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Truth about detox
When young homemaker Meenakshi Nath embarked on a detox diet, egged on by an executive at her gym, she thought it would be a breeze and leave her slim and glowing. Nath was in for a surprise. "They make things sound so simple, safe and authentic. But no mention was made of killer migraines, acidity or other problems that made my life so miserable, " she says.
Advocates of detox (short for 'detoxification' ) say it helps rid the body of toxins that find their way into our system through pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, soft drinks and junk food. Build up of toxins can create problems not just of weight gain but also bloating, dull skin and energy loss. In fact, detox is generally suggested for people feeling out of sorts, having skin and digestive problems, aches and pains or who've kept healthy habits at bay.
Celebrities in the West made the Master Cleanse, which involves consuming nothing but a concoction of water, lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, popular. It was famously used by Beyonce Knowles to slim down for her role in Dreamgirls.
Following the diktats of a spiritual guru on TV who'd been extolling the virtues of detoxification, businesswoman Medha Kar soon learnt the truth about detox -" restlessness, lethargy and body aches". Going cold turkey doesn't help - that's what Prateek Sharma, who, following "a very strict regimen of a 15-day food and salad diet" discovered. "All the kilos I lost came back soon after, " he smiles. Detox programmes have had more such victims - a lady in Oxfordshire who suffered brain damage, according to newspaper reports, because of a water-therapy diet, suggested by a nutritional therapist and among others, Radhika Chopra, 35, who on the advice of a naturopath went on a week-long schedule of liquids and ended up in a hospital. "Minus the requisite salts and other nutrients, my body protested, and how! My mother threw a fit and I have since refrained from such fancy diets.Eat reasonably well is my mantra and I've been feeling good since, " says Chopra.
So is detox losing its sheen? Ruing the fact that it has become such a fad lately, Shikha Sharma, health & wellness consultant says, "Detox is being suggested by all kinds of 'con artists' who claim to cure nonexistent illnesses. What people don't realise is that these so-called 'toxins' may not even exist and that detox needs to be done judiciously, under strict medical supervision. "
Talking about the body's own detoxification systems that are remarkably sophisticated and versatile, Alan Boobis, toxicologist at the Imperial College, London, wonders why "people are prepared to risk disrupting these systems with unproven detox diets, which could well do more harm than good". Sharma agrees, "The body has been taking care of itself for millions of years. It works all the time to remove unwanted substances and turns the good things we consume into hormones, energy and even medicines. "
That is why nutritionists and medicos are expressing reservations about detox. "It's a sham, " says Rujuta Diwekar, fitness expert and author of Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight. "Detox is a method of 'almost starvation' followed by people who are guilty of bingeing. "
Dr Gautam Bhatia of the Detox and de-addiction clinic calls it "nothing but a feel-good theory. " There's not much evidence to support the belief that the body needs a strict detox regime to help get rid of toxins, he says. "But if people do want to try it, the idea is not to go overboard and let it cause harm. It's just a psychological exercise. " But Diwekar, who believes in "eating normal food, normally" insists "it's not worth doing even once". "Stay simple with food, don't complicate it. Just have food in the quantities you will be comfortable with so that you don't feel stuffed in your stomach and guilty in your head, " she says.
Though Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist, author and director, Wholefoods, may not believe in detox, she wouldn't call it totally wrong. "It can help in stepping up your immune system, because in a bid to detoxify the body, people increase their intake of raw and fresh food, and go slow on sugar, processed foods and fats. " So detox "could help balance things out. But this shouldn't be just a short-term plan, " she advises.
"Ever since weight loss started becoming fancy, detox started getting misused, " explains Sharma. "People do it for a while and then get on with their usual fried stuff and alcohol not realizing that this can harm the liver, intestines, etc. So the whole purpose gets defeated. "
In an article in The Biologist, David Bender says that while detox products could help one shed weight and purge the body of chemicals, what they really end up doing is help you lose money. It's nothing but "a meaningless marketing term, " he says. It's to counter such traps that Khosla suggests a combo of a healthy lifestyle, habits and a determined mindset. "And detox will work best for habitual health offenders - that is, if you smoke, drink or are a couch potato and overdo caffeine, fried and junk food and refined sugar. Detox might put you on the right track. Actually it's a perfect trick, a jolt you might need to kickstart a healthier lifestyle and then get tempted to stay on track. "
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