Detoxing is a popular diet for kick-starting a healthier lifestyle, whether people are looking to lose a few pounds or reduce the toxins in their bodies. But is it safe, and what does the science behind it say?
Health experts are divided.
“A detox diet, also called a cleanse, may sound appealing: Who wouldn’t want to rid their body of dangerous toxins?” said Chris Iliades, with Everyday Health. “The social push behind these diets claim that toxins from food and water get stuck in our digestive systems, and other parts of our bodies, and need to be eliminated. But when it comes to exactly what these toxins are and why we need to get rid of them, there hasn’t been much in the way of convincing evidence.”
Detoxing involves avoiding eating certain foods in order to allow the body to rid itself of harmful chemicals and toxins, said Katherine Patton with Cleveland Clinic. The diet normally includes replacing solid food with natural drinks and fruit and vegetable juices while avoiding things such as processed foods.
Lasting anywhere from a day to a month, detoxing is believed to bring a host of health benefits, including improvement in kidney and liver function and an increase in energy. Patton added that detoxing is claimed to provide constipation relief and soothe muscle aches.
In addition, a detox can help people curb an unruly diet, said Cynthia Sass with Shape.com.
“A key advantage of a detox is that it can help you end a chaotic eating pattern by introducing order, simplicity and repetition,” Sass said. “And eating and drinking only clean, whole foods can reboot your taste buds.
“Finally, when all of the decisions about exactly what to eat, how much, and when have been made for you, you can’t act on emotional, social and environmental and habitual eating triggers, which can be the first step to breaking them.”
However, Patton said that the effectiveness of detoxing is inconclusive, and consuming only liquids can remove key components of a nutritious diet.
“Solid foods are actually helpful,” Patton said. “Fiber, found in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, slows digestion, helps with nutrient absorption and removes toxins via stool. Your digestive tract uses probiotics from fiber to nourish your intestines with beneficial bacteria, which helps maintain immune health.”
Detox diets also are not ideal for losing weight over time, Sass said. After a detox, the weight lost through water, carbohydrate stores and waste will eventually return, depending on one’s eating habits.
In addition, Sass said that detoxing is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypoglycemia, as well as for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
But for Carrie Vitt with DeliciouslyOrganic.net, detoxes and cleanses are not only important – they’re essential. While the body is equipped to detoxify itself, she said that most people’s bodies cannot effectively detox due to excess environmental toxins and a nutrient-deficient diet.
“The result is massive physical degeneration and impaired detoxification,” Vitt noted. “This is evidenced by our increased rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, allergies, autism, attention deficit disorder and so on.”
Vitt said that juicing is not healthy for everyone, especially for people with unstable blood sugar. But returning to a traditional, nutrient-rich diet is important to maintaining one’s health and supporting the body’s natural detoxification process.
“If you don’t think a detox is right for you, or you’ve tried one before with miserable results, it’s OK to buck the trend,” Sass said. “On the flip side, if you thrive on structure and tend to throw in the towel when you don’t see speedy results, it may be something to contemplate. Just be sure to consider whether it’s safe to limit your diet.”
Have you detoxed? What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below: