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Is detoxing a good idea?

Tags: alcohol , detox , diet

Is detox a good ideaThree out of four people start a detox or diet regime after Christmas. Before you purge your system, Dr Sarah Jarvis suggests that sensible eating, rest and exercise might do the job just as well.

Chances are that, if you're at all health conscious and reading this article in January, you'll be on a health kick or detox already.

Around 75 per cent of us start a new diet or detox regime in the New Year, lured by the prospect of a quick-fix solution to combat over-indulgence during the festive season.

Detox (short for detoxification) regimes are usually short, sharp, fasting programmes where you slash your calorie intake, drink lots of water, stay off alcohol and take lots of supplements.

Google 'detox' on the internet and you'll come up with over 1,830,000 matches - so you're far from alone in your quest for a fast-acting fix. It's very tempting too, as losing weight is notoriously difficult to do. To lose just 1lb in weight, you need to cut your calorie intake by 3,500 calories a week, which is pretty daunting.

Celebrity dieters have helped fuel the popularity of the detox. The singer Beyoncé famously lost 22lbs in 10 days on the 'Maple Syrup Diet' - existing on nothing more than up to 12 glasses of water, maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper a day.

What is a detox?

Detox regimes vary in how extreme they are but they usually involve some extreme deprivation for a few days or even weeks - banning booze, chocolate and chips in favour of water with a slice of lemon, herbal tea and juices, soups and some detox supplements like Milk Thistle.

Does your body really need it?

No, it doesn't. Panels of scientists have repeatedly analysed expensive detox products and concluded that they contain no more benefits than a good night's sleep, laying off the booze, eating sensibly and taking some exercise.

But myths about the benefits of detox diets still persist. These include:

  • Your liver and kidneys need extra support: In actual fact, they don't. GP Dr Sarah Jarvis says:"Our bodies - and in particular our livers and kidneys - are highly efficient at removing toxins from our bodies."
  • Milk Thistle can help you recover from a hangover:"There is no evidence whatsoever that adding supplements, including the herbal remedy Milk Thistle, make your liver or kidneys more efficient at doing their job," says Dr Jarvis;"most people don't need supplements if they're eating a healthy balanced diet."
  • Quick fixes get better results:"Our bodies are remarkably forgiving," says Dr Jarvis;"it's not what you eat today; it's what you eat every day that makes a real difference."
  • Detox diets 'unclog' your bowel:"There is no scientific evidence for this. However, limiting your intake of red meat and increasing the fibre in your diet will reduce your risk of colon cancer as well as constipation, bloating and piles," admits Dr Jarvis.

Do detox diets really help you lose weight?

No, not in the longer term. You may lose water in the short term, even if you're drinking a lot of fluids. This is because you tend to lose a lot of water when you restrict your calorie intake dramatically.

Your body starts burning glycogen, an energy reserve that affects the way your body absorbs fluid in the body."Once you start to eat normally, though, you'll regain any weight you've lost very quickly," says Dr Jarvis.

What about going on the wagon?

"Most people drink more alcohol over the festive season but it takes a large amount to do lasting damage if it's only over a week or two," reassures Dr Jarvis.

However, as a general rule, she advises sticking to no more than three units a day if you're a woman, or four units if you're a man (with a couple of alcohol free days each week) to keep your total weekly intake to no more than 14 units for women and 21 for men. A unit is equivalent to a pub measure shot of spirits, half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.

Should I give detoxing a try?

Dr Jarvis says that, at best, detox diets are harmless but they don't do your body any good. She states:"At worst, they can be damaging for your health, especially if you follow them for more than a few days."

If you really want to change your health for the better, you're far better going for a series of small, common-sense and sustainable changes including:

  • sticking to safe limits for alcohol
  • taking more exercise
  • getting more sleep
  • eating more fruit and vegetables
  • cutting down on saturated fat, sugar and salt

Maybe these small changes aren't as 'sexy' as a Beyonce detox but, by the following New Year, you're much more likely to be sticking to your new health regime - and enjoying the benefits.

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