Detox myths exploded: the science behind the diets and treatments

Frankie Mullin
Woman looking in fridge(Getty Images)
Detoxes, it is claimed, will rid your body of unwanted toxins, help you lose weight, brighten your skin, cleanse your system and increase your energy. No wonder millions of women attempt to detox every year.
Synonymous with celebrities like Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow, announcing that you are going on a detox has a trendy but virtuous ring to it that old-fashioned healthy eating simply does not. The suggestion is that, not only will you look amazing, you will also be gleaming and pure on the inside.
But before you subject your body to a week of near-starvation or spend money on one of the many treatments on offer, read on. Not only is the whole concept of 'crash detoxing' scientifically dubious, some of these popular detox regimes could actually harm your health.
We got the low-down on the science behind the fads from Dr. Radha Modgil ( ), resident doctor on Channel 5's daytime show 'Live with...'.
The maple syrup dietThe detox: perhaps not her greatest achievement, Beyoncé has made famous a detox that involves drinking only water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Proponents claim the diet should be done for at least 10 days and some claim to have stuck to it for 45 days. What Dr. Radha says: not only is there no medical evidence at all regarding the benefits of this diet, it seriously restricts some of the normal food groups vital for your body to function. Downright dangerous if done for long.
Colon cleansingThe detox: colonic cleansing has gone pretty mainstream and the wisdom of having your intestines cleared of faeces and toxins is widely touted. Colon cleansing may be done via colonic irrigation, during which a tube is used to pump water into your colon, or through a regime of dietary supplements. What Dr. Radha says: a fair amount of research has been done into this and there is no scientific or medical evidence to suggest that colonic irrigation has any health benefits. In fact, if you have some medical conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease, a bowel infection, heart problem, uncontrolled blood pressure or kidney disease, your condition could be made worse by this treatment.
The juice detoxThe detox: actress Salma Hayek claims to have been doing a regular juice cleanse since she was 28. The particular programme Salma follows involves eliminating processed foods, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and dairy products and replacing two meals a day with juiced fruit and vegetables. What Dr. Radha says: there are good points to this as it is useful to reduce the caffeine and processed food in your diet. Vegetables and fruit are proven to be good for your health but not as an isolated diet. Make sure you don't deprive your body of essential nutrients.
Body wrapsThe detox: if you're feeling lazy, lots of beauty salons offer seaweed and algae wraps, claiming that the minerals and enzymes will eliminate toxins and help you lose weight. What Dr. Radha says: if this sounds too good to be true, that's because it is! There's no scientific evidence that your body gets rid of toxins in this way. You might drop a little bit of weight, but most will be from water loss and therefore only temporary.
Lymphatic drainageThe detox: manual lymphatic drainage is a form of massage that stimulates the lymphatic system, apparently accelerating the processing of toxins, excess fluid and bacteria. In turn, this is said to help the body eliminate fat. What Dr. Radha says: there hasn't been any scientific research into this but if you're having a massage and hoping it will help you lose weight, think again. You'll need to get exercising for that!
The raw food dietThe detox: if you hate cooking then the raw food detox might have a double appeal. Believers include the uber-slim Gwyneth Paltrow, who claims that eating raw food leads to better digestion, improved complexion and increased energy. What Dr. Radha says: people who eat only raw food tend to have lower cholesterol and triglycerides but they may also be deficient in vitamin B12, iron and zinc. Overall, it's not good for your health to have such a restricted diet and you certainly shouldn't try this if you have specific medical problems such as diabetes.
Bioenergy cleansingThe detox: you're getting into the realm of some serious detox-jargon with the 'bioenergy cleanse' which usually involves a 30-minute foot soak in a special foot spa. An 'energizing cartridge' apparently 'creates a flow of electrons and a bioenergetic field that sends signals through the lymph glands to stimulate the detox process'. What Dr. Radha says: wow! There's certainly not much science behind this one. I wouldn't recommend you spend your money on something not proved to have any medical benefit.
Powders, pills and teabags The detox: a quick search will reveal a plethora of detox aids that claim to help rid the body of toxins by aiding the two primary filtering organs: the liver and kidneys. These powders, pills and teabags are usually suggested as part of a diet that involves cutting out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, dairy and processed foods. What Dr. Radha says: your liver and kidneys are extremely efficient at removing and filtering out toxins without the aid of special powders or pills. Again, there's no scientific research to back up the claims of these products. However you will see benefits from cutting down on processed food, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
Detox cuppingThe detox: based on Chinese medicine, glass cups are heated and applied to patients' backs, or other areas. The vacuum pulls the skin which is said to encourage toxins to be taken up into the bloodstream where they can be carried away and eliminated. What Dr. Radha says: cupping can sometimes cause burns, swelling and pain if not performed correctly. Trials have not shown this treatment to have any health benefits.
The alkalising detox The detox: proponents of this diet - including Kate Moss - claim that substituting acidic foods (meat, fish, grains and cereals) with alkaline foods (fruit, veg, green tea, soya and plant oils) helps you shed toxins and lose weight. What Dr. Radha says: I'd love to tell you that following this diet will turn you into a supermodel but, again, I have to break it to you that there's not a shred of evidence to back this up.
So what does work? Any final words on the whole concept of detoxing, Dr. Radha?
Detoxes often involve extreme deprivation which your body does not need. These regimes are mostly practised for a short, acute period of time. However your body reacts to what you consume and how you treat it every day, not just for a week.
Some detox regimes may not cause harm but some can. The key message is to take more exercise and eat a healthy well-balanced diet, low in saturated fat, sugar and salt with plenty of fruit and veg. This is not new advice but it does have evidence behind it!
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