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Are detoxification programs safe? Massey: Moderation is key when considering a detox.

Over the past several months I have seen a number of patients who have developed serious medical issues after using a prolonged detoxification program.

Are detoxification programs safe?

It depends.

Do they work?

Again, it depends.

Is there medical research on the benefit of detoxification programs?

Unfortunately, it almost is nonexistent.

In general, "detox" programs are short-term interventions involving a change in diet and/or use of specific dietary supplements to accelerate the removal of environmental toxins from the body.

Detox diet protocols can range from calorie restriction to increasing vegetables in the diet to daily use of "detoxifying" supplements and bentonite clay, to various liquids-only protocols.

Usually these interventions last a few days to a week or so. However, some detox protocols recommend months of "detoxification" and that is where the real dangers lie.

There is no argument that we live in an increasingly toxic world. In the United States alone over one thousand new chemicals are introduced into the environment every year and the government does not require testing of almost any chemical to see if they cause adverse health effects.

There is also no doubt that specific toxins in the environment increase the risk of chronic illnesses. For example, lead exposure even at low levels increases the risk of high blood pressure.

The idea that detoxification can have a positive effect on health is a reasonable assumption. There is good medical research that short-term fasting, a vegetable-based diet, probiotics and calorie restriction are all healthy lifestyle choices.

Unfortunately, some popular detoxification protocols are a compilation of many, small, often unrelated pieces of scientific data that are misinterpreted and have no basis in clinical research.

Side effects, minor and serious, are often dismissed as the body releasing these hidden toxins rather than toxicity of the protocol itself. These protocols are often the brainchild of people without the proper medical education and this can be dangerous.

Long-term detoxification protocols, especially those involving severe dietary restriction in combination with herbs and supplements can result in serious nutritional deficiencies, diarrhea,

electrolyte imbalances, liver dysfunction and even changes in mentation.

Several of my patients this year alone have become very ill as a result of long-term detoxification programs. Their symptoms were dismissed as a side effect of "detoxing" when in reality they were at the brink of hospitalization.

I just recently read a research paper in the Journal of Manipulative Therapies where the participants were put on a water-only diet for 11 days.

All participants had to be initially hospitalized to follow their progress as they were, in reality, starving.

I believe that the biggest problem with most detoxification protocols is that it is assumed that unspecified toxins are causing an illness and that detoxification will eliminate them. This is undetermined since toxins are rarely tested either before or after.

I test some patients for heavy metals before and after a detoxification protocol. A short-term detoxification may be beneficial, but an extended detoxification program is risky business.

Moderation is the watchword.

* Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is
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Title Annotation:Health Fitness
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Apr 16, 2018
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