Should You Do a Gut Detox?
As the Christmas festivities are over and January is in full swing, many contemplate adopting a healthier lifestyle to counteract the indulgences of December’s silly season and to feel their ultimate best as we enter into a new year. One popular fad trend is the idea of a “gut detox” to cleanse the digestive system and kickstart a new year of wellness. However, before jumping on the detox bandwagon, it’s essential to delve into the science behind the concept and whether it’s worth the hype…
WHAT IS A GUT DETOX?
The concept of a gut detox often involves adopting extreme dietary measures. Think fasting, slurping down celery juice on an empty stomach, cutting out gluten, dairy and refined sugar, taking countless supplements to eliminate toxins from the body and undergoing a new workout regime. Sounds fun, right?!
WELL, after years of seeing clients with similar January goals in my clinic, I can say that you do not need to undergo any detox to reach your health goals. In fact, the human body has very sophisticated mechanisms, primarily involving the liver and kidneys, to detoxify and eliminate waste products regularly.
There is no science to back the idea that a gut detox can have any positive impacts on our health, so it’s important to be aware of this before you buy into the idea of an overnight success.
SIGNS YOUR GUT MAY NEED SOME TLC….
- Painful bloating after meals
- Sugar cravings
- Stomach pain/cramping
- Change in bowel movements – constipation, looseness, diarrhoea
THE BODY’S DETOXING SUPERPOWERS
If toxins did build up and our body could not remove them, it is simple – we would not be able to survive! A healthy human body has kidneys, skin, a liver, a gastrointestinal system and lungs that are all detoxifying as you read this. There is no price we can pay to compete with our natural bodily functions and systems.
One of the many roles of the intestinal tract is to naturally support detoxification, and it works to remove toxins through bowel movements. Eating enough fibre to nurture the trillions of microorganisms living in our guts is key here, and it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! When we eat fibre from natural whole foods this acts as bulk, pushing the intestinal tract and helping to eliminate any substances like heavy metals, chemicals, and excess hormones through the intestinal tract. (1)
Fibre also supports the good gut bacteria, while helping reduce an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast in the gut, to keep everything working smoothing and our gut bugs thriving.
However, it can be confusing and complex with all the marketing ploys we have access to. With the articles we read, videos we watch, ads everywhere and endless celeb-endorsed tiktoks trying to influence us, it is a skill in itself to not be sucked in by the detox industry!
Reaching for a quick fix does seem like the easiest option sometimes, but the majority of these are made up of laxative teas, diuretics and restrictive diets low in nutrients and calories, which will leave your gut far from thriving.
MYTH-BUSTING GUT DETOX SUPPLEMENTS
JUICE CLEANSES: Juice cleanses contain very little fibre, most of which is stripped out of all the vegetables and fruit during the juicing process. Fibre is hugely beneficial for many aspects of our health and support the body’s detoxification processes.
LAXATIVE TEAS: Many of the detox teas on the market contain natural laxatives. And taking laxatives as a quick fix to “detox” or “lose weight is far from good for us. Using these products is a method of purging, associated with disordered eating and they can cause havoc to our gut health too. Laxatives can irritate the digestive system, triggering diarrhoea and stomach cramps. The more you use them, the more your body may rely on them. In addition, they may make your bowels “lazy” which may result in a reliance on them just to get any form of bowel movement.
COLONICS: Colon cleanses usually involve using enemas or colon hydrotherapy to remove toxins from the colon. However, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of colon cleanses for improved gut health. Colon cleanses may potentially worsen gut symptoms by triggering dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, intestinal irritation and other complications. They can also disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria, which can negatively affect gut health and lead to further digestive issues.
Colonics may provide temporary relief, but they do not address the root causes of any underlying gut issues, and symptoms are likely to continue once the cleanse is finished. (2)
GUT DETOX “BLENDS”: Many blends are now available on the market which are often made up of different powders, sold at a premium price as an easy “detox” option to support your bloating and gut. They often have an endless amount of ingredients thrown into them to justify the price point as they will not aid in bloating or gut health! The majority include ingredients that are not in a high enough quantity or good enough quality to make a difference, and some can even exacerbate your bloating!
