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Detoxing can have many definitions and approaches depending on the source, often leading to confusion. What exactly should you eat to complete a detox? Should you detox in the first place? What are the pros and cons?
It’s important to note that when a person or celebrity you don’t know personally is bringing up the concept of detoxing, they are more than likely trying to sell you something. They are painting you a picture as to why detoxing is necessary for your health, regardless of your true medical picture.
Considering this, I encourage you to always refer to your primary care doctor or dietitian for best recommendations if you are interested in a certain diet. A trustworthy resource will have your best interest in a mind and not just the money out of your pocket.
To answer the question at hand “does detoxing cause skin acne”, let’s first explore the meaning of detoxing and what the experts say first.
A common reason for attempting a detox diet may be for weight loss, skin health, improved energy, or health prevention in general.
When it comes to detoxing or cleansing for weight loss, do not be easily fooled. Common detoxing for weight loss involves eating very low calorie diets for several days. It may also involve ingesting a supplement or specific product with the goal of flushing out certain toxins.
Remember, supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the United States. When it comes to products for detoxing, or any supplement you use, it’s important to follow up with your healthcare team first, or at least ensure it is third party tested.
Many detox plans are certainly popular; however they are not proven to do what they promise through research. Dietitians agree that the human body is more than capable of eliminating toxins with the help of our immune system, liver, and kidneys. We have a built-in detox system we call the detox pathways.
The word “detoxification” has been taken out of scientific context as a mainstream term among celebrities and other supplement endorsers. It has often led healthcare professionals to reject the idea of detoxing altogether, simply because it’s often conducted in an unsafe or unnecessary manor.
However, it is important to understand that for anyone to say the human body doesn’t need to detox is not completely true. Our bodies are going through some state of detox constantly. The real question is if there ever needs to be additional support in the detox process and who would benefit from that.
While further research is needed, studies thus far have helped us to understand what foods may increase the detoxification process. Foods with B vitamins, glutathione (the body’s main detoxifying antioxidant), flavonoids, and other antioxidants like vitamin C, E, and zinc have been shown to assist in the known detoxification process. Not to mention high fiber foods to support regular elimination from the body.
Scientists also explain that proper nutrition ensures the presence of specific enzymes and cofactors that can enhance detox activity. It is also understood that specific nutrients correlate to the various phases of detoxing, with Phase 2 specifically requiring optimal nutritional status.
It’s important to note that just like any dietary pattern, everyone will respond differently to a detox practice for any of the following factors: age, gender, diet and lifestyle, environment, disease state, genetics, current supplement use, and gut health. Expecting everyone to respond similarly to a specific detox approach is just not realistic.
Current integrative medicine nutritionists often utilize detoxification processes based off a whole foods diet. Specific examples include:
- Cruciferous vegetables, onions, and garlic: found to induce phase 2 enzymes
- Adequate daily fiber: support regular elimination from the body
- Brown rice: found to be particularly helpful in some cases in eliminating fat-soluble toxins
- Turmeric: helpful in some cases in promoting bile flow from the gallbladder (this also help eliminate toxins)
- Green tea: studies have found some relation in supporting the phase 2 detox process
There are many more examples of how certain foods can directly affect our health. This relationship is specifically referred to as nutrigenomics: the impact of nutrition on our gene expression. Simply put, the foods we can eat support our body’s natural ability to detox among other abilities.
The reverse is true as well. If we eat in a way that does not support our health (inflammatory foods, inadequate whole foods, nutrient deficiencies, etc.) it can hinder our body’s ability to eliminate toxins and have a strong immune system.
In short, no there is no current recommended detox for the public. What holds true among research is the importance of a healthful diet and lifestyle including a plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, water, and other lifestyle practices to support our natural detoxing ability.
Many individuals may find themselves thinking about detoxing or completing a cleanse in efforts to improve their skin health.
Where does this interest come from?
We know that our skin is one our major detoxifying organs. By supporting our body’s natural detoxification process, it may lead to improved skin health. The question remains however if individuals need to go above and beyond our “built-in” detoxifying system via our kidneys and liver.
