Are Detox Diets and Cleanses Dangerous?
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This could include recommending bitter herbs like dandelion greens, which gently stimulate secretion of digestive juices, or helping patients make dietary changes. "But,” says Donahue, “in terms of doing things that really force the body to eliminate” using laxatives when one isn’t suffering from constipation in the first place? "Those can really do real damage."
“Often a person with chronic constipation has already had some damage to their gut lining,” he notes, and many herbal laxatives work by irritating the gut lining. (Not a good thing if it’s already damaged.) Even for those with a healthy gut lining, “most laxatives, even herbal laxatives, can create dependence in a very short period of time.” As Donahue puts it, "The body realizes that something else can do this for me, this isn't where my energy needs to go."
The most serious danger both De la Forêt and Donahue see in the liver flush is that someone may actually dislodge a real gallstone (not the fake gallstones one produces and excretes during the flush). “If [a gallstone] gets stuck in your gallbladder duct, that's emergency surgery. So a lot of people in the know tell people not to do these flushes,” says De la Forêt.
If fasting and drinking lemonade for 10 days isn’t the way to detox your body then, how does one go about detox? The answer is simple, boring and straightforward: Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.
De la Foret explains that our body already has excellent detox mechanisms built in to eliminate both toxins and metabolic wastes. “When all of those are operating optimally, our body is functioning at a great level and all of those metabolic wastes are being taken care of naturally.” She adds that our bodies are so “complex and amazing” that our own natural detox mechanisms are way more effective than a lemonade fast or liver flush.
Both she and Donahue note that our natural detox mechanisms can stop working properly – perhaps one becomes constipated, for example – so an herbalist will help a patient find a way to “support that natural functions of our body to facilitate the elimination of metabolic waste.”
Supporting the body’s natural detox mechanisms begins with putting the right nutrients in your body so that it can work. Avoiding known and preventable toxins is another step in the right direction. Hemmelgarn provides a list of advice for those looking to keep their bodies’ toxic loads as low as possible:
1. Drink filtered tap water. (She adds, “This is not a recommendation to buy bottled water. It’s a recommendation to pay attention to where your water comes from and work to protect public water systems from pollutants and polluters.”)
2. Read labels and avoid genetically engineered ingredients. Unless the label says “USDA organic,” any corn, soy, canola, and sugar (from beets, not sugar cane) comes from a genetically engineered crop. They have never been tested for long-term safety. While you’re at it, tell the FDA you want GMO foods labeled as such. Join the justlabelit.org movement.
3. Choose local and organic foods whenever you can, and remember that the word “natural” on a label means little.
4. Ideally, meat and dairy products should be certified organic and pasture-raised.
5. Avoid foods and beverages in plastic packaging.
6. Avoid canned foods unless you can be sure the manufacture does not use BPA-lined cans. Go with glass instead.
7. If you drink soda (diet or regular), quit.
8. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, but do what you enjoy.