Detoxification (detox) diets are short-term regimens that aim to eliminate toxins in the body for the purpose of increasing health and wellness. Many detox diets also claim to help people lose weight during the detoxification process. Laxatives, vitamins, minerals, diuretics, and other “cleansing foods” are often used. Commercial detox diets claim to give health benefits such as toxin removal, weight loss, glowing skin, shiny hair, strong nails, improved liver function, increased energy, less inflammation, a stronger immune system, mental clarity, better sleep, and lower stress levels. 1
An example of a common detox diet is the “master cleanse/lemon detox diet.” This diet requires individuals to replace all meals with a drink containing lemon juice, purified water, cayenne pepper and tree syrup for 10 days. It is also expected to drink salt water and an herbal tea that acts as a laxative.1
Based on the alleged health benefits of detox diets, these cleanses seem like a great idea. But are they too good to be true? Currently there is not sufficient evidence to suggest detox diets are useful for toxin elimination or weight loss. Humans have evolved a highly effective system for eliminating toxins from the body. The liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, skin, and lungs all work together to constantly remove unwanted chemicals.2 The belief that humans need to periodically cleanse their systems of toxins through detox diets stems from an incorrect view of human physiology.
In addition to being unnecessary, detox diets are actually harmful. These diets are extremely low in protein and usually require severe energy restriction. These nutritional inadequacies can cause vitamin deficiencies, loss of lean body mass, bone degradation, fatty acid deficiencies, electrolyte imbalance, lactic acidosis, and even death. There is also a risk of overdosing on supplements, laxatives, diuretics, and water.
Because detox diets are extremely low in calories, the body enters a starvation state. As a result, short-term weight loss in inevitable. However, this strategy is unhealthy and can’t be maintained over a long period of time. As a result, people are more likely to engage in binge eating following their detox period resulting in a regain of the weight lost during starvation.
If you are concerned about toxins, try making healthy lifestyle changes rather than attempting a quick-fix solution. Eat a plant based diet; fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Substitute white, processed grains for whole grains. Enjoy lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy. Find ways to fit exercise into your daily life, and limit toxic substances like tobacco and alcohol.
Detox diets encourage a detrimental relationship with food and nutrition. Eating food should not cause feelings of contamination and guilt. Nutritious food and a balanced diet hold the keys to health. Your body is more than capable of fending off any harmful chemicals you come in contact with.
- Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;28:675-686.
- The Physiology and Biochemistry of Biotransformation/Detoxification (The Phases ofhttp://www.functionalmedicineuniversity.com/fdmt551aphysiobiodetoxig.pdf
- Detoxification) By Wayne L. Sodano, D.C., D.A.B.C.I., & Ron Grisanti, D.C., D.A.B.C.O., M.
Written by: Jake Brown, Dietetic Intern, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH.
Reviewed by: Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County.