What health experts say about detox diets

November 16, 2009 8:01:49 AM PST
Detox diets or cleanses are growing in popularity among Hollywood celebrities and others looking to feel better. Some of the programs claim to help you rid your body of toxins, others say they'll help you lose weight quickly or get clearer skin. Action News asked health experts what they thought of the plans. Eric Mikolai, of Philadelphia, said he's full of energy. He lost 20 pounds in two weeks. So how did he do it? He went on the Master Cleanse. It's the same detox diet Beyonce used to lose weight for her role in 'Dream Girls.'

"I just had gotten in a rut with eating, with poor eating habits and I felt that this was a really good way to get started over again to get a fresh start," Eric said.

That fresh start meant an ultrastrict liquid diet. for 14 days, Eric drank a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. At night, he drank a laxative tea, followed by a salt water flush. The Master Cleanse is one of the most extreme detox diets.

"It was hard, it was very hard," he said.

Another moderately extreme and popular program is the Blue Print cleanse. It has three levels but all include a one- to 10-day all liquid diet consisting of different juice tonics and cashew-nut milk.

But is the pain worth the gain? We went to registered dietician Emily Rubin of Jefferson University Hospital to find out.

"I don't really see the benefits in any of them," she said, adding, you don't need a special diet to get rid of toxins.

"Our bodies don't need help flushing toxins because we have organs that do that, our colon, our kidneys, our liver all flush toxins out of our bodies naturally," Rubin said.

As for weight loss, an extreme diets like the one Eric did averages less than 1,000 calories per day so it's no surprise people lose weight. Rubin said they may also feel awful. "You could get dizzy, you could get a headache, fatigue, tired, irritable, all those harmful effects," she said.

And whatever weight was lost, She said will most likely return.

But the real danger of detoxing, cardiologist Dr. Peter Kowey of Lankenau Hospital said comes from when they require laxatives and diuretics to flush extra water. That can disrupt your body's potassium level and cause heart problems.

"Abnormalities of electrolytes that these regimens can cause can certainly lead to very serious and potentially fatal heart rhythm abnormalities," Dr. Kowey said.

But there are milder detox diets. Oprah's a fan of the Quantum Wellness plan. It's a 21-day vegan diet that doesn't cut calories but cuts out sugar, alcohol, caffeine and gluten.

Rubin said for most people cutting gluten isn't necessary, but overall the plan is good. It boosts your veggie, fruit and fiber intake but can be low on protein and calcium. So if you go over 21 days, you may need a supplement.

Eric is happy with his results but said for now he'll stay fit the old fashioned way.

"If I can keep eating healthy and working out, then that's what I'm going to do," he said.

The company who makes the BluePrint Cleanse said they agree the body is self-cleansing, but since we ingest more processed foods now, their product allows you to only take in what's "fresh and real." They also only recommend the plan after already eating healthy and talking to your doctor. They also stress their product does not use diuretics or laxatives.

Meanwhile, Peter Gillick, author of "Lose Weight, Have More Energy & Be Happier in 10 Days" and an advocate for the Master Cleanse, which does include a laxative said in a written statement that people have been taking laxatives for hundreds of years. He also said in an informal survey, out of 141 people who did the Master Cleanse, 90-percent said they were able eat healthier after finishing the program.

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