would you say to a concoction of organic lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper
and a dash of powdered bentonite clay? On four occasions over the last three years,
Michael Kelley's answer has been "Yes, please." He'd chug the grog and
nothing else at breakfast, lunch and supper for a week at a time. "I was
feeling sluggish and tired and wasn't getting a lot out of my food," says the
28-year-old Vancouverite. "I would get physically tired after eating and just
didn't feel invigorated."
Mr Kelley's brew is one
of many trendy 'detox' products available at health and supplement stores across
Canada. Colon cleansing and raw foodism an extreme form of vegetarianism
consisting of a diet of at least 75% uncooked food are gaining momentum
in North America. But when it comes to advising patients, doctors are finding
there's a dearth of scientific research to back these movements' lofty claims.
"There are some things that make sense about detox and
raw food, so I don't want to throw the whole thing out," says Dr Robert Dent,
a specialist in internal medicine and director of the Weight Management Clinic
at the Ottawa Hospital. "But I would like to see some proper scientific evidence
and, to my knowledge, there isn't any."
going by names like COLONIX Internal Cleansing Program, Nature's Sunshine and
Whole Body Cleanse claim that eliminating so-called toxins is the first step towards
weight loss, increased energy and improved skin. A typical 'detox' regime lasts
two weeks and eases the adherent off food and onto a liquid and supplement diet
before returning them to solid food.
include marshmallow root, slippery elm bark and magnesium hydroxide, which supposedly
work their magic by softening waste material. The bentonite clay powder Mr Kelley
was ingesting claims to be rich in minerals and "absorptive properties." And indeed,
Mr Kelley says he felt invigorated after his cleansing regimes because of what
he calls 'super size' bowel movements.
The websites peddling detox kits contain reams of testimonials
written with the scatological enthusiasm only those who've recently been liberated
from constipation can muster: "I sent an email to my friend today with the subject
heading 'poop update,'" writes one customer, overflowing with gratitude for COLONIX's
miraculous potty power.
"Most of these herbal products
are laxatives and could do harm, because if you completely clean out your colon
then the gut gets lazy," says Dr Kursheed Jeejeebhoy, a gastroenterologist at
St Michael's Hospital and professor of nutritional sciences and physiology at
the University of Toronto. "People who use laxatives regularly end up with a colon
that doesn't work a cathartic colon."
As for the raw food movement's claim that cooking destroys
important nutrients and enzymes, Dr Dent says it can cut both ways. "If you boil
vegetables and throw out the water then you are throwing out the water soluble
vitamins," he says. "But it you steam the vegetables or cook them in a microwave
then you are not. Most vitamins and all minerals can withstand cooking temperatures
very well," he says.
And don't mourn those lost enzymes.
Dr Jeejeebhoy says that the human gut doesn't need other enzymes to properly digest
food. "The idea that when you boil food it destroys enzymes is true, but they
are unnecessary for nutritional purposes," he says.
what about those patients who insist they want to give Michael Kelley's detox
raw shake a go? Vesanto Melina, a registered dietitian and author of Becoming
Vegetarian, believes a raw food diet can be healthy if done properly, but
patients shouldn't be taken in by some of the unproven purported benefits. "We
do know that your bowel's content of bacterial flora changes when you go on raw
food, and you do get healthy bacteria populating your intestines," she says. "But
we don't know if it is necessarily better."