It's that time of the year again where the "New Year, New Me" mantra sets in as millions of weight loss hopefuls look to lose the holiday pounds. Extreme diet plans and herbal supplements become part of the New Year's "detox" to allegedly get rid of "harmful waste products," but doctors warn these detoxes can be toxic to your health. In a report, published in BMJ Case Reports, a fit and healthy 47-year-old woman suffered seizures and confusion in a life-threatening condition following a January detox.

Doctors from Milton Keynes hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Eaglestone, England hospitalized the woman when she showed up uncontrollably grinding her teeth. Doctors immediately took a scan of her head and checked her blood and fluid levels to determine the cause of her unusual behavior. Doctors determined she developed a case of hyponatremia, or low sodium levels in her blood, according to a news release.

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The woman's family revealed she had developed an increase in thirst over the past few days, and had been drinking more water and teas, but they did not see this to be excessive. Moreover, she was also taking herbal remedies for several minor symptoms, while regularly consuming milk thistle, molkosan, l-theanine, glutamine, vitamin B compound, vervain, sage tea, green tea and valerian root. The patient admitted she had been experiencing high levels of stress, and suffering with low mood, leading her to increasingly take them all together.

Lisa Cohn, a registered dietitian consultant for miVIP Surgery Centers, confirms a detox that involves a lot of fluids and alternative remedies can lead to several side effects, including: "Dehydration; cardiac arrhythmia or heart attack; changes in blood pressure (high and low); low blood sugar and/or fainting" she told Medical Daily.

The patient's confusion and seizures were brought on by hyponatraemia, but they were uncertain what caused it. Doctors compared this case to a similar 2013 case where a 48-year-old man with a history of anxiety had seizures due to hyponatraemia after he consumed a large amount of herbal remedy that contained valerian root.

"Valerian root can help with anxiety. People have used it to help manage the symptoms of opiate and benzodiazepine withdrawal, but it is not usually used for food detoxes, more so for drug detoxes," Tory Tedrow, a registered dietitian and a certified nutrition support clinician for SugarChecked, told Medical Daily.

In both patients, fluid intake did not seem to cause low sodium levels, which requires drinking more than 10 L/day for someone with healthy kidneys. Doctors believed valerian root is what altered this, and enabled hyponatraemia to develop at an earlier stage.

"Valerian root has now been suspected in two cases associated with severe, life-threatening hyponatraemia and healthcare professionals should be vigilant to this," explained the doctors.

Doctors in the case report do caution they cannot make a direct link on whether valerian root has any role in the conditions developed by these patients.

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"Valerian root is unstandardized, and has potential side effects related to blood pressure and heart health," said Cohn. "Patients may also experience allergic reactions and/or negative interactions with preexisting medications."

Nevertheless, alternative medicine is very popular, especially when it comes to the concept of the New Year "detox” with all-natural products. Weight loss hopefuls become less concerned about the scientific evidence, and more focused on fast and quick results. However, if proper caution isn't practiced, such as seeing a dietitian or nutritionist, there could be potentially fatal consequences.

For example, excessively drinking water is touted as a way to "purify and cleanse" the body, but this doesn't come without side effects.

According to Tedrow, too much water can cause the blood to have too little sodium. This dilution of sodium causes the cells to swell in an attempt to increase the amount of sodium in them, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, tiredness, muscle cramps, seizures, and coma.

"These conditions vary in severity but can quickly become life threatening and require medical intervention,” she said.

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Over-the-counter alternative detox remedies lack scientific evidence, and have been viewed as marketing shams. Herbal supplements are also far from harmless.

The Don'ts

Cohn tells us the most common mistakes dieters make include:

  • Using diuretics and laxatives, which promote diarrhea, urination and temporary weight loss and stress on the system.

  • Replacing food energy with caffeine, sugar, alcohol and energy aides.

  • Failing to set themselves up in the right way mentally.

  • Not consulting a properly trained dietitian – many weight problems have a medical basis, which, when properly evaluated, will set you up for success.

She urges dieters to seek a professional, because “blood sugars, hormones, thyroid concerns and sleep patterns can all contribute to stress and weight gain."

Moreover, dietitians, nutritionists, and doctors do not recommend going on a detox. Most detox diet plans are glorified starvation diets that result in a temporary, water weight loss. The body is effective at removing toxins on a daily basis, so detoxing, especially from food, is never necessary.

The Do's

Tedow suggests focusing on eating healthy by adding lots of lots of vegetables, proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. If you’re feeling really bloated, you can replace some of your carbs with non-starchy vegetables, such as using zucchini spirals in place of pasta, but there is no need to eliminate all carbs.

“A few days of appropriate portions of unprocessed foods with adequate fluid intake will have you feeling back to normal without stressing your body out on an unsustainable, low calorie, low protein detox or cleanse,” she said.

Eating right is the key to a healthy diet. Detoxing is not about being a dirty or clean version of yourself, but about proper support and nourishment for the mind and body. Detox diets aren’t needed for optimal health.

Source: Toovey OTR, Edmond IR, and Makris N. Acute severe hyponatraemia secondary to polydipsia and associated herbal remedy use. BMJ Case Reports. 2016.

See Also:

The Truth About Juice Cleanses: Hunger, Happiness, And Weight Loss

5 Power Foods To Detox Your Body Without A Juice Cleanse