Resist the green juice brigade. The detox is a delusion

The New Year detox is upon us in its many guises, and although we know that the entire premise is a fallacy, why do so many of us seem to fall for it?

The proposition is a compelling one — that we are riddled with toxins, which the human body is unable to process, allowing them to accumulate in tissue and organs causing any number of diseases. Without our intervention the levels of toxins increase and the ensuing ill health is our own fault. Worse still, we have made things more serious by indulging in festive food, and so a punishment by way of abstinence sits well with any feelings of guilt. It sounds almost logical, and it’s a good story, one spun by well-meaning complementary health practitioners, celebrities and wellness bloggers rather than any doctor I know. But it’s not true.

The biochemical truth is that the human body is wondrously adept at clearing out what it deems unwelcome through highly complex systems. These involve the liver, skin, kidneys and lungs as well as the bowels, and unless you have a liver disease, then it is almost certain that your kindly organs are efficiently detoxifying as you read this, without the need of any self-flagellation.

In short, the science of detoxes, such as it is, doesn’t stack up. That isn’t to say there aren’t benefits — but these have nothing to do with fear-mongering detox fanatics. There is a profound aspect to a period of restriction, one found in nearly all religions, as fasting removes the focus on food, and thus the self, allowing the individual to contemplate loftier, more spiritual matters. Overeating is the foundation of two of the seven deadly sins — greed and gluttony — while festive inactivity is represented by sloth. There is a sad irony about atoning for sins that might be said to be those of self-interest by drinking a bespoke green juice and posting images of it on Instagram.

The modern fast sits well with this as the vociferous supporters often use emotionally powerful words such as ‘cleanse’ and ‘detoxify’ which fit nicely with the guilt that one can feel after having overdone it a little. Increasingly this indulgence is classified as having been ‘bad’ and thus ‘dirty’ and their detox is ‘good’, and if you follow it, then you can be ‘clean’, just like them.

Unlike the premise of most spiritual fasts, though, a detox is not about freeing oneself from food, but instead enslaving oneself in a miserable cycle of boom or bust, feast or famine and self-obsession.

As with every diet, there is potential for eating disorders and food obsession to hide behind the positive aura of eating well, but the wildly exaggerated health claims of the detox brigade provide further cover for disordered eating.

Having overdone things, of course we might be mindful of what we eat, but there is no need to ‘detox’. You don’t need the green juices, tinctures, supplements, smoothie makers, books or therapists, as better health can be achieved by eating modest amounts of good food. That may not be the cutting-edge nutritional advice some people were hoping for, but we are adults. We don’t need nutritional hocus-pocus. We can handle the mundane truth, can’t we?


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  • Conall McLaughlin

    Hmm..

    While there is much to be said for the resilience of the human body and its astonishingly effective detoxification processes, encouraging a strict post-Christmas diet helps us with a major problem: obesity. After the holiday season, it’s fair to say most of us have shifted the scale’s needle to the right by a good margin. Saddled with guilt, we reach for anything considered authoritative to help shift the weight. Done correctly – including smart nutritional choices, cutting out sugars and regular exercise – why couldn’t a detox diet help here? After all, it is fat loss that we’re really after.

    Assuming one has supplemented their diet with a half-decent gym programme or some light exercise, what exactly is wrong with supplements and smoothie makers? I use both, helping me to loose weight and maintain muscle.

    Though I am not on a detox diet as there are more relevant diets out there for the goals I want, if people find this helps them and assist in dampening the raging inferno that is obesity, if only by hacking away that Christmas fluff, then I’m not going to knock it. After all, the best diet is the one which works for you and that you can consistently maintain.

    • ExamineIslam

      Absolutely – a green smoothie beats a full English in obesity terms and heart attack terms – so what’s the problem? Slating detoxes is simply pointless – we could most of us do with substituting green smoothies for cheese sarnies or crisps.

  • I agree completely! Aside from the lack of scientific evidence to support detoxes and cleanses, I also take issue with the moral implications and language surrounding them. I think we need to stop beating ourselves up over a few “bad days” here and there, and focus on balance.

    • Jingleballix

      ……..what about a few ‘bad years’?

      …………or a couple of ‘bad decades’?

      • I would still say the same. I don’t believe beating ourselves up is ever a kind or productive way to approach anything.

        • Jingleballix

          My, aren’t you earnest??

