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Experts debunk exercise and diet detoxification claims

A recent report suggests that exercise and diet detoxification claims are unfounded. (Thinkstock)The word "detox," at least for some, conjures up images of slapping back nothing but a potent blend of cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemonade for weeks until you turn into a perfectly cleansed nutrient machine (who incidentally, would sell their grandmother for a pizza by Day 4).

For others it involves a particular set of yoga moves that are meant to "detoxify" your body and improving circulation by squeezing organs, or in more tangible terms, sweating until you're able to wipe all those toxins away with a towel.

It's tempting to want to purge our bodies of all sorts of imagined poisons, particularly around New Year's resolution time. But a recent report from Harvard Medical School suggests all these so-called cleansing methods are little more than overstated claims.

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"If you start talking about exercising to detoxify, there's no scientific data," Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, chief of women's sports medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells Reuters. "The human body is designed to get rid of what we don't need."

And put down that lime-ginger-jalapeno smoothie, because the only thing it may be doing is making you very hungry and very cranky.

"No good scientific data supports any of those cleanses, where you drink juice, or (only) water for a week," she adds.

In fact, numerous experts warn about the potential hazards involved in juice cleanses.

"Long-term fasts lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients," says Lona Sandon, a Dallas dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals we get from food can actually weaken the body's ability to fight infections and inflammations."

These findings have been corroborated by at least one member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Nancy Clark, who is also a registered dietician, says your liver and kidney are already pretty adept at ridding your body of things it doesn't need.

"When you sweat you really don't detoxify anything," she explained. "If someone goes on a crash diet, then maybe toxins are released, but then the body would take care of them. When you sweat, you lose sodium."

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Of course, exercise is key for keeping those internal detoxifiers healthy and vital.

Study after study stresses the importance of physical activity. Researchers claim even 10 minutes a day can extend your life expectancy by up to two years.

A clean, balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein and lots of water also keeps that engine running with premium fuel and works to prevent your liver or kidneys from filling up with a toxic backload.

"In general exercise helps our lungs; kidneys get rid of things that can cause us onset of disease," Matzkin says.

There will always be fitness and diet gurus who wax poetic about detoxification, but as we increasingly learn, there's no quick fix for healthy living that's as effective as the slow, consistent, lifelong process of eating right and moving your butt. 

Watch the video below about a Quebec woman who died early this year during a detoxification treatment at a spa.

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