loss will be water and waste products and the majority of it will be regained. That’s what used to be called a crash diet!
So if you can use your detox to make yourself think more carefully about what you’re putting into your body then that’s beneficial. Use that experience to motivate yourself to eat more vegetables, drink more water and cut down on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol in the future. That way your detox may actually lead to a healthier, happier you.