Detox diets and detox 'cleansing' kits are big sellers. They promise lots of things - to purify the body, remove 'wastes' and eliminate 'toxins' (which are never really defined) and rejuvenate the liver. They say they can improve a sluggish digestion, revitalise the skin and boost your energy. Detox has become so accepted in our time-poor, instant world that many people embark on one whenever they've overdone the excesses of life and feel the need to refresh and revitalise. After Christmas is a classic time.
Many companies have capitalised on the detox craze – there's juicers, books and detox recipes. But sales of the detox kits in pharmacies and online stores are huge.
All are similar in concept and are designed to support you when on a detox diet. Inside you'll generally find 3 or 4 separate packs of powders, tablets or liquid (like the 4321 Slim Detox drink base shown above), each meant to address a different organ of the body. For instance, they are meant to look after the:
Herbals offers things like ginger, fennel, Globe artichoke, Cats claw, peppermint, clove, Black walnut as well as bioflavonoids and minerals such as potassium or magnesium. These are meant to prepare the digestive tract for work, stimulate appetite and increase the flow of gastric juices. Traditional naturopathic remedies but will they help you shed weight? I doubt it!
Traditional liver tonic herbs like milk thistle, dandelion, barberry, schizandra, choline or taurine feature in the liver section of most kits. They are supposed to 'detoxify' the liver and get it functioning properly again. Some claim to help liver cells to regenerate. But who knows really?
Your colon (bowel) is given a good cleanout with mild laxatives such as senna, casacara or rhubarb. Some kits offer Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), a herb known to destroy gut parasites, and Hydrastis Canadensis (goldenseal) and Inula helenium (elecampane), two well-known digestive stimulants and bitter stomach herbs. See Acticleanse brochure at right.
There are soluble fibres like psyllium, slippery elm, oat bran, guar and pectin. They sound like you'd lose weight on your detox plan thanks to their laxative effect but in reality the actual quantity of fibre present is quite low – often less than 1 gram per dose. Considering you get 5 to 6g of fibre from a tablespoon of wheat bran or around 3 g from a spoonful of psyllium powder (as Metamucil), you can see you're not getting a great deal of fibre from the detox tablets. Hardly worth the price.
'Gut-friendly' bacteria - acidophilus or Bifido – are included in some kits to maintain healthy levels of bacteria in the intestines, which can promote proper digestion and bowel health. The bacteria are usually accompanied by a prebiotic with fancy-sounding names like inulin or high-amylose starch which acts as its food supply. See Blackmores Detox Kit below as an example.
Not without you following a diet for more than a few days! However I was surprised to discover they have two unintended benefits and one serious limitation :