  • Jon Ford

    As regards the thorny issue of supplements: The food we eat today is seriously deficient in many vitamins and minerals. The October 17th 2015 issue of New Scientist went into this in some depth; so, unless you get all your fruit and veg from a grower who practices proper crop rotation, supplementation of vitamins and minerals is a very good thing. You have to be careful though, many of the supplements you can buy are worthless as the vitamins are locked up in compounds with very low bio-availability, there are only a few that are actually worth buying.

    • Hilary Paton

      Interesting, have heard this, please can you suggest brands or makes which are good absorption? Cheers!

      • Jon Ford

        I was taking Seven Seas multi-vits for years, but having learnt recently that these are far from being the best I have switched to some from Mega Foods. These do seem to have given me relief from deficiency-related health problems I have; but they are expensive in the UK as they are imported from the USA and I am looking around for a cheaper one that is made here.
        Be very careful if looking for advice on this online as most of the websites are run by manufacturers pushing their own brands. I have found one webpage that gives very sound advice on what to look for when choosing them, it’s written by a proper dietician.
        http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/jackie-arnett-green-plate-special/are-vitamin-supplements-really-bioavailable/

        • Mary Ann

          If you are suffering from a health problem caused by a deficiency your doctor can give you a blood test and find out exactly what it is you need. I have to take potassium and I know that with the tablets, my potassium level is at the lower end of the normal range, I have seen the results from the laboratory. And I don’t have to pay for them, winner all round.

  • Jingleballix

    Just as well off drinking 4-5 pints of water a day.

  • I was in a small village, in late autumn and went for a stroll down a lane. The hedgerows were full of freshly-ripened blackberries and I had a small plastic bag in my pocket. I started to pick the blackberries, popping one in every four or so, into my mouth. They were delicious and the ratio soon became one to two. Anyway, I eventually filled the bag, which held about two pints volume and, again had a bit of a feast, with cream this time, once I got back to the cottage.
    In the end I probably had eaten over a pound weight of blackberries. I, naturally, expected, having had two crab-apples as well that I might be slightly unwell. Quite the opposite. I slept very well, had not the slightest digestive problem and felt terrific when I got up. As it was warm, I had a drank lot of water. Did the blackberries de-toxify me?.
    I have some liver problems and diabetes, but there seemed to be nothing whatsoever amiss. Blood-sugar readings were normal and the plumbing system was fine. My point is that I would rather die eating fresh blackberries than kale any day!

  • Сорокин

    People should start suing and boycotting everyone who talks about benefits of detoxing, cause it’s a scam plain and simple.

    • I agree. My wife is easily taken in by advertising and has followed these daft ‘new’ dietary cures for non-existent conditions. Avocados, Tuna, celery, all-protein, no-protein, gluten-free, hot water, smoothies, egg-bad cholesterol, egg-good cholesterol, half-bottle wine, no alcohol, 90% cocoa chocolate, weightwatchers, kale and so on. As you can see, we’ve been married a long time. I would like to de-toxify some of the advertisers and ‘doctors’…….

  • Yau Ga Rin

    Talking about greed and gluttony like taking too much Vitamin A, Vitamin C And Vitamin E famous for their antioxidants myths. Too much Vitamin C causes osteoporosis. Vitamins A and Vitamin E are fat soluble Vitamins will give you fatty liver first. Vitamin E will increase your chances for prostate cancer by 17% in males. Too much of Vitamin A will cause Food related macular degeneration similar to Age related macular degeneration is a condition that has been in the end of the spectrum where your cones receptor mostly and rod receptors have been destroyed. The present treatment for age related macular degeneration is trying to flog a dead horse to come alive. Billions have spent and wasted time and effort to find a cure of age related macular degeneration.

    I am now like to introduce a new term food related macular degeneration and it is a preventable condition. Prevention means no drug in turn no money for the pharmaceutical companies. So it is highly unlikely it will be promoted . But prevention will give good quality of life to the older population they will have clear vision until their end of life.

    First you need to stop buying all supplements. Beta Carotene are precursors of Vitamin A. Food with high in beta carotene like for example carrots, beet roots, tomatoes papayas and mangoes ,you nee to stop buying or planting them.
    No juicing of any kind fruits or vegetables.
    Cut down the fish to twice a day.
    That rest you use your common sense and read the labels on your food.