We asked a naturopath and nephrologist their opinions on detoxing. Here's what they said.
The Naturopath: Joanna Rosenfeld, Qi Integrated Health, Vancouver
“Over time, we’re exposed to pesticides, pollutants, metals and artificial food ingredients, which can build up in our bodies. While our liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and digestive tract are constantly eliminating toxins, a naturopath can prescribe certain nutrients or herbal supplements to support this natural process.
“I recommend my patients cleanse if they’re looking to reset their dietary habits and address specific health conditions, such as digestive issues, fatigue, acne or weight gain. But it’s important to remember that rapid weight loss is not sustainable, so you should always be cautious about doing cleanses for weight loss. Before starting a cleanse, talk with your health-care practitioner.
“My favourite is a whole-foods cleanse that should be done for a minimum of three weeks. It eliminates processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and foods that commonly cause sensitivities, such as dairy, wheat, corn, soy, sugar and eggs, replacing them with a variety of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Results include increased energy and healthy—that is, slow and sustained—weight loss, better digestion and decreased pain.
“I typically don’t recommend cleanses that require fasting, replacing whole foods with juice for long periods of time or severely restricting calories, which can result in malnutrition and disrupt metabolic processes. Don’t detox if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding (releasing stored toxins can hurt a developing fetus or baby) or taking prescription medication (it can decrease the levels of drugs in the body). Cleanses don’t have to be extreme; they can involve one change you’d like to make, like drinking more water or decreasing caffeine or sugar intake.”
The Nephrologist: Dr. Jordan Weinstein, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto
“The terms ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox’ can be interpreted widely. In their most basic forms, some consider a detox or cleanse to involve the addition or removal of a dietary item or to abstain from a certain behaviour. Some require avoidance of certain foods alone, while others combine that with any combination of colonic irrigation and ingested supplements.
“Deciding to ‘detox’ from smoking or from eating saturated fats is never wrong. My concern is more about the benefits and risks of more elaborate detoxes or cleanses, which often involve food avoidance as well as some sort of purging activity. For example, some cleanses and detoxes involve laxatives, which, if used improperly, can cause colonic damage and electrolyte abnormalities. Our bodies are great detoxifiers on their own. The kidneys act as a filter of blood, allowing small molecules of metabolic waste to enter the urine, which are destined to be eliminated. The liver, on the other hand, uses enzymes to degrade complex molecules (like many medications, for example) into smaller ones that can then be used by the body, while also eliminating toxins through the gastrointestinal tract.
“My opinion is that cleanses and detoxes as they’re commonly practised today have no evidence to support their efficacy, and in some cases, they can actually be unsafe. Canada’s Food Guide gives simple advice on the maintenance of healthy diets and how to avoid probably the worst toxins we consume—which are dietary, not environmental, in nature, such as saturated and trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and other variants of sugar.”