Thinking About a Detox Fast or Cleanse? Read This First.

Not so Fast

Thanksgiving is over, and it’s hard to avoid looking for an easy way to reverse the damage from several days of overeating. You might be especially tempted by drastic quick-fix solutions like cleanses, detoxes, and even fasts. These terms are not synonymous, but they all require eliminating almost all solid food from your diet and replacing it with liquids like juice, tea, or even just water. The programs are all fairly short-term, but they are very extreme.

Before you do a detox fast

The idea behind detoxes—clearing the body of poisons, or toxins—is ancient; from sweat lodges to bloodletting to enemas, many cultures have embraced the practice of flushing bad substances from the body. While the practice died out in many Western cultures throughout the 20th century, it has come back with a vengeance in the 21st. When looking online or through magazines for healthy ways to lose weight, it’s impossible to avoid advertisements for 24-hour juice cleanses or pills to detoxify your liver.

Many cleanses and detoxes focus on the liver, since the liver’s job is to purify your body of toxins. Toxins in our bodies come from both within our bodies and without, and include environmental chemicals as well as “lifestyle toxins” like nicotine and alcohol. The liver “turns potentially harmful chemicals into water-soluble chemicals that can be sweated or excreted from the body.” Many products also focus on the colon—through liquid and high-fiber diets, or even through “colon-cleansing” enemas. These cleanses basically make you spend a lot of time in the bathroom until there’s not much left in your digestive tract.

While many celebrities and “celebrity medical personalities” may endorse these extreme fad diets and purges, most scientists and doctors agree that they bring no long-term benefits, and may actually cause harm. The hepatology (liver) department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recommends against any products that claim to cleanse the liver, and they are not regulated by the FDA and may even lead to “drug-induced injury.” The Mayo Clinic warns against colon cleanses, noting that they can cause dehydration, bowel perforations, increase the risk of infection, as well as less serious side effects like cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. Above all, most doctors and nutrition specialists agree that any weight loss from a fast or cleanse will be short-lived and will be reversed as soon as you go back to eating normally.

So forget about the fast. Focus instead on healthy choices, like fresh foods with lots of fruit and vegetables. Your body is its own detox system, and if you let it do its job, all that turkey and stuffing bloat will be long gone by Christmas.

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