Do Detox Diets Work?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on December 25, 2019
Last updated on May 23, 2021

You’ve probably heard of Beyonce’s Detox Diet. Then there is Alicia Silverstone’s Kind Diet, Demi Moore, and her Master Cleanse, and of course, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop detox diet named after her lifestyle blog.

Glasses of vegetable juice

These famous celebrities have their go-to detox diet to lose weight. You can’t deny they look good.

And if their claims enticed you to try their recommendation, then you should try to find out what you can regarding their effectiveness.

Are They Effective?

The popularity of the detoxification diet has been through the roof for years now. Each one promises to clean the blood and get rid of toxins pestering the body.

This dietary regimen requires a change in eating habits to achieve toxin removal and detoxification. The reaped benefits include improved overall health, increased energy, better resistance to disease, smoother digestion, and a healthy mind. A lot of people also believed in can lead to a healthy weight loss (1).

A detox diet usually suggests a period of fasting. Most of them employ a strict diet made of fruit or their juiced-up versions, veggies, and water. Other diets incorporate the use of teas, supplements, herbs, and even enema.

Basically, this diet attempts to give your organs a rest while encouraging the liver to remove and filter the said toxins. The toxins are removed through sweating, urination, and defecation.

Sounds convincing, right?

However, there is no clear explanation of how these diets can lead to such healthy outcomes. A list of compounds that it claims to remove from the body is not available. The number of research regarding detox diets is not enough and the existing studies have certain flaws (2). However, this type of weight loss plan is promoted in different settings and has been used as a form of naturopathic treatment.

The Most Typical Ways to Do A Detox Diet

Before we get into the discussion of different types of detox diets, you should know the variety of approaches these diets typically require.

1. Fasting for Not More Than 3 Days

Fasting does seem to have many health benefits. In one study combining fluid therapy and fasting to treat patients with refractory cases of atopic dermatitis, it showed how effective the method is compared to typical therapeutic modalities (3). Furthermore, it suggested the use of a detoxification program as a novel treatment to patients with severe atopic dermatitis.

2. Consuming Only Smoothies, Tea, Water, or Juices Made from Either Fruits or Vegetables

A diet involving the use of smoothies and juice have been backed up by many celebrities. In a review of 9 studies, two studies have discovered that the fiber materials and cell wall structures were retained after processing of the smoothie (4). Other research seems to believe that smoothies are helpful in increasing the nutrient density of the diet. It is also known to provide satiety effects and endothelial function benefits.

3. Removing Foods that Contain Contaminants, Allergens, and Heavy Metals in the Diet

Diet restriction is done to prevent the health risks involved in such an unhealthy diet. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a program that monitors lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and selenium in food (5). Cadmium is considered the most widely distributed of these heavy metals, while mercury appears to be the most limited. According to the World Health Organization, there is an intake allowance of cadmium, lead, and mercury that is considered tolerable intakes for adults. These tolerable intakes are not available for selenium and arsenic. However, it is considered undesirable to find any concentration increase of these elements in food.

4. Use of Certain Herbs and Supplements

Dietary supplements contain dietary ingredients like herbs, botanicals vitamins, and minerals (6). The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements are considered poor and limited. A lot of studies conducted on these seemingly have confusing results. Nevertheless, these results did not prevent the surge of dietary supplement use in well-developed areas. A lot of adults consider themselves as regular users (7). A survey conducted on health professionals aiming to find out if they recommend dietary supplements to patients they attend to indicate that 72% of physicians and 89% of nurses in the study group use supplements on a regular basis or occasionally. Also, 79% of these physicians and 82% of these nurses mentioned that they do recommend patients to incorporate supplements in their diet. The most typical response to why is that dietary supplements, in general, aim to improve overall health and well-being (8).

5. Doing Workouts Regularly

Working out is good for you in more ways than one (9). For one, it can be helpful in controlling weight. It prevents obesity and aids in maintaining or lowering your weight. If your goal is to lose weight, it is important to spend more calories than you consume. One other benefit of working out is its impact on cardiovascular health. The increase in blood flow provides more oxygen levels in different parts of your body. This can prevent an increase in high cholesterol, the development of coronary artery disease, and heart attack. Regular exercise also improves analytical skills and memory (10). Exercise helps the brain via direct and indirect methods. Exercising stimulates promote growth factors release which improves the health of brain cells and encourage the growth of new brain blood vessels. Also, it is a known mood stabilizer. Sleeping habits become better and stress and anxiety are greatly reduced if you hit the gym on a regular basis.

6. Removing Alcohol, Cigarettes, Coffee, and Other Food or Practices that Are Deemed Unhealthy

This seems like a no-brainer. Consuming foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats lead to a myriad of health issues. The same goes for excessive alcohol and cigarette use and too much intake of caffeine. Intake of alcohol of three or more drinks a day has the same effect as cigarette smoking on cardiovascular health (11). It might even potentiate each other. Moderate drinking does not usually exhibit the same risk factors. Dose seems to matter when it comes to the usage of both. It has been shown that the consumption of 3 to 14 alcoholic drinks in a week can lead to lower heart attack risks and prevention of other cardiovascular problems.

