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Ask a Dietitian: Detox Dangers?

by Ashley Giddens, MS, RD/LD

Q: Is it really necessary to detox?

A: With a wide range of products, books, and celebrity endorsements, the popularity of detoxification seems to be on the rise. Proponents of these products and dietary regimens claim that the organ systems in our bodies hold onto toxins that we ingest from the environment and from the foods we eat, which is a large contributing factor to various ailments and disease.

Detoxification can take many forms, including special dietary practices and cleansing techniques. There is not a large body of scientific research to support this concept and medical science does not recommend such practices as effective in “purifying” the body. The body of a healthy individual has quite the effective detoxification system that works within hours of ingestion. The skin, respiratory system, immune system, intestines, liver and kidneys all perform special and efficient functions to protect the body from and eliminate harmful substances.

Detox diets can often include fasting, brief liquid-only diets and restriction of calories or of certain food groups, which is alarming for several reasons. Such practices are not recommended and are not safe for individuals with diabetes, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children, teenagers, or those with specific medications or chronic illness. Many prescription medications may not be effectively absorbed on an empty stomach or with clear liquids only.

Long-term restriction of calories can trick the body into thinking it is starving, thus slowing metabolism and dipping into muscle stores for energy. Fasting can lead to dips and spikes of blood glucose levels. Other very dangerous risks include dehydration, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, electrolyte imbalance, disruption of acid-base balance and digestive problems.

Some of the more sensible aspects of detox plans encourage goals for long-term health and wellness: get enough sleep, quit smoking, take steps to reduce stress, exercise at a level deemed safe by a physician, alcohol in moderation, incorporate more fruits and vegetables, choose low-fat food options as well as lean meats, and drink more water.

The bottom line is that there is no substitution or quick fix to absolve an unhealthy lifestyle. Consult a physician first if you are considering a detox plan and remember a registered dietitian can help you to manage a healthy diet for life.

For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.

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Contact Kelly Wells
Norman Regional Health System

Office (405) 307.2143
Fax (405) 307.2144