No research has supported any specific detox regimen to improve acne. As mentioned in a previous article, skin health is multifactorial and working on dietary patterns over a long term period is likely essential to see results. Working with your healthcare team to determine other necessary steps is important as well.
Make sure to check up on intermittent fasting and it’s benefit towards acne health.
When participating in a typical detox practice, individuals may report worsened acne in some cases. This can be frustrating, especially if the detox was started in hopes to improve the acne in the first place.
What may be going on is the sudden change in diet. It may also be explained that as toxins are leaving the body it can cause a reaction. There really is not a concrete explanation as to why this may happen since every situation is different.
From a nutrition perspective, one of the scenarios that could be going on is when a particular detox involves consuming mostly juices. Although juices are beneficial for their vitamin and mineral content from fruits and vegetables, they unfortunately are likely to contain large amounts of sugar.
With a larger consumption of sugar in comparison to one’s normal routine, the elevated blood sugar and inflammatory response could lead to worsened acne presentation.
Any changes to stress levels could contribute to skin changes as well. A detoxing period could be stressful simply due to difficult restrictions or rules of the diet. Eating or drinking very little calories for several days could heighten a stress response. Stress may already be triggered prior to the detox related to frustrations in weight, skin health, or other reasons.
What’s even more difficult about understanding reactions to various detoxes is when detox supplements are involved as well. With so many ingredients in any type of supplement, it can be difficult to truly pinpoint what may be going on and potential skin reactions or changes.
So, does detoxing lead to acne? Maybe.
Detoxing alone can have so many definitions, and combining that with every unique person, it is certainly difficult to know for sure what may be causing or worsening acne.
So what do you do if you are interested in a detox, whether it’s to improve your skin health, or for other purposes?
From my perspective and from the currently available research, there is no strong indication to start any detox practice. It truly is amazing that our bodies can cleanse our blood, skin, tissues, and more from everything we are exposed to on a daily basis. For general purposes, there is not a need to spend your hard-earned money on any product that claims to detox you.
If the detox doesn’t involve spending money, it is likely however to lead to severe calorie restriction, drinking perhaps unpleasant juices, or a variety of other practices that are not the most enjoyable. Again, since our body has a built-in detox system, supporting your health-related goals can certainly be met in other ways.
So what exactly could you do instead?
First, if you truly want to try a detox, that is your decision. My only recommendation is to double check with your doctor for safety reasons.
Other options besides detoxing can include:
- Increasing the amount of fiber, water, protein, movement, and sleep into your life. These have foundational impact that can often be overlooked.
- Work with your Registered Dietitian. He or she can help you target the goal you had in mind with a sustainable approach, avoiding potential skin health disruptions, and other concerns that quick-fix diets or detoxes can lead to.
- Address potential food allergies or intolerances. If you’re interested in a detox related to your skin health or frequent gastrointestinal disruption, getting to the root of the problem and ensuring no certain food is to blame will be more productive that a short-term detox.
- Work on your day-to-day stress management. Although nutrition is foundational to our health, it is only one aspect. Having reliable stress reliving techniques in your everyday life can be valuable to your overall health. This looks different for everyone but some popular techniques can include yoga, meditation, spending time outdoors, journaling, breathwork, or learning new hobbies.
The relationship between detoxing and acne is complex. While there are scenarios that detoxing can be correlated with acne, it is difficult to determine the root cause.
Detoxing in general is extremely variable in definition and practice. Scientists agree that the body has a “built-in” detoxing system and most individuals do not need to go above and beyond this. What is encouraged however is to practice a diet and lifestyle with a wide variety of whole foods to provide the body with optimal nutrition and support our immune system and detoxifying organs (our liver and kidneys).
Where common detox practices may possibly lead to worsened or new acne is a sudden change in diet, stress levels, increased sugar intake, or new supplement use. If you are experiencing changes to your skin health during or after a detox practice, it is recommended to touch base with your primary care doctor, dermatologist, dietitian, or other healthcare professional.
Remember, detoxing is likely not necessary in most cases and working with your healthcare team can help you build sustainable and effective lifestyle changes that will address your initial concern successfully.