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Do Detox Diets Work? Are They Safe?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/8/2013 12:00 PM   :  40 comments   :  92,096 Views

Spring is right around the corner, and as I glance around my home, I see that a thorough cleaning is in order.  Dust bunnies are multiplying under my bed, spider webs are glistening on my chandelier, and a layer of dust has settled on all places too difficult to comfortably reach. 

As I strategically plan my upcoming cleaning project, I start to wonder if my body is also in need of a cleaning, so to speak. 

Like many of you, I tend to go into hibernation mode during the winter months.  With less daylight hours and physical work to do outside, along with an influx of sugary treats and comfort foods, my body has been insulated by an added layer of fat. I'm surely not alone in feeling this way, judging from the number of questions we field on the site about detox diets this time of year.

While the idea of cleaning out harmful toxins in your body or removing body fat quickly may sound tempting and even beneficial, is a detox the answer?

What is a detox? 
Around since the 1970s, the Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, is probably the most popular detox diet.  Followers of this detox spend 10 days drinking a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper.  Side effects include tiredness, irritability, hot bowel movements, and headaches, but those are touted as signs of the beneficial detoxification process. Other detox programs can last for several days to weeks and involve drinking little more than fruit and vegetable juices. Still other programs involve drinking water and consuming no food for several days at a time.

But does the body need detoxification? 
If you've been exposed to high amounts of heavy metals, poisons, or radiation, you might require an actual medical detoxification.  However, typical day-to-day living does not bring about a need to detox with concoctions and laxatives.  The body is perfectly capable of cleaning itself.  Think about all your wonderfully complex body systems involved in the removal of toxins: your circulatory (blood) system, respiratory (lungs) system, urinary (kidneys) system, and digestive (liver and intestines) system. It makes no sense that a little lemon juice, vegetable juice, or gut rest is actually going to make a difference in your health.  There are no published, peer-reviewed, or well-designed research studies on detoxing that indicate any health benefit or weight loss.  

Detoxing and weight loss
Of course you will usually lose weight when following a detox program.  The diet is very restrictive, and the daily calorie intake is much less than what you would typically consume.  A person could lose several pounds weekly while detoxing.  Some of the weight will be body fat, but most will be water loss and some muscle tissue loss.  Since the detoxer has not learned to change his or her eating habits and food environment, the weight will quickly be regained.  Overall, there is no sustainable benefit—and the loss of muscle mass due to fast weight loss is harmful.

Detoxing and increased energy
Many people who "detox" report a decrease in food cravings, increased energy, and a feeling of overall well-being.  "What’s up with that?" you might be asking.
  • Realize that high-sugar, high-fat foods do increase food cravings--think cookies, pastries, and doughnuts.  These foods lead to surges and rapid drops in blood sugar. Eliminating these foods alone can bring about a decrease in food cravings and improve energy levels.
     
  • Next, factor in the psychological impact of a detox plan.  If someone has been struggling with food control issues and the food has been winning, sticking to a very restrictive detox plan can give that person the feeling that he or she is once again in control.  Jumping on the scale after a few days and seeing a five-pound weight loss adds to the mental boost.  The mind is very powerful: If you think the treatment will work, it sometimes does. Believing that lemon juice and cayenne pepper are the magic potion for weight loss, energy, and vitality can sometimes make a person feel better.  This is called the placebo effect, and it is why good scientific studies use a double blind control method—neither the subject nor the researcher knows who is receiving the placebo or the actual treatment.
Detoxing dangers
If you're a healthy adult, following a detox program for a few days is probably not going to put you in danger.  However, if you have a medical condition or take certain medications, a detox program could be dangerous or even deadly. If you are determined to give detox a try, talk to your doctor first.

How do I plan to spring clean my body--and how can you do the same?


Think about how you spring clean your house: Do you shove everything under the bed and in closets until winter or pitch it all in the garbage? No way. You roll up your sleeves and put in the work to declutter, clean, and organize. I'm applying the same techniques to my spring cleaning for my body--and so should you. (Not to mention, spring cleaning can also help you burn some additional calories!)

