What to avoid this summer cleanse season
Summer is a wonderful time of year. The days are long and sunshine-filled, while the evenings are made for socialising outside, from walking in the park to dining on a rooftop terrace. But there is one thing about summer, as a doctor, I dread: people embarking on extreme diets, ‘detoxes’ or ‘cleanses’ in order to look a certain way as the temperature rises.
Before you sign up for a summer cleanse, make sure you know exactly what you are doing and that you’ve got a clear understanding of how our bodies detoxify, what can aid this process and what’s useless or – even worse – harmful. Read on as I break down what detoxing actually means, how it works and the dos and don’ts if you’re going to give cleansing a try.
What is detoxing?
Despite what you might have read, from a medical perspective, detoxification is simply the removal of any kind of toxin from the body. Toxins can be pollutants, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, ultra-processed foods and metabolic toxins (byproducts of the body’s own metabolic system).
Generally, our bodies are pretty good at the process as they naturally excrete toxins, but their removal can also be helped along medically or chemically – for example, in hospitals where we can speed up the process of removing an alcoholic substance or drug.
How does the body naturally detox?
When you’ve consumed a toxin – for example, through drinking alcohol, eating unhealthy foods or even applying a substance to your skin that contains toxic chemicals – it will end up in your bloodstream. The good news is that, most of the time, extreme detox regimes aren’t needed as your body has its own highly efficient detoxification system involving your liver, kidneys, lungs, digestive system and skin.
Your liver cleans your blood and helps get rid of harmful substances, while your kidneys filter the blood and remove digestion byproducts, which are flushed out of your body in your urine. Your lungs breathe out carbon dioxide, while contaminant particles are trapped in mucus, which will be either swallowed or coughed out. Your small intestine absorbs nutrients into your bloodstream and sends the ‘leftovers’ to your large intestine to expel in your waste.
Do special detox diets work?
Detox regimes don’t do anything that our body can’t do naturally. Driven by the sell of a ‘quick fix’, many people turn to detox plans to help them quickly achieve their goals, be that feeling fitter, being slimmer or gaining muscle. These might involve only drinking juice, eating limited foods, taking particular herbs, using natural laxatives or diuretics (which make you pee more often), fasting and taking diet-replacement supplements or other commercial products.
You might see some changes after following such a regime, but these are usually unsustainable and can be unsafe. Extreme measures can put stress on the body and may even lead to disordered eating. Results can just be visual, while internally they are not nutritious or beneficial.
As well as potentially putting your body at risk, most ‘miracle’ detoxes work quickly over a short period of time to show results, which are often not long-lasting.
How else can a detox do more harm than good?
Detoxes can do more harm than good because, although you stop taking in toxins, you may also stop taking in the nutrients your body needs to function properly. – for example, if you only drink juice for several days.
Some detox plans cut out macronutrients like carbohydrates, healthy fats and proteins, but our organs need a balanced diet to create hormones and other chemical messengers in the body. Hormones are vital to regulate your body’s processes, from hunger and sexual desire to blood pressure and reproduction.
If you’re considering doing a cleanse or detox diet, consult your doctor first.
What is the best way to detox?
If you really want to detox, the best way is to help your body do what it already does naturally by limiting the additional stress you put it through when you consume toxins such as alcohol, fast food, cigarettes and drugs.
Yes, the easiest way to detox is to actually eliminate toxins from your diet and instead fuel your body with nutrients. Limiting anything that isn’t technically a toxin, which your body actually needs to function – such as carbohydrates or fats – isn’t going to do you good in the long term.
Get back to basics, start with a balanced diet and work on natural health and wellness: regularly exercising, prioritising sleep, staying hydrated and so on. These behaviours will all complement each other to ensure your body is working efficiently – including its built-in detoxification process.
Can any ingredients help the body cleanse itself?
Foods rich in antioxidants will naturally help your body clear out toxins faster. Berries and other fruits, nuts, cocoa, vegetables, spices and green tea are all great sources.
Antioxidants protect the body against free radicals, the latter of which are produced when you drink alcohol, smoke, eat a poor diet or are exposed to pollutants. Harmful free radicals can contribute to dementia, heart and liver disease, asthma and various cancers.
Antioxidant-rich foods should be part of a healthy balanced diet, so don’t just eat blueberries or drink green tea for a week! Instead, an antioxidant top-up will help keep your organs healthy and your natural elimination processes working efficiently.
Read more from Nature’s Truth’s expert panel here.