Detox teas, crash diets and the gallbladder

I recently supported a short instagram campaign by the UK Fitness Bloggers highlighting the dangers of so called ‘detox teas’ and their call to use “teas for biccies, not weight loss”. Here I am post-run and covered in sweat, enjoying my ‘biccie’ (admittedly I had a cup of coffee, not tea, but the sentiment stands):

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Detox teas — under brands like Bootea and Skinny Tea — claim to “spring clean” your body, “eliminate toxins”, as well as aid in weight loss.

Firstly, let’s be 100% clear here: detoxing is a marketing scam. None of these teas (or any other products marketed as “detox”) do anything for supposed toxins in your body. If your body had a build up of toxins, you would either a) be dead or b) in need of serious medical attention, because it would indicate kidney and/or liver failure.

These teas generally contain either a laxative, or a diuretic, or in some cases both. In other words, they’re designed to make you poop or pee. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend the duration of your “teatox” on the toilet shitting water or pissing it. (More on if you’re unlucky in a moment…) Yes, you’ll be slimmer at the end, but only because you’ll be dehydrated and have lost water weight. A few days of normality and you’ll put it all back on.

Crash/fad diets generally involve heavily restricting calories or eating only certain food groups but the result is often the same: dehydration and potential digestive upset. Unless you’re unlucky.

I spent last week in various states of agony. I was in A&E doped up with morphine twice:

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I haven’t been on a crash diet and I sure as hell haven’t succumbed to any detox marketing, but I have had some of the busiest weeks of my career on top of running races, half marathons, training for a taekwon-do grading, kids, pets & all that entails, volunteering, work outside of the home, a wedding anniversary and general social calendar chaos. And I wasn’t careful: I missed meals to fit in meetings, and forgot to take lunch on volunteer days. I drank coffee instead of protein shakes post-workout and I fell into bed at the end of the day too tired to cook.

Like people who drink detox teas and risk crazy crash diets: I was stupid, and I was unlucky, and I pissed off my gallbladder.

When you don’t take in enough calories to meet your body’s demands, your body starts to eat itself — stored fats — for energy. This stimulates the production of bile; a liquid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder that helps break down fat. If you lose weight (because of restricted calories, or shitting all your food out before it’s properly digested because of your laxative tea) too fast the amount of cholesterol in the bile increases and it turns into thick “sludge” which can prevent the gallbladder from emptying properly.

Even worse, as bile salts accumulate, it can crystalise, turning this thick sludge into hard lumps: gallstones. Which, if you’ve known me for long enough, you’ll know I have past experience of thanks to a little bastard of a stone that blocked a bile duct when Isabel was a baby, putting us both in hospital for a week.

So anyway, back to me pissing off my gallbladder… when your gallbladder gets annoyed, it gets REALLY annoyed. Gallbladder pain is excruciating. Anecdotal reports (including mine) put it as one of the most painful things you can experience, and I say this having been through a “natural” birth to a boy with an abnormally large head which was PAUSED MID WAY so that the midwife could unwrap the cord from his awkward bloody neck.

I was in so much pain last Monday that I had cold sweats, I was delirious and at one point I thought I was hallucinating. I drove myself (stupid decision, don’t do this) to A&E and was rushed through and hooked up to morphine. The first time in my life an A&E visit hasn’t taken over 4 hours.

Just over a week later and (one further visit to hospital) and I don’t really have any news on my situation. My agonising pain is gone and I’m back to eating (properly!) but I have bloating, discomfort, and persistent indigestion type pain. I’m due an ultrasound at some point in the next week to figure out what’s going on, and to make a decision on whether or not my gallbladder needs taking out.

Is it really worth this pain, ill health, and potential surgery to lose a few pounds a bit quicker? Is a stupid marketing trick worth risking your gallbladder for? I was stupid, and I was unlucky: you don’t need to be.

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