Pesticides. Additives. Preservatives. These chemicals are in the foods most of us consume every day. Detoxification diets or fasts may prove helpful in ridding the body of these toxins; however, detoxification is a contentious issue. Supporters cite the need to get rid of toxins and a general feeling of well-being afterward; critics bring up the lack of scientific evidence supporting it and the danger of malnutrition.
Dr. Joseph White of Jackson's Optimum Health Wellness Center and board certified in internal medicine and anti-aging, believes detox diets effectively get rid of toxins. He is particularly concerned that we consume unhealthy fertilizers and pesticides, and encourages his patients to eat organic produce whenever possible. When organic is not available, he recommends washing fruits and veggies with a non-toxic produce cleaner.
The doctor prefers juice fasts, where one only consumes homemade juices of fresh fruits and vegetables. White's personal juice fast consists of carrots and celery. He notes that this is only one modality of detoxification and not exclusive. "Water fasting is the most potent way to clear your body of toxins, although people should not do these water fasts for more than three days." White says. He also recommends taking multivitamins, mineral supplements and omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil or flax seed, during a detox fast.
It is not uncommon to feel unwell during the process, with fatigue, an achy body and flu-like symptoms, White says. He attributes this to what he calls a healing crisis. "As the toxins stored in the body are released into the blood stream, the body displays signs of sickness," he explained. There are other deeper detoxifications available, like colon cleansing and intravenous nutrition, but should only be done under a doctor's supervision.
Brady Taylor, a dietician and assistant director of clinical services for Nutrition Systems in Jackson, agrees that a diet heavy on organic fruit and vegetables is a healthy way to go, although he does not see a need for detoxification fasts. "The liver, kidneys and other bodily organs cleanse your body all of the time," he says.
Taylor says that there is no hard medical proof to indicate that detoxification helps eliminate toxins or even that the body needs to be detoxified. He would not discourage healthy adults from brief detoxification fasts, but warns that detoxing also has risks. "Prolonged detoxification can deprive the body of nutrients it needs such as protein and calcium," he says.
Taylor says reducing calorie intake drastically can be dangerous, especially for people with diabetes, heart disease or those with active lifestyles. If you plan to embark on a detoxification fast, he says, check with your doctor first.