Is Your Detox Helping or Hurting You?

As a dietitian, I am often asked about the newest fad diet, the “5 worst foods”, “power foods” and detox by family, friends, clients and, well, even strangers. Amongst these, the majority of questions usually revolve around some sort of detox. In light of the flowers blooming and spring freshly upon us, I thought, there's no better time to break down this version of a spring cleansing!What is a detox?Detoxification is a biochemical process by which fat-soluble compounds are transformed into water-soluble compounds and excreted from body through the breath, urine, sweat or stool. Examples of fat-soluble compounds are pollution, pesticides and food additives. Detoxification involves 6 organs systems: the liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, skin, lungs & lymph. Importantly, detoxification is nutrient dependent, meaning the nutrients that you do, or don’t, put in your body affect how the detox process works, or doesn’t.What a detox isn’tBefore we go on, it’s important we address what a detox isn’t. A detox isn’t a fast or a juice cleanse. It isn’t eating only lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper or cabbage soup. Rather, a detox is providing the body what it needs to support it’s own internal detoxification process.Who shouldn’t detox?Detoxing isn’t for everyone. It’s important to consider if this is the right approach for you. A few populations who aren't able to safely detox are:

  • Those who are underweight and/or having difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
  • Someone sick or ill
  • Pregnant and/or nursing women
  • Someone undergoing cancer treatment
  • Individuals on large doses of medications or multiple medications
  • A person with an eating disorder

If you fit into one of these categories, it’s very important to discuss what a safe detox might look like for you with your dietitian.Why detox?Detoxing helps protect the body from negative affects of external and internal toxins. Excess toxins with impaired detoxification disrupts the proper functioning of our bodies. Toxins include things such as pollution, pesticides, plastics, cleaning products, cigarette smoke, food additives/preservatives, caffeine & alcohol. An overload of these chemicals are associated with a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, depression, obesity, fatigue and fibromyalgia. A healthy body is able to eliminate these toxins on its own, however, if we are missing nutrients or if we have an overload we cannot detoxify properly. When the body is out of balance chemicals are stored in body fat, the brain and nervous system.What to expectYou may have heard detoxing is often accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms but this doesn't need to be the case. In fact, a slow, lifestyle approach to detoxification doesn't usually have any negative side effects. A detox should leave you feeling vibrant, energetic and refreshed. Rather, making abrupt and drastic changes to your diet is what may produce symptoms such as headaches, changes in digestion, fatigue and irritability. These can easily be avoided by slowly incorporating changes over a few months. Difficulties during a detox are different for everyone and a dietitian can help guide you through these challenges.Stay tuned for our "10 Steps to Detoxified Living," a guide to a detoxing safely.