Friday 3 March 2017

The Science Behind the Detox Fad

A guest post By Helen Vector.

Detox and detoxification have become the latest buzzwords in the diet industry fixated with convincing people (mostly women) that they have found a quick fix that will help them to lose weight fast. We now detox our diets of fat, undergo intensive detoxification is we are addicted to drugs and alcohol, we are even told to detox our wardrobes! But what, exactly, is a detox? Do they work and how, and what does microbiology have to tell us about this fad:

A Term Used Out of Context

A toxin is a poison or venom that is released by a plant, animal or some form of microorganism. A good example of this is the sting of the bumble bee: a toxin that is used as a weapon and released into your system to enhance the animals’ survival. Toxins can also be produced by bacteria: examples of this are the toxin that is produced when you develop toxic shock syndrome or the toxin that is produced when you develop botulism. Neither of these conditions can be cured by drinking more water and cutting back how much coffee you drink because the term detox, as it is widely used by the media now, is not actually an accurate interpretation of what a detox actually is. When using the word detoxification, most people are actually talking about cleansing their system of impurities: they are not talking about removing toxins from their body, because this is something that largely requires antibiotics and serious medical intervention.

In medical terms, detoxification means something very specific: It refers to managing withdrawal from alcohol or opioids, treating someone who has taken a medication overdose (either deliberate or accidental), or the medical management of any form of poisoning. When your read about a new detox programme, what you are actually reading about is a cleanse: ‘cleansing’ your body of the impurities that it has supposedly gathered as a result of environmental pollutants, chemicals contained within certain foods and then ingested, and even in your personal health care products, such as the shampoo or deodorant you use. So does cleansing have any benefits, and is this something that is worth further exploration?

The Benefits of Cleansing

The fact is that eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly are the very best things we can do for our body (alongside ensuring we receive adequate sleep each evening) Our bodies are finely honed evolutionary waste management machines who know how to self-cleanse to optimal levels. If you are a normal, fit and healthy person with no pre-existing medical conditions then your kidneys, liver, lungs and sweat glands shouldn’t need help with fluid and sanitary engineering provided their diet and exercise needs are being met. Of course, if you do not have a healthy and balanced diet then the pointers included within a cleanse programme (such as encouraging you to ensure you drink plenty of water, and ensuring you eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day) could be particularly useful for helping you to get back on the right dietary track, as could any emotional support you receive from the programme you are taking part in. What’s more there are benefits of cleansing your body of some impurities, particularly if you regularly consume diuretics such as coffee or alcohol. Giving up these substances, even in the short term, will be good for your overall wellbeing, and if your cleanse gives you the push you need to stop smoking then the long term health benefits of this decision are considerable. Your risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer will decrease, and you will benefit from a return to normal levels of blood pressure and heart rate.

For these reasons, cleansing programmes are not a bad thing: its just important that you understand that they are not detoxification programmes, and they will not be helping you to remove toxins (or anything else) from your system. The idea of a detox being able to help you overhaul your body is based on bad science, and is not something we should be perpetuating by continuing to use the term out of context.

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