Why these three spring detox practices may be harming your gut… and what you should do instead

Why these three spring detox practices may be harming your gut… and what you should do instead

  • Healthy Eating

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    The change of seasons brings with it a new energy and a desire to leave winter behind…so it’s no surprise that many people choose to do a spring detox program. What may be a surprise is that you are already in possession of the most miraculous detoxification system in existence: your body.

    With each breath you take, every drop of sweat and every time you flush the toilet (yep, I’m going there!), your body is detoxifying itself. In fact, your gut is ground zero for a healthier body: it’s designed to block and excrete harmful substances, keeping them out of circulation. No pill or potion can do the detox work for you. So our total willingness to spend huge sums of money…and choke down some pretty yucky stuff…is kind of funny.

    That being said, when you heap extra work (hello, holidays!) on these detox systems, you may not feel your best. So supporting your natural ability to detoxify isn’t a bad idea…but we tend to go about it the wrong way. In fact, we do some totally crazy things in the name of ‘detox’.

    Interested in supporting natural detoxification? Take a look at why these popular approaches aren’t worth it…and find out what is.


    Let’s talk about charcoal, shall we? It’s one of the those classic ‘grain of science, bushel of internet’ approaches to detox. And hey, activated charcoal is pretty cool. It can suck the odors out of the air, make your skin look clearer, filter water…and some people think it's a good idea to eat it. Sure, if you are looking for a vegan alternative to squid ink for your pasta…but as a detox? Um, no.

    First, the science: activated charcoal is essentially extra sticky carbon that has the amazing ability to bind all sorts of stuff…without being absorbed into your circulation. If you are suffering an acute exposure to a poison or overdose of drugs, you might end up with a massive dose of charcoal in the hospital to try and mop it up before the real toxins hits your blood stream.

    In the wellness world, there are a couple of problems with how we use charcoal. The first problem is the dose. That tiny drop of charcoal in your lemonade ain’t gonna do much…and that’s a good thing.

    What it does do - if you take enough of it daily - is rob your body of vitamins and minerals. Charcoal doesn’t discriminate: it’ll suck up B vitamins and mercury in the same go. So have fun with charcoal tinted food and drink if you like…but stop swallowing it in the name of detox.

    Juice Fasting

    I love cold-pressed juice. It’s a delicious way to get more veggies into your life. But drinking nothing but juice for a week or two? Not such a hot idea.

    Juicing strips all of the fibres away from fruit and vegetables, making what’s left rapidly absorbable. Therein lies part of their energizing benefits; however, that also means that every time you drink juice, your blood sugars are sent soaring – which over time can promote inflammation and leave you cranky. This is particularly true when a juice contains a lot of fruit.

    And a week or two without fibre kind of starves your gut flora. Those friendly critters hang around not out of the goodness of their (non-existent) hearts, but because they know they are going to get fed. Long-term juice fasting can place your gut flora at risk; given that the health of your gut plays a ginormous role in your overall wellness – 80% of your immunity originates in your gut -  I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Juice fasting also kind of starves…you. Your body needs a complex assortment of nutrients to thrive and juice can’t deliver them all. So a long term juice fast is a great way to prime yourself for weight gain as your hungry, food-deprived self starts overeating as soon as the fast is over.

    Interested in juicing? Incorporate fresh-pressed vegetable juices into an eating plan full of fibre-rich whole foods such as intact whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes. You’ll feel great…no hunger necessary!

    Colon Hydrotherapy

    It makes sense, doesn’t it: poor elimination could mean that your colon is playing host to all manner of toxic sludge leading to inflammation, tummy troubles and fatigue.

    It’s true: constipation can make you feel terrible…but if you move your bowels daily, you are not constipated. And no matter what, fecal matter can’t get stuck to the colon because the colon is a self-cleansing organ. The lining of the colon is continually shedding, taking with it any decaying matter that is part of the normal environment of your gut.

    Now, I know that if you have had colon hydrotherapy and felt really light and energized after, my bitter pill will be a tough one to swallow. Removing all that stuff might make you feel lighter and give you a buzz but it is supposed to be there. The ‘mucus’? Part of your gut-associated immune and defense system. The microbes? Your colon is home to trillions of bacteria who live in a fragile balance that is utterly destroyed by hydrotherapy. And those bacteria help fight infection, lower inflammation and even affect your mental wellbeing.

    Interested in the benefits that a well-moving colon can bring? Try psyllium and probiotics. Psyllium husk is a natural fibre that is highly beneficial to the gut because it helps improve elimination naturally. Start by adding 1 tsp of psyllium to oatmeal, yogurt or water and work up to 1 tbsp a day over a couple of weeks. Be sure to drink plenty of water as the psyllium needs water to do its work. And for some, sluggish bowels may be related to the type of bacteria living in your gut. A high potency probiotic like Bio-K+ is clinically proven to restore a friendly environment and help fight inflammation that can lead to fatigue and tummy troubles.

    Looking to embrace a sense of renewal this spring? Give your body what it needs to detox every single day. Drink plenty of water, sweat daily and eat a gut-friendly diet filled with high fibre fruits, vegetables and legumes.

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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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