Losing weight provides many health benefits, such as lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure and reducing your risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and certain forms of cancer such as colon cancer. However, weight loss can have a side effect not commonly considered — toxin release, according to a study published in a 2010 issue of the “International Journal of Obesity.”
In simple terms, a toxin is a substance that your body cannot use and that can cause you harm, according to Peter Bennett, a naturopath and author of “The Purification Plan.” Toxins are present in food, water, household products, cosmetics and outdoor air pollution. Your body also produces its own toxins during everyday metabolic processes such as hormone production and digestion.
Symptoms of toxin accumulation in your body include digestive problems, fatigue, headaches and skin conditions, says Bennett. Toxins can also contribute to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Also, several studies have linked toxins to weight gain. In one study published in the journal “Acta Paediatrica” in 2008, researchers from Barcelona's Municipal Institute of Medical Research found that babies born with higher levels of a pesticide were twice as likely to be obese at age six.
Weight Loss Effects
Most of the toxins in your body are stored in fat, according to Ann Louise Gittleman, author of “The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet.” So while losing weight is good for your overall health — and body image — as you lose fat, you are releasing previously stored toxins into your body, which may increase your risk of other health problems, warns Gittleman.
In the “International Journal of Obesity” study by researcher J. S. Lim and colleagues, participants who reported losing large amounts of weight during the previous decade had about 50 percent higher levels of six organic pollutants in their blood serum than participants who had large weight gains. Although the study did not clearly indicate that weight loss caused the higher levels of pollutants, the researchers add that the findings were consistent with such a process and other studies have shown that toxins are released from fat tissue during short-term weight losses.
Detoxification and Weight Loss
Natural health professionals such as Gittleman recommend making detoxification an essential part of any weight loss program. While conventional medicine does not recognize the need for detoxification, this holistic practice has been around for centuries. It helps to eliminate the toxins you ingest on a daily basis, as well as those that flood your body when you’re losing weight, adds Gittleman.
Common detoxification methods include fasting, colon cleansing and using special herbs, a practice that has been around since the time of Hippocrates, according to Brenda Watson, author of “The Detox Strategy.” Other cleansing or detoxifying methods include exercise; medicated baths or soaks using ingredients such as sea salts or baking sodas; and saunas. These methods increase sweating and speed up the elimination of toxins through the largest detoxification organ in your body — your skin.
Detoxification can cause side effects such as headaches, nausea and fatigue. Consult a naturopath for more guidance on detoxification. A family doctor can also give you advice on healthy ways to lose weight, including altering your diet and starting an exercise program.