'Detox' diet programs have yet to prove effective

Posted4/16/2016 6:55 AM

Q: Friends are urging me to join them in a "detox" diet. Is there any value to it?

A At first, the idea seems appealing. Our bodies do produce plenty of chemicals that can become toxic to our tissues.


We also absorb some potentially toxic substances from the environment. Surely, in the postindustrial age we have added many chemicals into our environment -- chemicals that none of our species, going back 40,000 years, had ever been exposed to. So a program that promises to rid our bodies of toxins has appeal.

Quite a number of my patients have tried various detox diets.

Proponents of detox programs claim that the buildup of toxins in our bodies decreases immunity, leads to chronic disease, decreases energy and slows metabolism.

That surely is true for the natural waste products that our bodies produce. But our bodies have plenty of their own natural detoxification systems.

The liver, kidneys and lungs all function, in part, to get rid of certain toxins.

Do we need detox programs in addition to our natural detox systems?

Indeed, do any of these programs work?

I'm not aware of any evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from our bodies, prevent chronic disease, or improve overall health.

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Specific foods and food groups are especially good at supporting our natural detoxification system.

At the top of the list are cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, watercress and Brussel sprouts. Other foods on the list include garlic, leeks and onions, turmeric and citrus peel.

If you're in good health, a brief detox diet probably won't hurt.

But avoid one completely if you are nursing or pregnant, young, elderly or have a medical condition.

I support my body's natural detoxification system by eating a well-balanced, plant-rich diet that includes plenty of detox-supporting foods. After all, why drink broccoli when you can just eat it?

I'm open-minded, yet skeptical, about any proposed treatment -- mainstream or nontraditional -- until it's been shown to be of value in scientific studies.

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. For questions, go to AskDoctorK.com.

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