Do Detox Diets and Cleanses Really Work?
Detox diets and cleanses are extremely popular and considered to be the best way to jumpstart weight loss, get back on a healthy diet plan, and reset metabolism.

You must have heard about detox diets and their cleansing effect on the body, claiming to help rid your body of toxins, cleanse blood and liver, and enable you to drop a significant amount of weight quickly. However, the question is whether they work and are safe?

Detox diets and cleansing claim to stimulate the liver and kidneys to eliminate harmful toxins. However, there is a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to support these claims.

  • Moreover, these popular programs claim that providing healthy nutrients and avoiding inflammatory foods, such as sugar, alcohol, and processed ingredients, will reduce inflammation, support digestion, and aid circulation.
  • Yet, the body is naturally designed to detoxify itself (a built-in process); the liver, kidneys, and colon detoxify nearly all the harmful compounds (including heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium) that get accumulated over time in different tissues. These get excreted through the urine, feces, sweat, and expired air.

Therefore, the actual “detoxing” or “toxin-eliminating” claims of detox diets are not backed up or supported by confirmatory human trials or scientific evidence.

  • A team of experts has concluded that the results of a study conducted in 2015 do not support the use of detox diets for weight loss or removing toxins.
  • Another group found that juicing and trending detox diets are probably just a short-term fix.
  • There could be weight loss because of the consumption of fewer calories, but detox diets tend to lead to weight gain once a normal diet is resumed.

What is a detox diet or cleanse?

A detox diet typically involves a period of fasting followed by a strict diet of raw vegetables, fruit and fruit juices, and water along with herbs and other supplements and colon cleansing (enemas). This aims to improve digestion by systematically removing toxins that have built up in the blood, liver, or kidneys so that a person feels more revitalized and healthier.

Detox diets and cleanses are extremely popular and considered to be the best way to jumpstart weight loss, get back on a healthy diet plan, and reset metabolism.

Detoxification programs vary from complete starvation to simpler food modifications and may differ in duration as well.

Commonly used detox diets encourage at least one of the following:

  • Fasting for a minimum of one to three days
  • In addition to water, drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices, lemon juice, and green tea
  • Eliminating foods that are high in heavy metals, contaminants, and allergens
  • Using supplements and herbs
  • Using laxatives or enemas
  • Regular exercise
  • Eliminating alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and refined sugar

What does detox diet and cleanses involve?

Detox diet and cleanses usually involve a period of fasting followed by some juices or liquid diet protocol with a strong emphasis on the complete avoidance of certain food groups, such as gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, sweeteners, and perhaps solid food. Besides water, there may be specific herbs, teas, supplements, and enemas involved in the cleansing or detox diet.

Depending on the detox diet followed, some variations are there in the allowed and forbidden food list. The most common ones that are eliminated in a detox diet and cleanses include:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Soy

Some programs even eliminate solid foods and only encourage drinking juices and broth, whereas some involve complete fasting.

Other programs allow the consumption of healthy vegetables and fresh fruits that provide all of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Green tea is usually encouraged because there is evidence that it increases metabolic rate, aids metabolism, and reduces oxidative damage in the body.

Some detox plans recommend dietary supplements, herbs, pills, powders, laxatives, enemas, and other forms of colon cleansing.

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How does a detox diet work?

The theory behind detox diets and cleanses is that eliminating solid foods or specific food groups can help eliminate toxins from the body that supposedly gives the digestive system a break, allowing it to heal and better absorb nutrients in the future.

Providing the body with healthy nutrients and steering clear of inflammatory foods, such as sugar, alcohol, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and processed ingredients, will reduce inflammation, support digestion, and aid circulation.

This diet claims to work through the following mechanisms:

  • Organs are made to rest via fasting
  • Improving energy levels
  • Inducing weight loss
  • Enhancing circulation
  • Stimulating organs, such as the liver and colon, to excrete harmful toxins
  • Relieving constipation
  • Providing essential nutrients

Detox diets claim to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, phthalates, bisphenol A, and heavy metals.

8 benefits of cleanses and detox diets

There can be physical and behavioral benefits to short-term cleanses and detoxes, including:

  1. Modest weight loss (water-weight)
  2. Reduced sugar cravings
  3. A break from unhealthy eating patterns
  4. Restores mindfulness
  5. Helps stick to a healthy and a balanced diet
  6. Plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, slow digestion, help absorb nutrients and remove toxins via stools
  7. Helps identify food sensitivities by eliminating certain foods for several days, then gradually reintroducing potential trigger foods
  8. It could be an effective way to transition to a nutritious diet free from processed foods and excessive sugar, salt, and fat

12 drawbacks to cleanses and detox diets

A detox diet does not eliminate toxins from the body, and there are risks associated with long-term or severe caloric restriction, diet pills, supplements, laxatives, and diuretics.

  1. These diets require a high level of effort, making you feel hungry and weak.
  2. The potential side effects of low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets include low energy, low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and nausea.
  3. Detox diets are typically rigid and involve eating the same few things over and over.
  4. Because of severely restricted calories, you may not be able to exercise.
  5. A detox diet might help you drop a few pounds but very likely to gain it back (rebound weight gain). The results are short-term and if a healthy, calorie-controlled diet is not maintained after the end of the cleanse, it can lead to weight gain.
  6. Long-term starvation diets may slow down the metabolic rate, disrupt hormonal balance, and encourage fat storage rather than fat loss.
  7. Severe caloric restriction can cause low energy, headaches, blood sugar irregularities, arrhythmias, and bad breath.
  8. It is not advisable for those with certain health conditions, particularly diabetes, eating disorders, and pregnancy or lactation.
  9. Colon cleanses use laxatives and diuretics that often cause severe diarrhea, bloating, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and excessive urination, and ultimately, may lead to dehydration.
  10. Prolonged use of laxatives during fasting can cause depletion of electrolytes and impairment of normal bowel function.
  11. Long-term fasting may result in excessive fatigue and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  12. Commercial diet pills and herbal supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or could have inaccurate labels. These could increase the risk of overdosing, may affect overall health, or even lead to fatal side effects.

Limiting processed, high-fat and sugary foods, replacing them with whole foods (such as fruits and vegetables), decreasing portion sizes, and exercising regularly are the best approaches to getting your body in shape.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Zelman KM. The Truth About Detox Diets. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/detox-diets

National Institutes of Health. Do Detox Diets and Cleanses Work? https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2021/12/do-detox-diets-cleanses-work

Cleveland Clinic. Are You Planning a Cleanse or Detox? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-you-planning-a-cleanse-or-detox-read-this-first/

Mayo Clinic. Do detox diets offer any health benefits? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/detox-diets/faq-20058040