Staff Articles


Healthy Eating: Believing toxin hype may be bad for your health

For The Patriot Ledger
June 10, 2009

"Colon cleansers" promise quick weight loss and removal of harmful toxins from the body. Once you've heard the sales pitch, it's hard to forget: "remove pounds of sludge stuck like spackle to the colon wall."

But do they work?

Before buying ask three things of the company selling the product:

How, exactly, does your product do what you claim?

What specific "toxin" will be "detoxified?"

What scientific proof can you show me?

Many of these companies use scare tactics to get sales, like "death begins in the colon" with "sludge, full of toxins, being absorbed through the colon wall into the body."

Ask them to provide published research to support their claims, and they come up empty. Why? Because there is no scientific evidence that material builds up and sticks to the colon wall or that colon cleansing detoxifies anything.

In fact there is a protective mucous barrier in the colon that prevents substances from sticking to it. The colon wall also regenerates itself regularly, by sloughing off old cells and producing new cells.

These products produce quick weight loss, but it's from fasting and water loss - not from the product "melting away fat." The weight will be regained afterward unless the individual has permanently changed his or her eating habits.

The Federal Trade Commission has started to punish those making fraudulent weight loss claims, including Kevin Trudeau, who has been banned from doing infomercials for three years.

Along with water loss, there is a risk of electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and a weakening of the colon muscle from stimulant laxatives, resulting in a dependence on the product for regular bowel movements.

"Toxin" is a catch-all term used to market supplements claiming to heal or improve health, but specific information is lacking. Supplement makers claim the detox supplement flushes out the liver or kidneys, but that's not how the body operates.

Many detox products contain the herbal supplement milk thistle for liver detoxification, but there are no published scientific studies to support the effectiveness of this supplement. In fact, some studies have found it ineffective in detoxifying common liver toxins.

We ingest a variety of natural and synthetic chemicals daily. Some, even from natural foods, cause ill effects in the body, but we have elaborate defense and removal systems including our skin, immune system, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal system.

What you eat - not what you flush away - has the biggest impact on your health and weight. Most Americans ingest only 10 to 15 grams of fiber daily - or half what's recommended. Eating several fruits and good portions of vegetables, as well as cereal fibers, and whole grains daily keeps the gastrointestinal system functioning well and provides protective nutrients to help the body-s defense systems work optimally.

Spend your money wisely - not on the Internet - but in the produce section of your market.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition and food science. She's also a certified personal trainer. She is the nutrition director at Fitness Unlimited.

Readers may send questions about nutrition to Endyke at Fitness Unlimited, 364 Granite Ave., Milton, MA 02186 or by E-mail to jendyke@fitnessunlimited.com.

The information in this column is not intended to diagnose individual conditions. Readers should see their doctors about specific problems.



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