Ask HE: Are Cleanses and Detox Diets Safe?

by in Ask the Experts, January 7, 2010

detox juice
Every day, our readers pose smart questions about nutrition and healthy eating in our article comments and on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. We try to answer as much as we can, but some questions are too important for just a short reply back. Many of the same questions crop up a lot, too. “Do cleanses and/or detox diets work?” is a popular one — especially this time of year when people are looking to rejuvenate and lose the added post-holiday weight.

Curious if a detox diet is the way to go? Here’s what we think.

Q: Are cleanses and detox diets safe?

A: Dieters beware.
Many of my clients are intrigued by detox diets and their promise to “flush” the body of toxins. Guess what? Your body does this naturally every day. Your digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems take nutrients from the foods that you eat, deliver them to the proper places and dispose of the waste. Isn’t the body amazing?!

To date, there’s no sound evidence that detox programs work the wonders that “experts” claim. Sure, some folks manage to lose weight when they go on them, but that’s simply because they’re not allowed to eat much of anything and they’re flushing out water weight. Starving yourself causes symptoms such as headaches, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and plummeting energy levels (just to name a few).

Since this extremely restricted diet obviously can’t be maintained, the weight you lose almost always comes back. I’ve heard many people claim that they feel “so much better” after cleansing, but I would argue that this is because they’ve stopped eating junk food. So why not just switch to diet comprised only fresh, whole foods rather than forcing yourself to drink some kind of juice concoction (say, lemon water with cayenne pepper) all day long for several days, if not weeks?

Many cleanse and detox plans suggest the use of various herbal supplements and procedures such as enemas and colonics, too. Both can be very dangerous when not administered properly and herbal supplements may interfere with medications and have dangerous side effects. If you’re considering a cleanse or detox, definitely check with your doctor first.

Bottom line: Detox and cleansing diets don’t appear to be safe or very affective. The best way to really rid your body of junk is to not eat any. Exercise, proper hydration and a balanced diet will allow your body to cleanse itself and work at its best for the long haul.

TELL US: Do you have any nutrition or cooking questions that you’d like us to answer? Share them in the comments and maybe yours will be featured in our upcoming “Ask HE” posts.

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Comments (17)

  1. Sandi says:

    In college (almost 30 years ago) I did nothing but fresh fruit for a week. This was for weight-loss, not a "cleans," but it probably did clean out my digestive tract – I don't remember that. The point was, it was a dreadfully hot summer, the Student Union was featuring local melons on the salad bar, and I had just awakened to the fact that I was about 40 lbs. overweight. This didn't magically remove all the weight; what it did, I think, was wash the taste for steam-table casseroles and fried stuff out of my mouth, making it MUCH EASIER to change to a healthy natural-foods diet. Note, this was fruit I was eating – full of fiber and requiring chewing, not juice with half the vitamins, etc., removed or herbal stuff of completely unknown ingredients. And, yes, I lost the 40 lbs. over the next two years, and have kept it off, with minor 5-lb. fluctuations in midwinter, ever since. I recommend fresh fruit to any/everyone, but I wouldn't touch the patent-medicine "cleanse" formulas with a barge pole.

  2. stanmrak says:

    Your liver cannot eliminate all of the 75,000 different chemicals that have been added to our food supply in the past 70 years, or the thousands of new toxins in our environment. It wasn't designed to handle that kind of load.

  3. Erik Hutson says:

    lol@ anyone who believes in a "cleanse"….take some laxative and save the rest of your money because about all cleanses are. Not consuming foods flushes your body of any water inside your muscles so the first week you will notice a 5-10lb weight difference and think your body is "cleaning" itself when in reality all you did was piss away all your water. Have fun gaining half if not all your weight back when you decided to consume food again

  4. Thanks for your comment, Stan. The point that Dana makes above is that if you switch to a consistently healthy diet of whole foods and fresh choices (none of the processed junk), then there's no need to go on these detox diets because your body is naturally set up to keep itself in working order. These detox diets are just spun as so-called quick fixes for losing weight and/or getting your body back in shape — when the reality is that your body doesn't need to get back in shape as long as you make smart choices all along (with the occasional indulgence) and don't overdo it on the "bad" food.

  5. Marina says:

    I think the point they are trying to get across that if you eat a healthy balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins and hydrate with plenty of water there is no need to "detox". Often detox diets are used as a quick fix and to drop pounds when truly the solution is daily consistency with the food we put into our boddies in the first place. And lets not forget exercise.

  6. parker says:

    i love your comment. how do you think someone like myself or you could turn heads in the right direction of eating habits?

  7. Pinkshoes says:

    Let us know how you feel and how you weight it after you return to your "normal" eating patterns.

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