Cleansing diets: are they right for you?

bottlesWith the start of each New Year, there have been several surveys of diet plans, explaining which are most effective, easiest to follow and most heart healthy. US News recently published their recommendations based on their expert panelists. WebMD has a summary of dozens of such diet plans, and has a good summary of the highly successful (and free) DASH Diet Plan.

But you may also have friends who decide that what they really need to do is “cleanse their systems.” The idea behind this is that a lot of nasty processed foods and the like build up in your colon, and need to be “cleansed.” If this sounds like purging, it is.

Nevertheless you don’t have to go very far to find people peddling their highly profitable “juice cleanses” and other detox diets. For example, Westport’s Kaia Yoga Café offers a 3-day juice cleanse program for $195. And the quack-bound Darien Center for Integrative Medicine offers cleansing and detoxification programs. This is an alternative medicine group. But remember that

alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.

The whole cleansing idea is not well regarded by the medical community. For example Dr Eric Yoshida, head of gastroenterology at the University of British Columbia says:

… this is all bunk. The body’s systems just don’t work the way the proponents of the cleanses claim they do. Once in the colon, nothing but water gets reabsorbed, he says. The liver detoxes our food very efficiently.

If you consult WebMD, it expresses similar concerns:

The Master Cleanse Diet is supposed to “release years of built-up waste in just 10 days, while your energy soars.” Yet, experts point out, the liver already detoxifies the body. Further, there is no medical evidence that fasting or “cleansing” diets actually rid the body of any toxins not otherwise discarded in bodily waste.

And the Mayo Clinic web site says much the same thing:

There’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Most ingested toxins are efficiently and effectively removed by the kidneys and liver and excreted in urine and stool.

Finally, Robert Lambert, MD noted that Body Detoxification is a Hoax

  1. Your body is not “full of toxins.”  When it is, your liver and kidneys are designed to handle those “toxins” and will do so far better than anything someone tries to sell you.
    2. Diets only work when they restrict calories.
    3. Your colon is fine and does not deserve to be regularly “cleansed.”  Colonics have been around since the early 1900’s (maybe earlier) and the fact that they are still being used is only evidence of the gullibility of humans. Careful with certain exotic fruits claiming to cleanse also, make sure you read irvingia gabonensis side effects before consuming something you can’t pronounce. Just be smart.

You will find hundreds of web sites promoting these quack remedies, but they are snake oil: they are all out to take your money.

New Year’s is a great time to take stock of your weight and perhaps lose some holiday overage, but use one of the diets listed on the US News of WebMD sites above, and stay away from quackery.

This article was originally published in Examiner.com on January 9, 2012

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