Should you really be starting your New Year with a detox?


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


01 January 2019

What is a detox?

Detoxing has become a popular way to repent for all of the gluttonous sins committed in December during the holiday season. It’s estimated that the detox industry is now worth millions, if not billions but what does it actually mean to detox and why has it sky-rocketed in popularity? Well, as it turns out, the idea of a detox, as we understand it, was actually popularised back in1940 with The Master Cleanse, a book conceived by Stanley Burroughs to help tackle stomach ulcers.

Back then a detox consisted of drinking 6-12 glasses of water mixed with lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup a day plus a laxative at night. Since then the regimes have changed – some celebrities like Beyoncé swear by similar programmes whereas juicing has really come into the forefront in recent years, with many devotees sacrificing solid food in favour of super-green smoothies. 

The idea of a detox is very simple though – you’re aiming to rid the body of all those nasty toxins and chemicals that have built up over the course of your celebratory drinks and meals in December. If you can get rid of these chemicals your body is supposed to be cleansed and you’re meant to feel reinvigorated and revitalised with the added bonus of shedding a few pounds along the way.

Can detoxing be bad for you?

Okay, so far detoxing sounds quite healthy – who doesn’t want to feel cleansed and energised? Does it really work though and are all the health claims true? This is a contentious idea but the truth is that none of the benefits of a detox are actually backed up by science, at least when it comes to getting toxins and pollutants out of your system.1  There are also many aspects of a detox regime that can be problematic for your health - below I’ve just outlined a few of the major concerns!

Your body has its own detox system – The idea of relying on detox regimes, pills and teas to filter impurities and toxins out of your body completely ignores the fact that your body is already, naturally equipped to do this. Thanks to evolution, organs such as the kidneys, liver and colon work pretty effectively to process and excrete any toxins from your food so, providing you support these systems with a healthy diet and avoid bad habits such as smoking or drinking excessively, everything should keep running smoothly.

You could become deficient in certain nutrients – Drinking super-green smoothies and lemon water every day probably sounds pretty healthy, in theory, but in reality it can lead to some significant deficiencies in nutrients such as protein and fibre. This is because juicing vegetables, as opposed to eating them in their solid form, strips away the fibre and increases the content of fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit. This can seriously upset your blood sugar levels as I shall go on to discuss, not to mention surviving on smoothies and juices also reduces your intake of protein. This can plunge your metabolism into chaos and instead of burning fat you may start to burn muscle instead!

Your blood sugar levels will suffer – A high fructose, low fibre diet is a recipe for disaster when it comes to your blood sugar levels. You may find that on a detox, one moment you feel fabulous and full of life but an hour later you’re slumped over your desk, exhausted. This is because fructose is raising your blood sugar before it rapidly crashes. This type of oscillation isn’t good for your energy levels but it can also wreak havoc with your sleep patterns too, plus it encourages unhealthy food cravings!

Your stomach might become a bit distressed – Bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation – these are just a few of the unhappy symptoms that may crop up during a detox. It goes without saying that these symptoms can be fairly unpleasant to experience and sometimes embarrassing in social situations but most people endure them because they believe it’s a positive sign that something is happening. The truth is though, that if your gut is reacting in that way it definitely isn’t a good thing and it definitely isn’t happy so you may want to consider grinding your detox to a stop.

You can have too much of a good thing – Water, green tea, cleansing herbs and spices like turmeric – all of these are perfectly healthy but only in the right quantities. It is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing and while dehydration is always on my radar, when people start a detox they tend to go dramatically in the opposite direction, drinking far too much fluids which can lead to hyponatremia, when your sodium levels become worryingly low. This can be extremely dangerous, possibly leading to seizures. That’s why it’s important to remember that moderation applies to everything, even health supplements and foods!

You may not be able to sustain a detox long-term – The majority of detox plans advertise themselves as being a ‘quick fix’ and only last around a week or two and this is for a good reason. Detox diets simply aren’t sustainable long-term and they rarely produce lasting the results as most people return to their usual diets once the regime is over.

