Only three years ago a mum-of-two won £810,000 in damages after claiming an extreme detox diet left her suffering with brain damage and epilepsy. Yet the popularity of these diets, abounds as advocates they claim to boost energy levels, shed pounds and roll back the years.
So just how effective and safe are they?
What are detox diets?
Detox diets are eating plans that are designed to help rid your body of excess toxins. Advocates of detox diets say our bodies are continually overloaded with toxins from pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides, a poor diet, food additives, alcohol and caffeine.
As these toxins build up in our system it is reported that any number of health problems can occur, including weight gain, cellulite, headaches, dull skin, bloating, fatigue, lowered immunity, aches and pains and a general lack of wellbeing. The process of detoxing is said to remove these toxins from the body with the result that you lose weight, feel healthier and recover from a whole myriad of niggling health problems.
Hundreds of different detox diets exist and the foods allowed and banned on each one can vary widely. Some are extreme recommending little more than water for days but generally fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, herbal teas are allowed. Wheat, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar and processed foods are generally banned or severely restricted.
In addition to dietary changes many recommend additional detox activities such as saunas, massages and body brushing right through to more intense measures such as colonic irrigation and bowel enemas. Herbal supplements such as milk thistle, detox drinks and 'liver' tonics are also often recommended.
Do they work?
Detox diets can help to eliminate junk food from the diet and encourage some good habits such as eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking more water and cutting down on too much salt, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. They may also encourage you to think about what you're eating and can be quite motivating as you take charge of your health.
However, there is almost no evidence to suggest that our bodies actually need help to get rid of waste products as our liver, lungs, kidneys and skin are completely capable of working together to excrete waste and many of these diets are not without their downfalls ….
Eating very small amounts of food or cutting out food groups altogether can seriously hinder your ability to take in all the health enhancing, immune boosting nutrients you need. Many detox diets advocate cutting out all foods containing dairy and wheat.
Eliminating dairy foods such as cheese, milk and yogurts from the diet can make it very difficult to consume enough calcium, a mineral that is essential not just for efficient fat burning plus numerous other metabolic functions but also to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) occurring in later life - a disease that already causes fractures and weak bones in half of all women over 50 years of age.
Eliminating wheat from the diet means that foods such as bread, cereals and pasta that are rich in essential vitamins, minerals and fibre can be wiped out in one fell swoop. Bread can be a good source of calcium in the diet so cutting this out as well as eliminating dairy foods adds another blow to your calcium intake.
B vitamins that help to control hormones and make hair shiny and eyes bright (one of the very things you're trying to gain from detoxing) plummet, not to mention intakes of folic acid and iron (the nutrient most women are likely to be deficient in) resulting in tiredness, lethargy and anaemia.
Low blood sugars
Very low calorie detox diets or those that recommend cutting out or dramatically cutting back on carbs can leave you feeling tired, drained and low in energy. This in turn can make it very difficult to exercise or maintain any level of regular physical activity.
Without carbohydrates, blood sugars fall causing some people to experience nausea, irritability and headaches as well as strong cravings, often for fatty, sugary foods.
[Useful: The perfect daily diet]
Upset stomachs and diarrhoea
Large intakes of fluids, sudden changes in eating habits and use of laxatives (often recommended on detox diets) can all cause severe diarrhoea which in turn can lead to dehydration and electrolyte loss, again resulting in headaches and sometimes nausea. Conversely, constipation may occur if excess fibre is eaten without also increasing fluid intake.
Temporary weight loss
Weight loss achieved on a low calorie, detox diet is usually temporary and is largely the result of a loss of lean muscle tissue and water. Very little of the weight that is lost, leads a reduction in body fat. This is because severe calorie restriction (anything less than approximately 1200 calories a day) sends the body into starvation mode which automatically enhances our ability to store fat and hinders our ability to burn it. This means that although weight loss will almost certainly occur, research shows time after time that all will be regained and more besides.
Strict detox plans have been critisised for encouraging an unhealthy relationship with food, yo-yo dieting and even a potential eating disorder. The real appeal of detox diets is often the belief that they are a quick fix solution to long term over-eating and drinking and under-exercising.
There's no substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise when it comes to losing weight and staying well — and if you're eating well most of the time, there's simply no need to get caught up in the detoxing bug.
However, if you still want to follow a detox diet look for one that has the least restrictions and only use it to kick start a longer term, more varied healthy eating plan. Always check with your GP or qualified health professional before starting the plan and never detox if you are pregnant, breast feeding or are suffering from any illness.