Detox: The good, the bad, and the dangerous

All Woman

DETOXING is a process by which people do a body cleanse to rid the body of toxins. Nutritionist and wellness coach Donovan Grant says toxins come from two main sources — outside the body from things like fertilisers and pesticides, or inside the body from unhealthy diets.

Unhealthy diets lack wholesome nutrients, and this makes it harder for the body to get rid of toxins. For example, foods lacking fibre will clog the walls of the intestines, and this will slow down the excretory system. The build-up stays inside the body, decomposes, and produces toxins. Grant compared this to a mango falling from a tree and rotting gradually on the ground. When the body absorbs toxins, you get sick.

The good

People detox in various ways — special teas, green juices, supplements, colon cleanses, or herbal cleanses, among others.

Grant explained that getting rid of toxins is similar to unclogging a drain filled with rice grains. You need to keep the area free from any obstruction, otherwise the drain will get clogged again. Similarly, if a balanced, healthy diet is not maintained after a detox, your body will be invaded by toxins all over again. However, it is important to know what type of detox to take, how, when, and how long to take it. Otherwise, it can affect you negatively.

Detoxing can improve your immune system, increase energy, improve liver and kidney function, aid weight loss and improve eating habits.

The bad

• A sudden change in your diet can cause bloating, gas and diarrhoea.

• The teas, cleanses and 'washouts' that result in copious watery stool can lead to dehydration. This is especially dangerous for the elderly and those who do not adequately rehydrate their bodies during these cleanses. Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure, kidney failure, dizziness, and even comas. These cleanses also have the potential to wash out the good bacteria we need in our colon to assist the process of digestion.

• Existing health conditions such as haemorrhoids can pose a problem.

• Constant wiping of the anus can lead to bleeding and soreness.

• If administered incorrectly, a detox can get rid of the good bacteria and nutrients in the body.

• If done continuously, the body will be dependent on it for bowel movements.

The dangerous

With the multitude of diseases related to food and our environment, it has become a fad to go to extreme measures to rid our bodies of “accumulated toxins”. According to Dr Alfred Dawes — general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon — it is impossible to say exactly which toxins are being expelled from the body with detox treatments.

“Your body has a very good natural detoxification system in the skin, liver, kidneys, and even in the gastrointestinal tract,” he said.

He explained that one popular method, colonic irrigation, is safe only in expert hands.

“Colonic irrigation involves putting a tube up your anus and washing out supposed toxins and plaques of faeces stuck to the wall of the colon. This is a safe procedure in expert hands, but there is still the risk of perforation of the rectal wall, leading to leakage of stool in the abdomen and severe infection. The majority of the water we drink is absorbed by the colon. It has an amazing capacity to absorb fluids. If large volumes of water are used in colonic irrigation, it can be absorbed enough to dilute the blood and cause chemical imbalances as well as fluid overload. Patients who are at risk for heart failure or who have kidney disease should be especially cautious of this treatment.”

With regards to detox diets, Dr Dawes said these can be particularly dangerous.

“Some of these fruit, juicing or tea diets are often nothing more than starvation diets that limit calorie intake. They are associated with rapid weight loss that often makes the user feel good — supposedly the effect of the removal of toxins. The truth is that much of that weight loss is from losing body water and the breakdown of muscles. Starvation diets are often done as regular detoxes. The effect of repeated starvation diets is the body going into starvation mode and storing fat more efficiently, leading to weight gain and its attendant complications,” he pointed out.

According to Dr Dawes, when patients forego proven medical treatments in favour of detoxes, they make their illnesses worse by delaying definitive care.

“People, especially those with cancers, tend to gravitate towards natural remedies that will flush the cancer or change the acidity of their bodies with the hope of a cure. In my practice, people have shown up with advanced tumours that were being treated with these therapies in the hope of avoiding surgery and chemotherapy. This is also seen in people who use various potions to flush gallstones out of the body,” he said.

He cautioned: “They don't work. Delaying treatments that work is the single most dangerous aspect of detox therapy.”

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