To Cleanse, or Not to Cleanse?

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Detoxification diets and cleanses are popular in health-conscious circles – but is detoxing the right choice for you?

A 2015 review concluded that there was no compelling research to support the use of detox diets for weight management or eliminating toxins from the body. (1)

A 2017 review noted that juicing and detox diets can cause initial weight loss because of the low intake of calories. However, these regimens tend to lead to weight gain once a person resumes a regular diet. (2)

There have been no studies on the long-term effects of detoxification programs. There have been only a small number of studies on detox programs in people. While some have had positive results on weight and fat loss, insulin resistance, and blood pressure, the studies themselves have been of low quality – with study design problems, few participants, or lack of peer review (evaluation by other experts to ensure the quality).

Although some fasting programs are advertised with “detoxification” claims, other fasting programs – including intermittent fasting and periodic fasting – are being researched for health promotion, disease prevention, improved aging, and in some cases, weight loss. But there are no firm conclusions about their effects on human health. Also, fasting can cause headaches, fainting, weakness, and dehydration.

Detoxification programs may involve a single process or a variety of approaches:

  • Fasting
  • Drinking only juices or similar beverages
  • Eating only certain foods
  • Using dietary supplements or other commercial products
  • Using herbs
  • Cleansing the colon with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (also called colonic irrigation or colonics)
  • Reducing environmental exposures
  • Using a sauna

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken action against several companies selling detox/cleansing products because they contained illegal, potentially harmful ingredients; were marketed using false claims that they could treat serious diseases; or in the case of medical devices used for colon cleansing, were marketed for unapproved uses.

Some juices used in detoxes and cleanses that hasn’t been pasteurized or treated in other ways to kill harmful bacteria can make people sick. The illnesses can be severe in children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.

Also, some juices are made from foods that are high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance. Two examples of high-oxalate foods are spinach and beets. Drinking large quantities of high-oxalate juice can increase the risk of kidney problems.

People with diabetes should follow the eating plan recommended by their health care team. If you have diabetes, consult your health care providers before making significant changes in your eating habits, such as going on a detox diet or changing your eating patterns.

Diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food you eat usually don’t lead to lasting weight loss and may not provide all the nutrients you need.

Colon cleansing procedures may have side effects, some of which can be serious. Harmful effects are more likely in people with a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, severe hemorrhoids, kidney disease, or heart disease.

Detoxification programs also may include laxatives, which can cause diarrhea severe enough to lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Drinking large quantities of water and herbal tea and not eating any food for days in a row could lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances.

Talking with a health care professional about your weight is an essential first step. Sometimes, health care professionals may not address issues such as healthy eating, physical activity, and weight during general office visits. You may need to raise these issues yourself.

 

Citations

(1) PubMed. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25522674

(2) PubMed. Health benefit of vegetable/fruit juice-based diet: Role of microbiome. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5438379/