GUMMY SUPPLEMENTS – Usually made up from gelatin, sugar and added colourings, these will not support your gut health in any shape or form. Some brands even use sugar alcohols or sweeteners to keep the sugar content low or market them as “sugar free”. However, these sugar alcohols may trigger further gut health problems for some individuals such as diarrhoea and bloating, defeating the point of taking an anti-bloat gummy in the first place. (3)
HOW TO “CLEANSE” YOUR GUT NATURALLY, POST INDULGENCE…
REGULAR AND COMPLETE BOWEL MOVEMENTS
As mentioned, regular and complete bowel movements are essential for the body’s natural detoxification processes. The digestive system plays a crucial role in eliminating waste and toxins from the body, and maintaining regular and healthy bowel movements is a key aspect of this process.
What does the perfect bowel movement look like?
- 1-3 movements each day
- Formed and soft
- Not painful, no straining
- Spending less than 5 minutes on the toilet
- No blood, no mucus
- Slight odour, but not foul-smelling
So, what’s the secret to achieving this?
- Get enough fibre in your diet
- Drink 2L water daily
- Handle any stressors around you (constipation may be a symptom of unresolved stress in our lives)
If you have been dealing with constipation for longer than a couple of months, it is best to work with a specialist and to check in with your doctor.
Don’t forget about hydration for gut health- drinking plenty of fluid such as water helps to soften your poop and makes it easier to pass. Dehydration can lead to harder stools and difficulties in passing them, contributing to constipation and an unhappy gut.
Aim to drink 2L of filtered water every day to keep things moving.
PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that may be beneficial for the digestive system. They can help improve gut health by restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut. Studies have shown that taking probiotics may help reduce IBS symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. (4)
It’s important to choose a probiotic that has independent clinical trials behind it, is multi-strain, not singular strain, has mechanisms to support its survival and making its way to the intestines and has at least 10 billion CFUs (amount of bacteria).
LOW and SLOW is important when introducing a probiotic, as sometimes a new supplement can trigger a few switch-ups in symptoms. It’s also important to wait around a week to see if any gut symptoms settle. If the probiotic dosage is two capsules a day, perhaps start with 1 capsule and see how your body reacts before building up to the full dosage.
Check out my full guide to taking probiotics here: https://clarissalenherr.com/probiotics-guide-all-you-need-to-know/
GIVING YOUR GUT A BREAK
Just like we need a break, our gut needs a break from digesting food too. When we are constantly eating, our gut is constantly working on digesting food, and therefore it doesn’t have time to work on any other jobs within the body.
Our MMC (migrating motor complex) is the gut cleansing system that helps to push food through the intestines and reduce bacterial infections and overgrowth. When we have periods of fasting, this can allow the MMC to do its job. So, to support your gut health optimally, aim to keep a 12-hour fast overnight and leave 3-4 hour gaps between meals and snacks.
Check out my guide to snacking here which covers when and what to snack on to support the gut.
THE BEST GUT-FRIENDLY FOODS TO INCLUDE
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant-based foods that have antioxidant properties, and they play a big role in gut health, with up to 95% of the polyphenols you eat, travelling to the large intestine, where they are broken down into smaller metabolites. Polyphenols are also considered prebiotics as they feed the bifidobacteria in your gut, increasing the population of bacteria = promoting gut health.
Fermented foods such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha are rich in live bacteria that can contribute to the friendly microbial balance in the gut. Start gradually with some of your favourites and consume them regularly in your diet.
REDUCE ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS
Aim to reduce your intake of ultra-processed, often those that come with a long list of ingredients (many of which you wouldn’t find in your home kitchen) and are found in a package. These may impact gut function and promote the growth of non-commensal bacteria.
Common ones to look out for…
- Emulsifiers- Polysorbate 80 and Lecithin
- Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame and Sucralose
- Flavour enhancers: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Disodium Inosinate and Disodium Guanylate
- Thickeners: Carrageenan and Xanthan Gum
Try to reach for foods in their most natural, whole-food form whenever possible. Think fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins such as eggs, chicken and tofu.
INSTEAD OF A GUT CLEANSE…
Before embarking on any extreme dietary changes or taking any new supplements, it’s always best to work with a professional. They can provide personalised advice based on individual health needs and goals, ensuring that any modifications made are safe and effective. Everyone is different when it comes to their gut health so I am afraid a one size fits all approach will not work when it comes to a detox programme.
Do you want to work on your gut health and get to the root cause now it’s 2024? Email my team at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free discovery call here.