Is “detox” same as “fasting”? Should you do it?

“Detoxification”, or “detox” in short, has become more and more of a “fashionable” term these days.  The word “detox” has been thrown around to refer to all sorts of procedures and products.

Anyone can pick up a book and follow a “detox diet” or find a “detox” remedy on the internet, and the information out there can be overwhelming and confusing.

First of all, let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing.  Many people equate “detox” to “fasting”, and this is not the case.

Fasting is only one way to facilitate detoxification, but it may not the most effective, or even safe, way in today’s world.

“Fasting” involves dramatically limiting food and calorie intake, which causes the blood sugar to drop very low.  To keep us alert and functioning under this condition, our adrenals will have to work harder.  But if your adrenals are already overworked and fatigued to start with (which is very common for city dwellers), or if your body’s insulin response is not sensitive (which is usually caused by stress, poor diet and aging), you are likely to experience all sorts of physical discomforts, including but not limited to, hunger, irritability, headache, or even constipation (this may seem strange, but it could happen when your body is really stressed being in the “famine” mode).

Further more, for liver detoxification to be effective, we need nutrients, especially in today’s world when the liver has a lot more to deal with compared to in the past.  A very common effect of fasting is that the body lacks proper amino acids to perform Phase II liver detoxification which is the phase when toxins are transformed from harmful and fat-soluable form to water-soluable form ready to be eliminated.  When toxins are broken down half way they are more harmful unless they can be safely eliminated.

Yet a lot of people have been told to endure the discomforts resulting from this and have been assured that that it’s all just “healing reactions”.

While healing does sometimes involve discomforts, one needs to be careful and differentiate between truly positive “healing reactions” from negative side effects.

While “fasting” has been practised traditionally as a way to cleanse the body and as a spiritual practice, and thus has been promoted by a lot of well-intentioned health practitioners, what a lot of busy urban dwellers (and their health practitioners) are missing is the understanding that our lifestyle, stress level and toxicity level are not the same as our ancestors.  Trying to replicate their method in cleansing and detoxification without adaptation and improvement can be counter-productive, or even dangerous.

In my years of practice, I have observed that negative side effects are most often experienced by those who have undertaken a low-calorie juice and liquid fast, especially if they follow it for long periods and/or while still busy working, without taking rest.

From the point of view of modern functional medicine (the medicine that focuses on optimal function and not disease), an effective detox program is not just about encouraging elimination with a low calorie raw juice diet, it should be about restoring optimal metabolic function of the body, and to do that, one also needs to be re-nourished at the same time.  This is also in line with the wisdom in ancient systems like TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).  I believe this is also why most chinese doctors do not recommend my clients to undergo a “detox” because their understanding of it is about taking raw food and going on a fast.  It is only after they have understood what is involved in our program that they would approve of it.  

So it’s very important to understand:

“Detox” does not equal “fasting”.  

The effectiveness of your detox is NOT dependent on what you have to suffer!  <Detox does not have to be, and should not be, like a “near death experience!>

This article on my website explains in more details about what who should do a juice fast (if they really want to) and who should not, and what makes a truly effective detox.

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