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The Detox Myth

  The Detox Myth

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DETOX – the new age mantra

Drinking copious amounts of water, juices, gorging on salads and laxatives, along with enemas, colonic irrigation along with fasts to detox- is the new age mantra to get you in shape. The word “detox” is being heard far more often than ever before. Mushrooming spas and fitness centres offer special detox diets and programmes.  Detox promises include instant sanitation or cleansing of the system (literally like washing your sins away), weight loss and even magical cures to several ailments. 

Do detox diets and techniques really deliver what they promise and are they warranted and safe, is a question? 

Detoxification refers to treatment protocols designed to help the body, rid itself of waste and toxic materials. The body excretes toxins through various systems including lungs, kidney, skin and colon. The liver is a key factor in detoxification. Its protective enzymes can oxidize and inactivate toxic compounds so that they can be excreted more readily. Some sensitive individuals lack important detoxifying enzymes which make them vulnerable to common drugs and toxins. 

Drinking plenty of water helps the kidney work efficiently to cleanse the blood and to excrete waste products. The average amounts needed to make adequate urine are about 2-2 ½ litres and can vary from individuals, seasons and activity. However, excessive amounts may simply be useless and even inconvenient.

Stimulant laxatives can damage the nerve cells in the colon wall, decreasing the force of contractions and increasing the tendency towards constipation. Thus, strong laxatives can be counterproductive. 
Techniques like enemas and colonic irrigation have considerable potential for harm. The process can be very uncomfortable, since the presence of the tube can induce severe cramps and pain. If the equipment is not adequately sterilized between treatments, germs from one person’s large intestines can be transmitted to others. Several outbreaks of serious infections, including amoebiasis, bowel perforation, heart failure (from excessive fluid absorption into the blood stream) and electrolyte imbalances have been reported. 

Popular theories about gut include belief that fecal matter lines large intestines and causes hardening of stools leading to re- absorption of wastes in the blood. Another popular theory is based on the notion that fruits rot when eaten with other foods like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Fruits according to this theory should be eaten in separate meals, otherwise, it leads to formation of toxic waste and weight gain. Such theories are baseless and lack scientific perspective to say the least. 

Fasting to detoxify or lose weight is questionable. While it is prudent to balance out excesses and indulgences on routine days, fasting as a means to detoxify does not really help, especially true when fasting is followed by feasting. 

What really works is adoption of healthy eating and lifestyle practices on a regular basis rather than intermittent fasting and special detox diets practiced for a few days. 

A good diet should emphasize whole, minimally processed foods with fruits and vegetables and supply adequate antioxidants including vitamin C, E, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc needed by the body’s detoxification enzymes to function optimally. Foods like oats, amla, aloe vera, alfa-alfa sprouts, yogurt, garlic, mushrooms along with essential fatty acids may be good choices. Gel forming fibers like psyllium husk (isabgol), guar gum (beans), pectin (fruits) and oat bran can help bind ingested toxins and prevent their absorption. 

Reduction to toxic exposure also helps. While a lot remains to be achieved on this front with pollution levels and chemical exposure increasing by the day, some small steps can be taken individually. The pesticide burden can be reduced by eating organic produce and thoroughly washing and peeling fruits and vegetables. Exposure to toxic chemicals including drugs should be minimized. Since many organic solvents are easily absorbed through the skin, direct contact with paints and solvents should be avoided. 

The recommended approach entails a life long commitment to healthy diet habits and regular physical exercise regimens including yoga.