The truth about detox diets and cleanses

Lisa was feeling tired and run down. She decided to go on a detox diet. She heard it would cleanse her body, raise her energy level and jumpstart her weight loss program. Faced with eating only veggies, some herbs and green tea for the next seven days, she was ready to rid her body of damaging toxins.

Was Lisa on the right path?

The claim

Detoxification, or “detox” diets are touted by many as a way to remove “toxins” from the body. This practice stems from the belief that the food you consume (plus what’s in our environment) contains a range of harmful substances can build up in your body. This could be anything from red meat and pesticides to pollution and mercury.

Detox diets claim to cleanse or detoxify the body from these harmful substances. Typically, certain groups of foods are restricted and replaced with a limited diet, special drinks, herbs and/or fiber products. The belief is that doing so can help you overcome common ills such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, constipation and allergies.

Diets average seven to 10 days (some are more) and are encouraged two or three times a year. Weight loss is also often promoted as an added bonus.

Is a detox diet really necessary?

In truth, no research has ever proven these detox diets to be safe or effective. Some are even dangerous.

You may not realize it, but the human body already has its own built-in detox system: our liver and kidneys. These organs regularly filter blood to remove waste and contaminants, which are then excreted in our urine, stool and sweat.

Advocates of detox diets claim their methods are to be used along with the body’s natural ability to cleanse itself. But many detox products are nothing more than expensive laxatives or diuretics. Also, a very restrictive diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies or heart rhythm problems.

Other points to keep in mind about detox diets:

Weight loss is mostly water weight. People on detox diets often report rapid weight loss. This is not due to any special component of the diet, but just because they are typically extremely low in calories.

The weight loss is mainly water loss and some muscle tissue – not permanent weight (fat) loss.

This weight is often regained quickly as soon as the “diet” is over.

Colon cleansing is not necessary. The use of herbs, laxatives, enemas, colonics and/or irrigation devices to “clean out your colon” can interfere with normal functioning of the large intestine. Using them can raise your risk of electrolyte imbalances, diarrhea, dehydration and damage to the protective bacteria in the large intestine.

Doctors don’t recommend colon cleansing for improved health and well-being or to prevent disease. The colon does not need to be “cleansed.” In fact, the only time all stool should be cleansed from the colon is when you prepare for a medical procedure used to examine the colon or before certain colon surgeries.

Rejuvenating healthfully

For most, a simple diet tune-up can work wonders getting you on the road to weight loss and better health. You don’t need to crash diet or limit yourself to water and juicing to reap benefits of increased energy, better skin and healthier digestion.

Instead, focus on including the following foods in your diet on a daily basis, while limiting sweets and processed junk foods.

Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Limit processed foods made with white flour and sugar. Lean meats and/or other healthy protein sources, including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and soy products. Healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, avocados and omega-3 fats from fish like sardines, herring and wild salmon.

Remember, your body is designed to purify itself. A healthy diet, along with regular exercise, sound sleep practices and stress reduction techniques, will help lay a solid foundation for good “clean” health. Talk to your doctor about the type of diet that is right for you.


Tufts Medical Center. Detox diets debunked. Accessed: 12/23/2009 Acosta RD, Cash BD. Clinical effects of colonic cleansing for general health promotion: a systematic review. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009;104(11):2830-2836. Accessed: 12/23/2009 American Heart Association. What about fad diets? Accessed: 12/23/2009 National Institute of Health. Weight-loss and nutrition myths: How much do you know? Accessed: 12/23/2009

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