Detox: Does it Help Our Brain-Gut Health?


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People love the concept of “detox” and a lot of different strategies such as juicing and fasting, and “cleansing” have been proposed to achieve this goal. Even though the concept goes back thousands of years, most are based on unsubstantiated pseudoscientific concepts that “cleansing” your digestive tract has health benefits over and beyond a general feeling of wellbeing. For example, converting fruits and vegetables into tasty juices deprives your gut microbes of their natural food (undigestible fibers) and results in rapid sugar absorption and subsequent insulin spikes. On the other hand, short term intermittent fasting has little to do with “detox” but may improve your gut microbial composition in a way that is good for your health.

However, the term detoxification borrowed from the substance abuse field is quite appropriate for the treatment of the clinical syndrome “food addiction”. The prevalence and underlying biological mechanisms of this syndrome are well documented in numerous scientific studies. Genetically predisposed individuals can develop such uncontrolled eating behavior when exposed to unlimited amounts of salt, sugar, or fat. Such hedonic eating behavior is associated with a remodeling of the brain-gut-microbiome axis, including a disinhibition of brain reward system, similar to the brain changes in individuals with substance abuse. As pointed out in Michael Moss’s excellent book Salt, Sugar, Fat, marketing experts in some major US food companies are well aware of this target population and have designed their products (high in sugar, fat and salt) to get young people “hooked” on their brands. Not all food companies are to blame, however, and some have undertaken unprecedented efforts to reverse this trend.

The recommendations detailed in Brooke Alpert’s book are a practical, short term approach to detox kids with sugar addiction, but are no substitute for a fundamental switch to a healthy

Mediterranean style diet, high in plant based foods, and with minimal sugar and animal fat, regular exercise, and regular stress management.