Detox diets or cleanses have been around for centuries and are becoming all the more popular. These diets claim to eliminate harmful toxins from the body and they claim to clean our blood. How this works and what they are supposed to elimate is not entirely clear. Let’s take a closer look at what a detox is, how it works and if they are good for our health?
WHAT IS A DETOX DIET?
A detoxification (detox) diet normally consists of a period where by there is a strict diet of certain foods that can only be eaten like vegetable juices for example. It is often a period of fasting with very limited calorie intake. Some detoxes involve other products like herbal supplements/teas or procedures like enemas to clean out the intestines. The idea is that drastic eating like this will help get rid of all the toxins and wastes in the body that have built up or after an indulgent period like Christmas or the Holidays1,2,3.
1. What types of detoxes are out there?
There are many varieties out there that differ in the period of detoxing, what you can eat in the detox, how strict they are, what area in the body they are focusing on, or detoxing for a specific effect1,2,3.
Some detox diets may only allow liquids and no solids, some only fruits, others even purees of food for example. In the case of most detox diets, you can either make it yourself with food you buy from the grocery store or you can buy specific products over the counter marketed for detoxing2.
2. Do they work?
Some detox diets claim that they help flush out toxins, aid weight loss, reduce headaches, improve skin, support the immune system, assist regular bowel movements, and aid digestion2. Some people may report feeling more energised with better concentration. There is no research to support this link to the detox diets. This may be due to people cutting down on sugars, refined carbohydrates and high fat foods and eating foods that contain more vitamins and minerals in the normal diet as well as reducing portion sizes from eating too much previously1.
There is limited evidence to support the idea that detoxes eliminate waste products from the body. The body is designed very intricately with many processes to clean itself out without needing a specific diet. For example, the kidneys filter our blood from waste products made during the working of the body. The liver’s main function is to detoxify most things that enter the body like alcohol1,3.
Be cautious as some claimed detox diets have been linked to scams. For example, a mineral salt bath or foot pads were marketed to flush out all the body’s toxins which could be seen as the water turned from clear to brown. It was a scam because any salt water that a current is passed through would turn brown as it rusts the electrodes making the current2,3.
3. Are they good for us?
Diets like detoxes often don’t have very good sustainability. Some people may lose weight on the diet as they have drastically reduced their calorie intake however, when they start eating normally again they will put the weight back on and sometimes even more. The best way to allow your body prolonged weight loss/management is to avoid the fad diets like detoxes all together. Rather change your lifestyle to eat healthier and exercise more. Cut down on sugar, eat more fruits and vegetables, eat more lean proteins, reduce alcohol consumption, read food labels, choose wholegrain starches over white refined ones and eat the correct portion sizes. This will allow your natural waste filters, being your liver and kidneys, to be able to work more effectively and therefore, clean your body the natural and healthy way1,2.
Caution should be taken as some of the over the counter detox products contains laxatives or diuretics which can be harmful if used incorrectly or with the incorrect dosage2. Misuse of laxatives can lead to excessive diarrhoea, dehydration which can lead to kidney damage, and in severe cases can even lead to death, electrolyte imbalance may affect nerve and muscle functioning, which can result in weakness and colon damage,4. Diuretics are medications that aid the kidneys to get rid of more fluids than what they normally do. If they are abused they can lead to dehydration, kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances and effect beating of the heart,5.
Please see a doctor or dietician prior to considering going on a detox diet. They will be able to advise if it is something you should try and if it is safe. As some detoxes cut out many food groups there can be side effects like fatigue, uncontrolled blood sugar (glucose) levels, or even vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Pregnant women, children, teenagers, elderly and those with chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease should take extra caution with diets that use extreme measures1,2.
Our bodies are so amazing that most of the time they do a perfectly good job of removing “toxic substances” without any extra help. If a detox diet has made you feel and eat better this is most probably not to do with the removal of toxins but more to do with putting less unhealthy things in your body. If you don’t put toxic things (junk food, cigarettes and the likes) in your body there will be no reason to detox.