For as long as humans have been ingesting food, they have been looking for ways to detox from that same food. There was a time when bloodletting was the prescribed course of action to rid the body of harmful toxins. This required the use of leeches and in some extreme cases direct draining of blood. In the 1800s, it was thought that Calomel, a compound of large doses of mercury, could also “cleanse the body.” Flash ahead to today’s detox quest and it’s all about the “cleanse.”
The Master Cleanse or Fruit Flush has been made popular by many celebrities who swear by its positive effects. Essentially, you live on a drink consisting of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper. You’re supposed to drink only that mixture for ten days and watch the toxins flush out of your body. Anyone who lives on just juice for ten days will certainly lose a lot of weight but they could also be doing harm to their bodies. Even after all that struggle, the weight can still come back when the person picks up those unhealthy eating habits.
Those who swear by a juice cleanse say it makes them feel great. That is understandable but it is also deceptive. “It may be due in part to the fact that a detox diet eliminates highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar. Simply avoiding these high-calorie low-nutrition foods for a few days may be part of why people feel better,” writes Katherine Zeratsky in an article for Mayo Clinic.
Here’s what most purveyors of detox diet plans don’t want you to know: Our bodies do an exceptional job of detoxing every day. That task falls on the kidneys and liver. Of course, it would help if more fresh foods were taken in and other harmful items (drugs, alcohol or processed foods) were kept out.
What are the hidden dangers of detox dieting? Consider these risks:
The lack of red bloods cells coursing through your system is called anemia. The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue and feeling run down. That can lead to other chronic problems. As for the causes of anemia: a lack of iron rich foods such as lean red meat, nuts and dairy products — all the kinds of foods that would be forbidden on a detox diet.
A detox diet will rob your body of vital electrolytes. These are the power source for your nerves and muscles. Without electrolytes, your body becomes imbalanced and your heart can go into “overdrive.” Although certain detox diets advocate drinking liquids that are infused with electrolytes like coconut water, you still are forcing your body to readjust and overcompensate. That is called strain.
If all you’re drinking is a juice infused with a little fruit essence, then your vitamin levels are going to drop drastically. Essentially, your body is still burning the same level of energy it needs to function and help you get around. The trouble is you’re not providing any “fuel.” Persistent vitamin deficiency can result in overall weakness, irritability, memory loss, headaches and increases your chance of picking up an infection.
All that hard work you put in at the gym can be lost on a detox diet. You’re basically flipping the starvation switch on your body. In order to maintain a healthy level of fat cells, your body will “steal” energy from your lean muscle. This will also result in your metabolism grinding to a halt. That means when you go back to eating normal foods, you’re going to have a greater struggle burning off calories. Sounds like the detox defeats its own purpose.
We’ve all felt the occasional “hunger pangs.” However, when your rob your body of the much needed nutrients missing from a detox diet, then your intestinal track will be robbed of the coating that makes for a smooth digestive flow. This is when the cramps can occur that can be extremely debilitating.
Not all the loses from a detox diet are internal. You can also experience external threats such as thinning hair or hair loss. Not only will your hair growth rate slow down dramatically but you could also mess the cycle of regrowth to replace the lost hair.
There is a direct correlation between low blood sugar and depression. You have probably experienced this when you skipped a lunch. Over the course of several days of a detox diet, those feelings of depression and irritability will only become more intensive. These feelings of depression can also be a trigger to unhealthy eating patterns. In other words, you might seek comfort from junk food because you’re starving and want to feel better.
Those same nutrients that feed your hair such as vitamin A and E also “feed” your skin. Without those in your diet, you could experience dry and flaky skin. No matter your age, you could also experience a round of acne. This is not the result of the toxins leaving your body, but your body fighting back against the lack of vitamins.
Greater Risk of Colds and Viruses
A detox diet takes direct aim at your immune system. Once again, the lack of nutrients and vitamins that your body has been getting on a regular basis can cause your immune system to falter. This puts you at greater risk of catching a cold or picking up other forms of bacteria or infections. Ironically, the detox can actually increase the level of toxins in your body.
The lack of cholesterol in your diet can result in the formation of a gallstone. This is a hardened piece of bile that can block the gallbladder. When that happens, you can experience severe spasms in a condition called cholecystitis. In extreme cases, surgery might be required to clear the path.
The key to any successful diet plan is moderation. Although you might achieve rapid results when you starve your body, the trade off in harmful side effects and the “bounce back” might not be worth the effort.