Detox – is it healthy or not?

I first wrote this blog post a whopping 10 years ago in February 2013 - how time flies.

I've updated it a bit below and taken a few things out that I now know is not the best.  There's so much more research and detailed information available for us regarding our gut health and microbiome and it's becoming increasingly more supported that what we eat has a huge overall impact on not only our physical health but our mental health too.

Doing a January detox seems to be the fashion these days, and if we believe all the papers and magazines it seems that everyone is doing one and that it’s the best thing for you.

There are so many people who go totally cold turkey from 1st January and then within a week they are feeling lousy, have a cold, skin breakouts etc. Seems far away from the healthy new you they were looking to achieve.

So where did they go wrong, or is this how it’s meant to be?

Why detox?

As a summary, it’s really to give the body a rest from the daily pollutants we throw at it, and allow it to cleanse and eliminate thoroughly. Almost like giving the body a chance to wipe the slate clean and rest/recharge.

“We can fast/detoxify/cleanse for many reasons; to clear symptoms, treat disease, to rest our overloaded organs, to be more productive, creative and for spiritual renewal – to feel more alive and awake. A cleansing program is ideal for helping us re-evaluate our lives, make changes, clear abuses and addictions. It really makes us think about what we put into our bodies which is always a valuable lesson.” Says acupuncturist Emma Perris

“Our body and minds are constantly exposed to toxins: excess drinking, processed foods, cakes, overuse of electronic devices, stress about work or relationships. When we cannot digest (physically or emotionally) we accumulate toxins which we call Ama in Ayurveda.” Says Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher Anja Brierley Lange from Yoga Embodied.

A properly done detox should leave you looking and feeling better. You shouldn't suffer or feel so unwell that you are in bed for days.

When to detox

I have never been much of one for Winter detoxing, even before I trained as a practitioner and studied more about nutrition and health. Now it seems that my body and mind knew better than I did as it seems to be a general consensus in the nutrition and health fields that Winter is not the best time for a detox.

In fact it seems that it’s generally better at any other time of the year! Winter is a time for nourishment, nurturing and resting.

It’s cold and not much light out there, and our bodies find it hard to do anything else as they’re so busy keeping us warm and happy. Spring is a time of renewal and growth, and as the days are longer and warmer it seems a better time to give ourselves a “Spring Clean” ready for the Summer.

 

Anja Lange recommends “a gentle cleanse when the seasons change. Spring and autumn are the junctions between the main cold season and the warm season. And especially autumn is important as we have stored up all the heat and fire PITTA from the summer so our liver might need a little support there.”

 

Emma Perris finds that “The cleanse needs to be matched to the individual and the season. Typically we might cleanse in spring and in autumn. In spring it might be more appropriate to fast or to use the more cooling juices or raw foods, greens or astringent lemon in the detox and in the autumn we need warming broths and teas.”

What’s the best detox to do?

There are total fasts, fruit juice detoxing, live green detox, certain food eliminating detox diets, low carb, low fat, cabbage detox (yes, really) - and the list goes on.  The health food stores and magazines are full of new wonder detox aiding products and foods too.  so where to start?

This would depend upon many things related to our body constitution, what we are doing the detox for and our general health. Also we would need to look into what time of the year it is and how strict we want to be with ourselves. Our lifestyles also play a huge role in this.

“Ayurvedic detox would be to eliminate toxins from our daily life, improve digestion, use herbs to digest and eliminate Ama and to detox our mind by meditation.” says Anja Brierley Lange.

Emma Perris’ view from the Chinese medicine perspective is along a similar line: “There are methods of cleansing through fasting which can be effective, we can fast for 5 or 6 days when done properly. However the Chinese Medicine point of view needs nourishment too and may see a water only fast as too cold and depleting. A fast/detox signifies a speed up of the cleansing and renewal process by slowing down the normal digestive routine. It purges toxins and residues accumulated by using too many building foods (proteins, sugars and fats).”

“Matching the detox to the person we need to analyse their general health, energy levels and activities. It's often wise to start with a basic diet and progress along the cleanse slowly so as not to shock the body and yourself into it! Similarly the way of coming out a detox should be made slowly, introducing foods back into the diet and seeing how they feel. If the first step is to eat a non toxic, less congesting diet you'll have less need for cleansing anyway. To do this you'd need to eat more veg, fruit, whole grain, nuts, legumes and less or no baked goods, sugar, refined food, fried and fatty food.” continues Emma

The 5:2 Diet

One popular detox is the 5:2 diet, made famous by Dr. Michael J. Mosley, after he featured it in a BBC2 Horizon documentary called "Eat, Fast & Live Longer" in August 2012.  It is a way of eating where you eat normally for 5 days and then limit your calorie intake for 2 days of the week.  He tried it for 6 weeks and found that his blood tests showed improvements as well as him losing weight.  He was generally quite skeptical of this way of eating before trying it, but now is a spokesperson for it and has  released books all about it.

Dr Mosley has found that the science backs up this form of eating, which seems to show that some fasting intermingled with normal eating is actually better for us.

I haven't tried it yet, but if I do then I'll post a review of it on here.  If anyone has tried it then please comment below.

Gut health and the microbiome

 

Over the past 4 to 5 years science and research is proving true what so many nutritionists and healthcare providers have been saying for a long time - that our gut health has an impact, and in some cases rules, the health of the whole body and mind.

Dr Tim Spector and his Zoe project came to the highest prominence during the pandemic in 2020 and most recently following latest book. His social media accounts also go over all of the latest research on everything from intermittent fasting to how coffee is good for your microbiome.

He considers detoxing and how changing your diet to include things like fermented foods, and 30 different plant based ingredients a week is the best way to maintain a healthy microbiome which in turn could eliminate the need for regular detox diets.

 

Did you do a January detox? How did you feel afterwards?

Was there any specific reason that you wanted to do a detox in January or February?

 

I'm still on the path of not doing fad diets or detox diets, and particularly not during the colder months.  I believe in long term changes (small and one at a time) to sustain without giving up - this seems to help the most - and I feel it more strongly now that I'm 50 and in peri-menopause.

If you do choose to detox then be kind to yourself during this time. Your body will be working very hard internally trying to remove all toxins. You will probably find that you have days of total exhaustion or where you don’t look your best. As long as you keep yourself hydrated you should minimise too many negative problems. Ideally, don’t do a total starvation unless you’re under the supervision of a practitioner or GP. If this is new to you then start with a shorter detox where you eliminate only certain foods, and get lots of professional guidance first.

 

 

 

 

All content within Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies and Rima Shah are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies website or blog. Calm and Clear Complementary Therapies is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. for more information. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.

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