IP:101.* * *
Joyce Jiang, a young professional woman in Hong Kong, sat down with her friends in a restaurant one evening. But instead of ordering a meal, she took out a bottle of juice. “I can’t eat anything,” she said. “I’m doing a detox and it’s my third day — two more days to go.”
Juicing, a trend originating from the US, is starting to attract health-conscious middle-class Chinese. But it’s not for losing weight. They consume nothing except fruit and vegetable juice for days or even weeks, with the intention of cleansing their bodies of toxins that have accumulated over the years.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that detoxing and cleansing has become a big industry in the US with celebrity endorsers and millions of dollars in venture capital funds. Carrying a bottle of juice has become a status symbol in fitness circles.
But can such detox regimens really flush out toxins from our bodies? As The Wall Street Journal article points out, the question we should be asking is: Are our bodies really overwhelmed with toxins?
First of all, what are toxins? “Nobody has ever been able to tell me what these toxins are,” Donald Hensrud, a nutrition specialist told The Wall Street Journal.
In a comment piece on juicing hype in the US, Katy Waldman, a staff writer for Slate magazine, also declared that after days of research she still didn’t know what a toxin was.
Detox advocates define “toxins” very broadly. Mark Hyman, a US physician and author of six best-selling diet books, told The Wall Street Journal that the biggest toxic threats come from the American diet. According to Hyman, Americans eat too much sugar and flour, which overwhelms the liver’s ability to cope.
Hyman says Americans are also being plagued by heavy metals (including mercury from large fish), harmful chemicals, as well as “spiritual toxins”, such as loneliness. He says people can reduce their exposure to and enhance their ability to get rid of such toxins with the right balance of foods, vitamins and minerals.
But even Hyman concedes further research is needed to better understand the mechanism of a detox.
Eating more vegetables is great, as some detox regimens ask people to do. But many mainstream experts dismiss the detox claims as pseudoscience. They argue that humans already have a highly efficient system for filtering out most harmful substances.
“The whole cleansing concept is silly,” Elizabeth Applegate, a senior lecturer in the nutrition department at the University of California, Davis, told Slate magazine. “The body doesn’t need any help getting rid of compounds it doesn’t want. That’s what your liver and kidneys are for.”
What about the psychological benefits some detox proponents claim to have? They say it gives them a sharp mind and makes them feel happy and see things more clearly.
“Placebo effect,” Applegate said. “It’s a survival mechanism. You’re all amped up and alert because you need something to eat.”