Liver detox diets: What you need to know

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Using a natural detox diet to remove toxins and poisons from your body might sound like a good idea., but there's more than meets the eye. There are many misconceptions about toxins and about the best way to clear them from the body.

Most natural liver detox diets have little science supporting them. Detox diets are very restrictive and can cause harm if they're not used with care.

The belief is that the body holds onto toxins in the digestive and gastrointestinal system, causing problems like fatigue, headaches, nausea and chronic diseases.

Detox diets are designed to help the body rid itself of toxins. To attempt this, you temporarily give up certain kids of foods. This is called fasting or purging. Then you gradually reintroduce foods. For example, you might start with a liquid diet for one or two days, and then move to four or five days of brown rice, followed by fruits and steamed vegetables.

In some cases, a detox diet is paired with changes in lifestyle, including saunas and exercise to increase sweating.

Examples of popular detox diets are the Lemonade Diet, Fat Flush Diet and Detox, cleansing diet, Martha's Vineyard Detox diet and raw food diet.

Some programs suggest using cleansing products or herbs to "purify" the liver and help it work more effectively. Other use a colon irrigation to clean out your colon, involving an enema.

Proponents believe cleansing the body with natural liver detox diets can clear the body of poisons that have built up. They also suggest that detox diets help with weight loss, increase energy and cure chronic diseases.

Symptoms may improve with a detox diet, but there is no evidence that this is due to clearing toxins from the body.

One problem is that most of these detox diets are so restrictive that you can't maintain them for long.  You quickly regain weight once you go off the diet.

The good news is that your body has its own natural detoxifying process that works quite well.  The liver and kidneys do a good job of processing chemicals and eliminating them in sweat, urine and feces. 

If you want to try a natural liver detox diet, be sure to talk to your doctor first.  Do not use a detox diet for long periods of time.  The same goes for the use of any laxatives or supplements that have a laxative effect, which can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and problems with your digestive system.

Over time, fasting can slow your metabolism.  If you fast, make sure you get all the nutrients you need.  Fasting can be addicting because it causes a kind of "high."

Some people are more vulnerable to detox diets.  Do not go on a detox diet if you have diabetes, an eating disorder or a heart condition.

Detox diets are not appropriate for children, teens, seniors, or pregnant or breastfeeding women.

There is little scientific evidence that detoxification is necessary or effective for good health or weight loss.  Your body is designed to remove toxins efficiently through the kidneys, liver and colon.

Detox diets are based on unrealistic fears and dieters' lack of understanding of how the body works.
Colon cleanses are not recommended, because they can alter your body's electrolyte and fluid balance.

Fasting lasting a day or two is unlikely to be harmful.

There are two main colon-cleansing methods.  One involves buying products; the other involves seeing a practitioner to have a colon irrigation.

Colon cleansing can be done with powdered or liquid supplements, includes enemas, laxatives, herbal teas, enzymes, magnesium.

Some people claim these toxins cause a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, headache, weight gain and low energy.

The goal of natural colon cleansing is to clean the colon of large quantities of stagnant, toxic waste on colon walls in order to enhance the vitality of the body.

Remember that "natural" doesn't necessarily mean safe.

Some potential side effects include vomiting, nausea, cramps, dizziness, dehydration, mineral imbalance, bowel perforation, infection.

The Lemonade Diet which is also known as the Master Cleanse or Maple Syrup Diet, is a detoxification and fasting program. The severe plan involves drinking a lemon juice concoction, and not eating any food for up to two weeks. No solid foods are allowed, nor are any supplements.  You consume the Master Cleanse elixir to keep you hydrated.

The plan calls for you to drink six or more servings daily of the lemonade drink.
A single serving of the Master Cleanse drink consists of:
* 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons grade-B organic maple syrup
* 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 10 ounces filtered water

After following this fast for four to 14 days, dieters are urged to slowly ease back into eating solid food, with vegetable soup, followed by fruits and vegetables.

As for detoxification, your liver already does that.

Forget fasting and detoxing; they are risky, don't work long-term, and can forge an unhealthy relationship with food.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to