Can Rapid Weight Loss Be Toxic?

Can Rapid Weight Loss Be Toxic?Extreme diets are never a good thing. They usually deprive you of essential vitamins, minerals and macronutrients, and even if you lose weight on them, you’ll quickly regain it once you return to more moderate eating habits. So why do people go on extreme diets? Mostly because they want to lose weight fast or they buy into the claims that you can lose lots of weight in a short period of time. But there’s another reason not to lose weight fast that few people are aware of. Some research suggests that doing so releases harmful toxins into your bloodstream that could impact your health.

Is Rapid Weight Loss Toxic?

In 2010, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found a link between blood stream toxins and rapid weight loss. They found that men and women who had lost large amounts of weight over a 10-year period had 50% higher levels of six organic pollutants in their bloodstream. A large amount of weight loss in this study was more than 22 pounds. They point out that this doesn’t prove weight loss was the cause of the higher toxin levels, but they believe this study should be of concern to anyone who “yo-yo” diets or tries to lose weight too quickly.

Why would people who have lost large amounts of weight have more toxins in their bloodstream? Experts point out that we’re constantly exposed to toxins from the environment, food and products we use on a daily basis and some of these unhealthy chemicals are stored in fat tissue. When you lose a large amount of weight or lose weight rapidly, your bloodstream fills with toxins that were previously sequestered in fat tissue. Suddenly, your body is bombarded with toxic chemicals. That’s not a good thing when it comes to your health.

What are these toxins? They include things like toxins from second-hand smoke, pesticides, medication breakdown products, pollutants from the air, toxins in food, ingredients in household and cosmetic products. What happens when you’re exposed to these toxins? You eliminate some through your lung, skin and colon, but the most important detoxifying organ is your liver. When your liver is confronted with a toxin, it tries to modify it to create a water-soluble compound you can excrete in your urine. This is called phase one detoxification, but sometimes this step can actually modify the toxin in such a way that it becomes more toxic. That’s why your liver adds another step (phase two detoxification.) This step modifies the toxin again by adding a chemical group that makes it dissolvable in bile so it can enter your digestive tract to be eliminated through your feces.

Unfortunately, there are things that can interfere with the liver’s ability to completely modify a toxin. These include medications, nutritional deficiencies, alcohol, a diseased liver and even some foods. Grapefruit juice is one food that interferes with your liver’s ability to breakdown medications and toxins. When your liver is unable to modify a toxin, your body tries to limit your exposure to it by sequestering the toxin in fat tissue. Here it will remain safely stored until you break down body fat through weight loss.

What Does This Mean?

Since you store toxins in fat, it makes sense not to lose weight so rapidly that you’re flooding your bloodstream with toxic compounds that could potentially harm your health. Add that to the fact that rapid weight loss is usually not sustainable.

The take-home message? If you’re trying to lose weight, do it in a healthy fashion by eating a clean diet of lean protein, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables and watching your portion sizes rather than buying into the latest weight loss diet that promises you’ll lose ten pounds in seven days.

What’s a reasonable rate of weight loss? Most experts recommend losing about a pound a week – and no more than 2 pounds weekly. Even more risky may be the effects of “yo-yo” dieting, repeatedly gaining and losing weight so you’re repeatedly releasing stored toxins. That’s why once you’ve reached an acceptable weight – maintain it by continuing to monitor diet and exercise so you don’t regain it and lose it again. The other thing you can do is reduce your exposure to toxins by eating organic foods and using organic household products, personal care products and cosmetics. Whatever you do, don’t buy into the rapid weight loss promises. They won’t do your health any favors.


International Journal of Obesity 35, 744-747 (May 2011) | doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.188.



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