Detox Diets: Purging the Myths (cont.)
What is a 'Detox' Diet?
Most detox diets promote herbs, pills, potions, colonics, and/or fasts to rid the body of impurities. They also promise quick weight loss. And yes, you will shed unwanted pounds -- not because of any medical magic, but because these plans are super-low in calories.
"You will lose weight, but it is the not the unhealthy fat you want to lose but precious body protein and fluids," says May.
Detox diets tend to be extremely restrictive, allowing only unprocessed plant foods, which are supposed to assist the lymph, kidneys, and liver with the detox process.
Gallons of water or specially formulated drinks along with herbs (usually only available on the diet's web site) are generally the only liquids allowed. One regimen calls for liquids (various concoctions including laxative teas) for 10 days, without any solids. Coffee, tea, alcohol, processed foods, and animal products are not commonly part of any detox diet plans.
Enjoying a plant-based diet is perfectly healthy, but most detox diets go to extremes, experts say.
"The limited variety of foods and beverages and minimum calories is of concern because it is very difficult to get all the nutrients and energy you need for good health with such restrictive regimens," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.
Unless you have religious or cultural reasons to fast or follow detox programs, she advises against them.
Potential Dangers of Detox Diets
Not only do the experts who spoke to WebMD say that we don't need detox diets, they believe these regimens have the potential to be harmful.
"Massive fluid losses upset the delicate fluid and electrolyte balance, can cause gastrointestinal distress, headaches, fatigue [and] irritability, and can lead to dehydration," says Gerbstadt.
Colons don't need flushing unless you are prepping for a medical procedure like a colonoscopy. Colonic enemas tamper with the body's natural fluid and electrolyte balance and can lead to infection, irregularity, and dehydration. Instead, Gerbstadt suggests a high fiber diet.
"Eating more fiber in whole grains, bran, fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is a safe and natural way to add bulk to your diet," she says.
Gerbstadt also warns that fasting or following very restrictive detox diets can slow your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight once you start eating again.
"In many cases, they result in rebound overeating because of excess hunger, deprivation, and an out-of-control feeling that is not because of a metabolic imbalance or addiction but instead driven by the deprivation of the diet plan," says May.
What's the Appeal of Detox Diets?
Is there any evidence that detox diets do what they promise? Experts note that most of the studies presented to support detox diet regimens have not been published in peer-review journals, the gold standard for scientific evidence.