04.The diets and supplements
Most of the kits we looked at acknowledge that poor diet contributes to the kind of health problems they say are symptoms of a toxic overload, and they all include some kind of dietary guidelines or meal plan for you to follow as part of the detox program. Given the importance of diet for good health, we asked a panel of dietitians to review and comment on the quality of information provided.
Our experts were positive about aspects of some kits’ diet plans:
- Several acknowledge the need for making long-term lifestyle changes, or advise you to maintain sensible eating through the year.
- Some kits provide meal plans, recipes and/or give practical information and advice for shopping or eating out, which can be helpful.
- The majority give at least some healthy lifestyle recommendations, such as increasing activity, ensuring you drink enough water, and improving your diet (by eating more fruit and veg, for example).
- Probably the most logical piece of advice given is to avoid what the kits define as ‘toxins’ in the first place — so for these programs alcohol, cigarettes and coffee are out –– as well as saturated and trans fats, soft drinks and refined sugary foods.
Following these recommendations on their own is likely to result in:
- clearer skin (the result of drinking more water)
- less bloating and lethargy (dietary restrictions are likely to result in you eating less)
- fewer headaches (reduced alcohol and caffeine) and
- generally feeling healthier.
But the kits’ diet plans also had problems and/or limitations:
- Most of the programs recommend a restriction of key food groups (like red meat and dairy) but give no clear justification for this. Restricting these foods could mean there aren’t enough of certain nutrients in the diet (particularly iron and calcium and possibly zinc and B vitamins) if the foods aren’t replaced with suitable alternatives.
- None of the programs gives guidance on appropriate portion sizes.
- Some provide recommendations not supported by scientific evidence, or with no logical rationale, and/or give conflicting advice.
Here are some examples:
- Don’t mix fruit and vegetables within the same meal.
- Avoid table salt (but sea salt or herb salt are OK).
(BLACKMORES and HERRON)
- Try to avoid eating after 8 pm.
- Avoid citrus fruits (except lemons).
(HERRON and QUICK CLEANSE)
- It’s best to eat all raw and steamed vegetables later in the day.
- Avoid dairy products (but cheese and yogurt are suggested lunch options).
- A vegetarian diet is recommended, but a small amount of fresh fish and poultry is preferable to red meat. Avoid pork.
- When trying to follow a diet plan, recommendations like these can be restrictive and some are certainly confusing.
Most of the diet plans were considered unlikely to cause any significant health problems if followed for the recommended timeframe. But HILDE HEMMES’ HERBALS Detox Program is another story altogether. It’s essentially a fast, where nothing but juice and some supplements (including a laxative and a diuretic) are consumed over six or 10 days. It was highlighted by our experts as being potentially dangerous for many people if followed for more than a couple of days.
The premise of the supplements is that to properly stimulate the detoxification process and eliminate waste from your body you need to give nature ‘a helping hand’. Most of the kits contain a suite of supplements, the active ingredients (and the claimed effects) of which can broadly be classified as:
Liver tonics (commonly milk thistle, barberry, dandelion or schizandra). These herbs have a long history of traditional use in detoxifying and protecting the liver and aiding normal liver function, but clinical evidence to support their use is limited and inconclusive.
Digestive aids (such as ginger, globe artichoke and peppermint) for alleviating symptoms of indigestion.
Laxatives (for example, fennel, psyllium and senna) and diuretics (such as birch, dandelion, golden rod and spiny restharrow), to increase bowel movements and urine elimination.
While there’s evidence for the intended effects of some of the laxatives and diuretics, the experts we spoke to thought the suite of supplements included in the kits has little or no known benefit that wouldn’t be acheived simply by following a healthy eating program. A high-fibre diet with plenty of water, for example, can have the same effect as taking laxatives and diuretics (with other nutritional benefits as a bonus).
CAUTION: Bear in mind that herbal preparations, like other drugs, can modify chemical processes in the body and interact with other medications, so always speak to your doctor before taking them. The kits all warn detoxers to stop using them or seek medical advice if they experience persistent side effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, headaches, flu-like symptoms, stomach cramps or diarrhoea.