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I am overweight with a BMI of 30. My menses are irregular. My friend has advised me to try the “detox” diets. What are they? Any health benefits? Is it safe?

A. “Detox” is a short form of detoxification, a process that our body performs all the time by converting “toxin” that need to be removed from the body using important nutrients from the diet.

There are two main types of” toxins”:

1. Endotoxin: substances that are the by-products of metabolism e.g. urea and lactic acid.

2. Exotoxin: These toxins come from the environment e.g. Air pollutants, pesticides, heavy metals and tobacco smoke, among others. They enter the body through eating, drinking, breathing or absorption through the skin.

Our body has evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms for eliminating these toxins. The liver, kidneys, intestines, skin and lungs all play a role in the excretion of these unwanted substances. If the body is unable to excrete these “toxins”, they will be stored in the fat cells, soft tissues and bone and will affect our health negatively.

Nowadays, “detox diets” are very popular, comprising various programs of non-traditional diets. They are purported to eliminate toxins from the body, promote health and assist with weight loss. Typically, the program consists of a period of fasting followed by a strict diet of raw vegetables, fruit and fruit juices, and water. In some programs, herbs and other supplements are used along with colon cleansing (enemas) to empty the intestines.

There is very little scientific evidence that these programs are effective in removing the toxins. On the contrary, they may be dangerous. especially the more extreme or restrictive regimens. For instance, some detox plans eliminate important nutrients, like protein, which can lead to malnourishment. A prolonged juice cleanse, also called a juice fast, over time could lead to an imbalance of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Colonic cleansing may lead to serious complications, including diarrhoea, perforation of the gut and life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia).

Nevertheless, cutting back on processed foods and sugar in preference for balanced diets consisting of fish, lean meats, fruit, vegetables and whole-grains, reducing the intake of alcohol and caffeine and drinking more water will almost certainly make you get healthier.

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