How should you approach your diet in the New Year?

I’ve probably painted quite a bleak picture of detoxing thus far but most of my grievances are with those that take detoxing far too far. In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with juicing or adhering to a stricter eating plan but it has to be just that – moderation! If you’re embarking on a plan that has little or no solid foods in it then there is a real problem. 

That being said, rather than immediately signing up for the latest detox programme or healthy eating plan, it might be a better idea to look at balancing your diet. It’s estimated that only 8% of those who make resolutions in January actually stick to them so you might do better to aim for small, manageable changes that are more sustainable in the long run. That’s why I’m going to look at a few things you can do this January to help improve your diet and lifestyle without committing to resolutions you may end up breaking two weeks down the line. 

1 - Eat more fresh foods

When it comes to fruit and veg, forget juicing, what you really need are fresher, organic options. Brightly coloured fruit and leafy green vegetables are bursting with antioxidants and fibre and you want to retain these good nutrients as much as possible. This doesn’t just go for fruit and veg though – instead of relying on pre-packaged foods for the sake of convenience, make more an effort to prep your own meals – why not make a warm, spicy soup rather than paying for something out of a tin? Keep your diet varied and don’t panic if you have the occasional treat day – provided you’re getting plenty of healthy fats, proteins and complex carbs, you should be fine!

2 – Support your gut

If you really want to detox, you can start by supporting your gut. If you keep this crucial system working efficiently, it should take care of getting rid of all those nasty toxins and impurities. One of the best ways of doing this is to support your friendly gut bacteria and I can’t think of any better way than with a pre and probiotic combination. You’ve probably heard of probiotics – they can help to add friendly strains of bacteria to your gut – but prebiotics often get overlooking which is a real shame. 

Gut friendly prebiotics like Molkosan help to feed your probiotics and create an idealised environment for them to flourish in – it doesn’t matter how many probiotics you’re taking, if your gut environment isn’t right, you won’t feel the benefits. When it comes to probiotics, I usually recommend Optibacs incredible range. They have a probiotic for every occasion and best of all, their products are backed up by real research so you know you’re getting a high-quality probiotic that’s more likely to work

3 – Don’t say sedentary

It isn’t just healthy eating that’s on everyone’s radar come January – gyms also see a drastic increase in membership during this time too! Now, fanatical fitness regimes can be about as healthy as a hard-core detox but in general, increasing your activity level is a good thing. However, I can understand if the idea of signing up to a gym or a new class is a bit daunting – that’s why I think it’s best to take small steps first. If you’re nervous about trying a new activity, why not invite some friends with you? This is a great way to you stick to your goal, plus it adds a social level to your activity! 

If it’s the whole idea of exercise that you’re finding intimidating though, then start small. A brisk twenty minute walk each day still counts or, if you feel like challenging yourself a bit more, you could check out our exercise videos over at the Get Active section of our website, all of which you can do from the comfort of your own home!

4 – Get a good night’s sleep

There’s so much attention on getting fit and eating properly that most people completely overlook the role sleep plays when it comes to keeping you healthy and happy. Your body relies on you getting a good night’s sleep in order to rest, repair, and yes, detox! Research has found that while you sleep, waste products are removed from your brain, supporting your cognitive functions.2  It’s also worth noting that sleep deprivation can inspire symptoms such as stress, digestive flare-ups and it can even make you more prone to unhealthy food cravings

That’s why, if you really want to support your health in 2019, the best thing you can do is get at least 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night. However, if you’re struggling to meet this quota, our Sleep Advisor Marianna might be able to help as she offers tons of useful tips and information to help tackle sleep problems such as insomnia or deprivation. If you’re looking for a more immediate solution though, you could try our gentle sleep remedy Dormeasan, which is especially well suited for stressful sleepers as it can help to calm your nervous system, making it easier for you to fall into a deep, natural sleep, free from any of the side-effects associated with traditional sleep medicines. 

1https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jhn.12286

2https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267611.php

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