Keeping our kids’ detox systems healthy

Detoxes and cleanses – we’re just not getting the message that these unproven and expensive regimens – diets and supplements and the like – are simply a waste of time and money. Many people are still looking for that magical elixir and try the latest offering. Just check out the number of hits when you google the topic – more than 1/4 billion hits in all.

Somehow the message that the human body has a built-in detox system that cleanses and detoxifies itself isn’t getting through to a lot of people. Our livers, kidneys and skin, as long as they’re healthy, do a great job.

But it’s the healthy bit that’s becoming more and more of a concern. And kids are up there at the top of the list as research is showing that how we eat is not protecting their detox systems. After all, their systems need to last them a lifetime.

According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, fatty liver disease is a condition affecting almost 3% of children and 22 to 53% of obese children. The Foundation states that fatty liver disease can be found in children as young as four years of age. This type of fatty liver disease is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as opposed to the condition linked to alcohol consumption.

While having NAFLD doesn’t necessarily pose an immediate threat to health, if the condition continues with greater amounts of fat accumulating in the liver over the years, it can leave the liver vulnerable to injury and ultimately disease. It’s also linked with developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Reversing the condition, though, doesn’t appear to require a complex specialized diet. It’s all about healthy eating and new research points to key benefits, for kids, of slashing the amounts of added sugars or free sugars consumed. This not only includes sugar added to beverages and food but also sugars from fruit juices.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in adolescent boys with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, assessed the effects of a free sugar diet compared to a typical diet.

The research, conducted over a two-year period, included 40 boys, ages 11 to 16 years with NAFLD, who were randomized into two groups. Half the boys, along with their families, were provided a diet low in free sugars while the other half ate their usual diets. Those subjects on the low-sugar diet had a significant improvement in both the amount of fat and inflammation in their livers.

While study is a good news story, the researchers point out that sticking to a diet such as this can be tough. Sugar-laden foods and beverages abound. But maybe, we could be starting down a new path. Health Canada, with the release of the new food guide, is no longer considering fruit juice to be a serving of fruit. They’re also suggesting we limit highly processed foods containing sugars such as sugary drinks.

Just maybe we are starting to see a change in our food environment. Without a significant change, though, kids don’t stand a chance. In the study, the researchers recognized the importance of including the entire family in the dietary modification.

Singling out the child with the health issue just backfires.

Changing the food environment is also not about banning all sugary foods. It’s about getting rid of daily sugar-laden choices while at the same time teaching kids about how to indulge in decadent delights. They also need to learn this important skill as well.

As well, maybe we’ll actually see the government come through with the promise to restrict food marketing to kids. Teaching them food literacy and how to cook is also all part of changing our food environment.

Maybe then they won’t be seeking out detoxes and cleanses.

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Categories: Children's Health, Food Trends, Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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