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What are the facts on Detox Diets? Are they effective?

Wednesday marked my first class of 2017. I hoped into the truck heading towards the class and I hadn’t even left Maynooth yet when I had heard my first fitness related segment on ‘The Last Word’ with Matt Cooper. You’re surprised I was listening to Matt Cooper on the way into work? Shocking… ok, ok, Radio Nova and Q102 were on ad breaks. Besides, I already knew my cool down song for the evening.

Cooper had science editor/reporter Erin Brodwin on to discuss a lady who had to be taken into hospital earlier this week. She had a seizure and collapsed due to her the effects of her “detox”. According to the radio, she had not been eating food and was on herbal remedies and different fluids to detox her body. 

They explained how the body can naturally detox. As Matt Cooper repeated asked why someone would do this, his questions were repeatedly answered with the science behind detoxing the body. How people were being sold on the idea that detox will get rid of all the bad toxins in the body. But it didn’t seem to be the right answer to him as he continued to ask why. Why would someone put themselves through that? The answer was very simple to me. It’s a quick fix. And if there’s a product out there that can help you lose weight quickly and effectively, why wouldn’t you get it?

And, especially this time of year, you won’t have to look far for nutritional companies to sell you on that magical weight loss pill. Or the perfect detox smoothie plan to help you achieve your desired results.

So with this news story combined with a lot of people using the the turn of the New Year as an opportunity to rededicate themselves to their health, I knew I needed to dig deeper into the world of the detox diet. Is there scientific proof to back up the claims that these juices detox the body and are the primary contributor to weight loss? There seems to be a lot of detox plans, smoothies etc out there. Is there science behind the marketing?

So the research began. The first article I read “Although the detox industry is booming, there is very little clinical evidence to support the use of these diets” Well, it doesn’t say that detoxes don’t work. Just that there’s not much proof.

Maybe there’s another study out there that says otherwise. So I continued the research, because what else was there to do on a Friday night.

“While a modern science of ‘detoxicology’ seems to be emerging, evidence based detoxicology still seems quite far off, and at present ‘detox’ is certainly more of a sales pitch than a science.” was the conclusion on the next article I read.  Once again, a dead end. How can all these reports say there’s no research with the popularity of a detox diet? So it’s all just great marketing? Surely there has to be something out there that backs up the detox diet.

And after another half hour of searching (seriously, Friday night Seán, has to be something else to do!) I finally found research done on group of people who were on a detox diet. “This meal replacement–enhanced, low calorie detox diet appears to be a viable option for both weight loss and a reduction in chronic health symptoms.” was the finding results of the study done.

So detox diets work? Great!

Wait, not great. if this stuff works for weight loss, why exercise? Why am I telling people to spend an hour doing squats and burpees when all they need is this shake?

What was the detox plan that these people were on that helped them lose 9lbs in a month? Was it sustainable? The other articles had mentioned that there were flaws in the limited findings that favoured a detox or that the sample size was not big enough to be conclusive.

And then I saw it. “The participants were 31 (13 M, 18 F) patients the first author saw consecutively in his private practice.” Next question. Who was the author?

Jeffrey A. Morrison, M.D. and of course, his website promotes his Detox Diet Plan. Now I was back to being skeptical again and the google search continued. He couldn’t just flat out lie about his findings? Can he? Surely there’s something regulation company or something that he would have to go through to prevent that happening. Otherwise you could write anything on a bottle and market it right. 

And in the next half hour I found gems such as how adding charcoal to your drink can be good for you  (Who takes a sip of a smoothie drink and goes “now, you know what this is missing…charcoal!”) and FatGirlShrink… removing inches instantly by applying electrical currents to the body  (which is, admittedly, steering off topic).

 FatGirlShrink... This seems like it's crossing the line. 

FatGirlShrink... This seems like it's crossing the line. 

And then I came across THIS

Scarily enough, the nutritional supplements industry is largely unregulated in America. That doesn’t mean that products are as unregulated over here. However, with the internet, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a hold of these products that are hailed as a miracle pill on TV/YouTube shows even though these same people admit that “there’s not a pill that long term is going to help you lose weight …without diet and exercise”.

 Watching this was the highlight of my Friday evening. Not sure if that says more about how funny comedian John Oliver is... or how I chose to spend my Friday night! 

Watching this was the highlight of my Friday evening. Not sure if that says more about how funny comedian John Oliver is... or how I chose to spend my Friday night! 

But that doesn’t mean that you won’t lose weight by going on these detox diets.

The report by Jeffery A. Morrison had people lose approximately 9lbs. However, when you’re on 800-1200kcals a day, on such a calorie deficit, you’re probably going to lose weight. So is that really down to the detox smoothies or the limited number of calories? Sure you could lose weight by decreasing your calorie intake and eating nothing but McDonalds. In fact, it’s been done! Doesn’t mean that it is in anyway healthy would should be the number one priority!

The marketing on losing weights through pills, detoxes etc is obviously big business! The facts however, especially when it comes to detoxes is that what they are promoting is largely unfounded at the moment. That could change in the future. Or it could be proven that a lot of these smoothies have little to no effect at all on detoxing the body. 

How sustainable is the detox diet, long term? There is nothing wrong with taking smoothies along with a combination of a healthy diet and exercise to achieve your desired fitness goals. Don’t overly rely on them and I certainly can’t recommend only consuming them which is what seems to be the case with the woman who was hospitalised. It may take longer but it’s more sustainable, long term. And if you lose the weight too fast due to smoothies and lack of calories (probably starving yourself), you’re probably going to gain that weight back when you get off that diet. Because it is not sustainable.

Find a nutrition plan that has foods you like. A nutrition plan that you feel can be sustainable long term as well as helps you towards achieving your fitness goals. And throw in a few burpees in as well ;)