7. Recommended Usage of Colon Cleanses, Enemas, and Laxatives

Colon cleansing has become so popular for those who want to do a detox diet. It helps stimulate defecation and completely eliminate waste products. Usual preparations for colon cleanse include ingredients like aloe vera, flaxseed, senna, probiotics, fiber, coffee, sodium phosphate, or magnesium oxide (12). Benefits linked to colon cleansing is drastic weight loss, increase energy and concentration levels, weight loss, and better immune system. It can also prevent allergies, cardiovascular disorders, arthritis, asthma, and even cancer. The reason for these claims goes way back. The ancient Egyptians develop autointoxication strategies that were enhanced by Hippocrates. It is believed that the undigested material and toxins accumulate in the colon over a span of time. When these get absorbed, an array of different symptoms like headaches, weight gain, and depression are experienced (13). However, we know now that the liver is the detoxification. The colon is only designed to avoid the absorption of certain substances that needs to be eliminated.

The intensity and duration of detox diets are not the same. Below are some of the most popular types of detox dieting.

Three Most Common Types of Detox Diets

1. Juice or Smoothie Detox or Cleanse

Consuming liquid-only exclusively from 3 days to three weeks is probably the most popular of all detox diets. Generally done to lose weight, it also helps rid the body of toxins. This type of cleansing is very restrictive. Juicing only involves the juices of fruits and vegetables. It differs from blending which utilizes all the edible parts of vegetables and fruits such as fibrous portion and pulp or skin (14). Its benefits are said to be abundant:

  • Fruits and veggies contain plenty of vitamins and minerals. By drinking these juices, you increase the nutrients in your body.
  • Juices also fight inflammation while boosting the immune system
  • It keeps you energized
  • Juices are made to flush out toxins. Combinations of fruit and vegetable juices are being marketed for their magnified detoxification effects.
  • Juices provide enzymes that can facilitate a healthy digestive system

Unfortunately, there are risks to it such as:

  • Kidney disorders can stem out from drinking diluted juices
  • It may lead to a deceiving weight loss because the shed pounds are only temporary
  • Some juices might come from unpasteurized sources
  • If laxatives and other methods are used, excessive defecation can lead to nutrient loss
  • Hunger, dehydration, and weakness can be experienced by some people due to the lack of calories consumed

2. Liver Detox or Cleanse

Detox cleanses boosts the body-s ability to detoxify through better liver function. Granted this is very helpful, but incorporating food that can support healthy liver function is already good enough. There is no need to go the extra mile to formally detox. Liver detox involves the following methods (15):

  • Taking dietary or herbal supplements to remove toxins from the body like milk thistle.
  • Consuming on liver-friendly foods
  • Water or juice fasting
  • Avoiding certain foods
  • Using enemas to clean the gut

The thing is, a healthy liver can clean itself. And if it can’t do so, liver cleanses will not cut it. Seeking professional help is a must. Below are some health risks of liver cleanses:

  • Imbalanced nutrition
  • Risk of having intestinal damages due to enema insertion
  • Inadequate and unsafe for people with underlying medical problems

3. Colon Cleanse

Colon cleanses can promote major health benefits like surge in energy, toxins removal, improved liver function, weight loss, boosted immunity, better mood, and relief from bloating and cramps.

Both colon cleanses and colon hydrotherapy should be facilitated by a physician. Symptoms can be severe as it can lead to kidney and heart issues due to electrolyte imbalance, bacterial infection, and perforated bowels. People who have bowel problems might worsen their conditions. It is not necessary to do so as long as you consume a diet with a good amount of soluble and insoluble fiber. Colonic hygienists or hydrotherapists do not have medical degrees and the equipment and solutions used in the process are not considered intended for colon cleansing by FDA (16).

Possible Risks Involved

Prior to starting any kind of detox, it is very important to consider possible side effects.

Severe Calorie Restriction

As mentioned in passing earlier, most detox diets include fasting or severe calorie restriction. Short-term fasting and limited calorie intake may cause irritability, fatigue, and bad breath. Prolonged fasting may result in electrolyte imbalance and vitamin, mineral, and energy deficiencies. In severe cases, this can be fatal (17).

Furthermore, colon cleansing techniques may also lead to nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramping, and dehydration (18).

Overdosing

Some diets may increase people’s risk of overdosing on supplements, diuretics, laxatives, and even water. Since regulation and monitoring is not well established in the detox business, most products have inaccurate labels. This may cause serious health consequences and even death (19).

At-Risk Groups

Certain group of people should do any detox or calorie-restricting programs without the approval and supervision of a physician. At-risk groups include children, adolescents, the elderly, and pregnant or lactating women. People who are malnourished and diagnosed with diabetes or eating disorders should be very careful too.

What Are Their Effects on Weight Loss?

Not a lot of studies can prove that detoxing can impact weight loss. It may have an effect on the weighing scale because of reduced carb stores and excessive fluid, but your fat percentage remains the same. Once you return to your regular diet, you will notice yourself putting on weight again.

However, a study conducted in Korean women who are overweight proved the effects of the lemon detox diet (20). They were only allowed to consume organic maple syrup or palm syrups with lemon juice for a week. Body mass index, fat percentage, waist circumference, insulin resistance, markers of inflammation, leptin levels, and body weight were reduced.

Detox diets are bound to cause weight loss if you do a restricted calorie intake. Unfortunately, it is not sustainable and can lead to health problems if done for a long time.

Bottom Line

A lot of people feel more energized and laser-focused after detoxifying. However, these feelings might have more to do with the removal of unhealthy components in the diet – which agrees with a normal healthy diet. There is an increase of vitamins and minerals in the system which is a good thing but during the detox period, you will be down in a whirlpool of emotions and fatigue.

Detox diets aim to remove the toxins in the body that we get from our diet, products that we use, and air that we breathe in. Food restriction, fasting, and other methods can be used. All of these may improve some avenues of health. Unfortunately, overall it can be more harmful than helpful.

References

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