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Do you detox?

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January 27, 2013|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

Feel the need to push the reset button on your diet? Plenty of people want to start the new year with a clean slate, and some turn to detoxes for help. From over-the-counter colon cleansers to celebrity-endorsed juices to luxurious spa treatments, detox diets are supposed to cleanse the body of toxins and help you gain energy and lose weight. But nutritionists, dietitians and physicians caution against such programs, particularly if they are touted as a way to lose weight.

"For a healthy person, you really do not need to have a special detox," said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago.

There's no scientific evidence showing direct health benefits of detoxification, Blatner and others said. The body already rids itself of toxic substances through organs like the liver, kidneys and digestive tracts. Doing a detox can be dangerous for people with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or digestive issues, pregnant women, children and the elderly, they said.

That's because the diets can affect electrolyte and blood sugar balance and can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, fainting or even a coma, Blatner said.

Still, advocates turn to the detox diet craze to purify the body, jump-start weight loss and feel better overall. Out of 1,200 relevant dieters surveyed by Mintel, a Chicago-based market research company, 37 percent said they were interested in cleanses and detoxes. Millennials in particular showed high interest compared with other age groups.

The detox fad has been boosted by celebrities and has become a big business. The sale of vitamins, supplements and herbs that are marketed for cleanses and detoxification in the U.S. was pegged at $106 million last year, according to SPINS, a Schaumburg-based market research company that tracks sales of natural, organic and specialty products.

The detox notion feeds off imagery that people have accumulated bad things in their bodies and that's why they feel sluggish or are overweight, said Dr. Robert Kushner, director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"The whole idea of a cleanse or flushing the body to have metabolic change is just silly," he said.

The healthy way to lose weight is to reduce the amount of calories eaten and increase the amount of physical activity logged, said Jennifer Ventrelle, a registered dietitian at Rush University Prevention Center.

"If doing something like one of these fad diets, if that was effective for long-term weight loss, do you think we would have an obesity epidemic?" Ventrelle said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Although Blatner sees no need for special detoxes, she acknowledges some are not as bad as others. A short fruit- or vegetable-juice cleanse, for example, isn't as bad as a more extreme regimen because it can be a quick way for a person to start better eating habits.

"In a nutshell, of course whatever you do for a few days is not ever going to redeem or resolve or be the perfect quick fix to what you do every other day of the year," she said.

RedEye asked Kushner, Blatner and Ventrelle to weigh in on four popular detox methods:

Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox

Juice-centric cleanses

The pitch: The detox detailed in the New York Times bestseller promises the loss of 21 pounds in 21 days by drinking vegetable purees, juices and herbal teas. There are no processed foods, no solids, no chewing. Though not all juice-based cleanses last 21 days, this detox—along with similar juice cleanses—claims to offer an immunity boost, increased energy and clearer skin.

The point: The weight-loss promise is the hallmark of an unsafe detox or diet. Experts say it is not wise to eliminate entire food groups. Buying shipments of juice and supplements can be costly, and the cleanses don't add up to a balanced diet. People should eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of using a juice- or veggie-based cleanse. Side effects include fatigue, headaches and dizziness.

Master Cleanse

aka the Lemonade Diet

The pitch: Drink only a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for 10 days. Beyonce reportedly lost 20 pounds doing this cleanse to prepare for her role in "Dreamgirls."

The point: While it can be convenient and even taste better than expected, there's no nutritional value. Bodies can become malnourished without vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Weight loss, which is mostly water, can be temporary until dieters start eating food again. Side effects include dehydration, light-headedness and weakness.

Colon cleansers

Laxatives and colonic hydrotherapy

The pitch: They come packaged as laxatives and capsules to rid your colon of waste, or as an enema treatment in which a tube is inserted into the body to flush out the colon with water. Kourtney Kardashian had an oil enema and brother Rob got a colonic on screen in their reality show series.

The point: It's based on the image that your colon is like a bathroom pipe that gets clogged with gunk. But there's nothing that sticks to the walls of the bowels. Such products or treatments potentially are dangerous and can cause infection. If your body needs help with excretion, get more fiber in food, drink more water and exercise. Taking bowel stimulants can cause bloating, cramping, vomiting, dehydration and even pain.

Detoxifying spa services

Massages, body scrubs and body wraps

The pitch: Such treatments claim to stimulate the lymphatic system, release toxins and produce energy and mental clarity.

The point: Getting a massage can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and relax your muscles, but it doesn't rid your body of toxins. Likewise, facials remove the superficial layer of skin and can give your face a glow, but they have nothing to do with detoxifying the body.

lvivanco@tribune.com


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