Detox diets are on the rise but do they work and are they safe?
Body detoxification programs are often enticing, especially when you live in one of the most polluted cities in the world. Many detox diets claim to eliminate the body of toxins encountered in daily life, such as from pollution, water, hormones and pesticides in food, and even chemicals from cleaning products. Books, videos, pills and programs claiming to target fatigue, illness, or even age reversal are now ubiquitous. But are these diets a fad or a warranted health regimen?
Registered dietitian Dr Michelle Wien says, “Many people who go on detox diets think they are losing weight but in actuality, they are losing muscle mass, not fat. Once they go off the diet, their weight goes back up. They are also depleting their bodies of essential elements, such as proteins and vitamins from food.” She says the best way to lose weight is to stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Other critics of these detox programs say that it is unnecessary to go on such fasting diets. Our bodies have a natural system of disposing of toxins through the liver and digestive system tract.
“No one is the same, so these detox programs should be personalized.”
To further explore the subject, we spoke to Dr Zhang Yutai from the Beijing Traditional Chinese Medicine University at Guoyitang Hospital about the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to detoxification. The main difference, he pointed out, was that unlike popular Western detox plans, where participants stick to a strict diet – which could result in serious lapses in energy or dizziness – TCM prescribes herbal remedies, which aid your body’s natural ability to filter out toxins.
While it’s easy to assume that most of us living in China will have a toxin build-up, Dr Zhang suggests that you should find out whether or not you actually have a problem before you start any herbal detox program. Some likely indicators you can look for yourself include blotchy skin, broken skin eruptions, painful cold sores, sore throats, even fever.
One of the most common TCM detox remedies detoxifies the liver. The liver’s main function is to filter out impurities, so helping it along with a systematic program is often advised. Most Chinese herbal remedies are short-term programs, typically lasting 10 days to two months, and include formulas that range from seaweed to clover, burdock to Echinacea. Dr Zhang also advises cleaning out other elimination organs, such as the large intestine and skin. One of the essentials for cleaning out the large intestine, he says, is aloe vera, which you can find as a juice from selected supermarkets around town.
“Since your body needs different remedies at different stages of the detox program,” says Dr Zhang, “I usually prescribe Chinese medicine that should only be taken for one week. The patients will then need to come in for a check-up and another set of Chinese medicine will then be prescribed to fit their bodily needs. No one is the same, so these detox programs should be personalized.”
He suggests that you have lots of rest, especially between 11pm and 3am, because that’s when your body “is cleaning out your system, so it’s crucial to rest then.” He also suggests drinking tea or water and staying away from overly salty or oily foods.