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Feature: The Dangers of Detoxing

The dangers of detoxing

Relentless fasting, fad dieting and colonic irrigation…not all of it is very good news.  

Detoxing has, for some years now, been the mantra for just about anything to do with the human body and mind; the way to a better skin, lustrous tresses, shining eyes, and of course and a calm inner self.

Detox gurus appeared out of the woodwork, as it were, and a cult was born, acquiring acolytes with effortless ease. All good, no bad. Totally a win-win situation.

The page three socialite talked of detox, the late and lovely Princess Diana spent as much as 400 pounds per year on her colonics, just about every second Hollywood celebrity talks freely and openly about his or her special spas and lymphatic massages. To add a smidgen of confusion to this particular matrix, ordinary people talk of ‘ancient’ detox methods followed by their grandmothers, involving the downing of kashayas, churnas and little gray pellets.

What are the wonder propensities of detox? It makes acne vanish, regularises bowel movements and re-energises. It also gives you that glowing look.

What followed was actually, inevitable. From going to detox centres and consulting (largely self-appointed) detox experts, we started in on self-help detox treatments.

That ranged from herbal cleansing mixtures recommended by your closest friend and the neighbourhood pharmacist; buying and using radical free-range organic for a home facial, and faddish diets pulled off the net. Everything herbal, organic, mysterious became grist to this mill:

The detox experts don’t exactly hedge their bets. Articulate, eloquent, convincing in the tradition of the best marketing men, these gurus tell you that your body is filled to the brim with toxins, pollutant that are stored in the fat inside our bodies, as well as undigested foodstuff that lie like laden lumps inside our intestines.

All of this affects the body’s immune system, weakens its ability to fight disease and makes a person dull in body and mind.

Wrong, says a recent study commissioned by a team of doctors in the US.

Here is what the doctors who rubbished the detox theory have to say: The human body has its own ways to get rid of undigested food particles or poisonous gases which linger inside. Detox treatments may feel good but in the long run, don’t really matter, say the doctors.

In fact, doctors don’t really recommend colonic irrigation at all. During this process, up to 15 gallons of water or herbal preparations are fed into the colon, a few pints at a time. After a thorough rinsing, the waste (bacteria, bits of hardened faeces, liquid) all comes out of another tube.

While detox experts claim that the colon is where all toxins gather, giving rise to as much as 90 per cent of all illnesses, doctors say that a person’s normal bowel movements work just fine. What remains really doesn’t affect the colon or the body at all.

Apparently, there is no published evidence that toxins build up in the colon.

So, apart from being expensive and uncomfortable, frequent colonic irrigation could well spread infection to the intestinal tract; apart from that, the problem of punctured bowels looms large.

What about fasting? Going without solids for a day or a week, or even a fortnight, with water and juice or ‘wonder fluids’ replacing food, is supposedly good for the body, say the detox gurus. They say that during fasting, even as the fat cells burn away, so do the collected toxins stored in the fat cells.

A two-in-one procedure. While doctors do not deny that some of the pollutants we absorb through everyday living is indeed, stored in the body’s fat cells, they aver that as long as these toxins are in the fat cells, they cause no real harm.

Fasting releases these fat cells —and the toxins, too —into the bloodstream and that is a far from happy prospect for the body. Normally the body eliminates small amounts of pollutants on its own everyday.

Let us not forget what we are constantly told about quick fix fasts: we risk the loss of nutrients and calcium that way.

Regular exercise and control of the food we ingest continues to be the tried and trusted weight loss mantra.

Lymphatic massages have always been part of India’s massage vocabulary, the movements of the masseur on the upper parts of the body helping to improve the circulation of the lymph glands, as well as reduce cellulite.

This is detoxing through skin, ridding the body of stagnant fluids and toxins. Doctors don’t buy this, saying there are no studies to prove that lymphatic fluids stagnate in pools.

Also, they say, the work of the kidneys in a normal person’s body, is to do a thorough job of eliminating excess —and toxic —fluids throughout the body.

One last word of warning on detox pills and tonics. These wonder potions cannot really go into the body and immediately cleanse it. At the most, they can make us stronger and less susceptible to disease.

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 29 July 2009.

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Sheila Kumar • February 13, 2013

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