Lose weight fast, nourish your nails and skin, and banish cellulite forever. These are just some of the claims proponents of detox diets make. Heather Stephen finds out the claims stack up when it comes to skin health.
The concept behind detoxification is that we need to rid the body of harmful substances every now and then to stay healthy and look good. Detox diets last from one day to a month and can involve fasting, juicing, herbal potions, cutting out wheat and dairy, avoiding caffeine and alcohol or eating a limited range of foods.
Endorsed by celebrities and promoted all over the internet detox seems like a shortcut to a healt-hier, more beautiful you but experts says if we follow these plans we are wasting our time and could even endanger our health.
Our bodies absorb toxins through the air we breathe and our diet and it is believed by some that the body holds onto these substances in the gut, lymph system, skin and hair leading to a whole plethora of problems from fatigue and headaches to nausea to Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.
A whole multi-million pound industry has built up around fears like this but many doctors say the claims made around detox diets are nonsense. For instance, many detox products claim to ‘cleanse’ the liver. But the British Dietetic Association (BDA) says there is no need as the body efficiently deals with waste products through the skin, gut, liver and kidneys very efficiently.
It agrees it makes sense to avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol and fatty and sugary foods, but warns that excluding foods which have important nutrients is potentially harmful. Instead it argues that the best way to protect your health is through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
And when it comes to skin, Harley Street dermatologist, Dr Adam Friedmann says the advice remains the same.
“The problem here is that there is no scientific evidence to prove that detox diets are good for the skin as such. No doubt, lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and anti-oxidants will generally help the skin, but it is predominantly anecdotal reports rather than evidence. Dermatologist tend to recommend sunscreen and moisturisers,” he says.
Southampton dietitian Annemarie Aburrow agrees. “Most of the studies promoting detox are sponsored by companies trying to sell products or are very small scale. And as people often do other things at the same time like cutting out alcohol or increasing exercise it is more likely that it’s these things are making them feel and look better.”
Nutrition experts say these extreme diets are unlikely to supply a balanced intake of nutrients and are concerned they are not only useless but could pose a real risk to health.
One plan suggests only drinking a lemon juice drink for 10 days and another diet advocates raw food in the belief the cooking process removes enzymes from food your body needs to ‘cleanse’ itself.
It has been claimed that fasting or juicing helps burn fat cells which are said to retain harmful toxins.
“This is absolute nonsense,” says Aburrow. “Fasting has no value in detoxification and drinking lots of juice can cause people’s blood sugar to spike which can be a real danger if you have diabetes.”
She adds no-one should eliminate wheat and dairy from their diet without first checking with their doctor or a dietitian to see if they have a genuine intolerance or need to do this for health reasons. “Cutting out wheat and lactose can help people with IBS but people should always do this under medical advice to make sure they replace these nutrients with other foods.”
Aggravates some skin conditions
Detoxing may in fact make certain skin conditions worse. Dr Tatiana Lapa, Medical Director of The Studio Clinic, Harley Street, says depriving the body of essential nutrients can cause further problems for people with skin conditions.
“Potentially people with psoriasis could have a problem as it is a disease of the immune system which could be weakened by these faddy diets,” she says.
Dr Lapa says making healthy choices can make a difference. “It makes sense to cut down on sugar as this feeds bacteria and can aggravate acne.”
And she adds good hydration is essential for healthy skin. “Drinking lots of fluids increases your metabolic rate and blood flow helping your skin glow. And if you have eczema it is a good thing to avoid coffee and alcohol as these will dehydrate you and cause more irritation.”
Aburrow says the key to great skin health from within is not deprivation but indulging ourselves with lots of the good stuff.
“It shouldn’t be about what we cut out but what we can fit in,” she says. “We should all be eating a variety of foods, including oily fish, beans, pulses, wholegrains and plenty of fruit and vegetables” that are rich in minerals and vitamins.
Dr Friedmann agrees. “I would generally recommend sticking to a healthy balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables rather than specific detox programs.”