I definitely do not spring clean with a detox!  Instead, I have a simple, 2-step plan that will work for anyone:
  • Step One:  Pitch and purge all those sugar-laden foods that have crept back into your life by using the SparkPeople’s Breaking Your Sugar Addiction Plan:  This 4-week challenge helps stop sugar cravings. 
  • Step Two:  Make over my meals and snacks by giving your body what it really needs each and every day with Super Foods.
So what do you say? Are you ready to spring clean your body the healthy way?
 


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Comments

  • 40
    Very interesting article. Thanks Spark! - 4/9/2013   10:19:25 PM
  • 39
    I think you should ask your primary care giver ....don`t ever follow SP advice or any "miracle" cure/drug/or whatever ad...Ask questions about all of this to some one with knowledge! These may be licensed dietitians, but they have not examined you! and know nothing about your health. - 3/20/2013   11:46:55 AM
  • 38
    Great article.

    Sharon - 3/16/2013   1:39:53 PM
  • 37
    Great blog, Becky! I really appreciate your comments on this topic and I wholeheartedly agree. - 3/13/2013   9:19:48 PM
  • JEANNIEGIGI
    36
    While I understand that detox diets are often over used for quick and lazy weight loss I do not agree that detox is always a bad idea. I have thyroid issues - there is no sugar in my house - I only eat whole foods and cook all my meals at home - outside of a once or twice a month lunch with a friend when I continue to choose the healthy option always. I can struggle with weight gain. I will "detox" occasionally for a boost and maybe it is all in my head but it shows up on my scale and I continue to exercise to maintain muscle mass. Maybe I'm unique but I don't think so. I think a balanced approach is best and since I am 49 and have an under active thyroid I know that the calories in calories out formula is not the norm for a large percentage of the population. I try to keep an open mind and for now I will continue to detox responsibly once in awhile. - 3/13/2013   5:45:36 PM
  • 35
    For once, I agree with Ms. Hand. The primary toxin we need to purge from our system is sugar. And we do that by simply not eating it.
    I would also add wheat to the list of potential toxins.
    Those of you who felt better after a purge or fast were probably experiencing the health benefits of a sugar-free, wheat-free diet. - 3/13/2013   6:32:32 AM
  • 34
    I would voice my opinion on ill-researched writings, but I see it's already been said. I, for one, would LOVE to see SP articles written from a more natural lifestyle perspective than a conventional medicine perspective. - 3/12/2013   10:33:31 PM
  • 33
    And once again, another article that seems to not fully research the subject they are speaking about. Of course, SP must follow conventional dietary recommendations instead of being willing to consider/research what else is out there. - 3/12/2013   12:39:11 PM
  • CHROMEDOMETITAN
    32
    My experience: I made the dietary changes recommended in this article, some 15 years ago. I reached my goal weight and continued my 5-6-7 day a week athletic regimen. Then I did the Master Cleanse. I took it as a challenge and completed the 10 days I had planned. I have never felt more clean, rejuvenated and pure.
    Fasting or "cleansing" is not a new idea, it has been around for thousands of years. It is only in the last 100 or so that doctors, as other people, no longer fast. The results have been less than stellar. Doctors abandoned treating the patient and are treating individual symptoms with chemicals that introduce new problems.
    If feeling clean and pure appeals to you, spend the $5 and but the Master Cleanse book, commit, and do it. Good luck, and enjoy the benefits! - 3/12/2013   11:51:21 AM
  • LINDAGUILLET
    31
    I'm not big on the detox thing I think we just need to get back on track and watch what we feed our bodies. I don't find being fatigued, headaches, and feeling sluggish boosts me. I find that just a great cardio workout brings me back to smiling and feeling better about myself. Nothing greater than sweating those toxins out of the body and drinking plenty of water to replenish, your body will thank you. - 3/12/2013   11:46:44 AM
  • SHIRDHI
    30
    Well..i never commented on a sparker's blog before...you did make me do it.

    Let me ask you, you have a wonderful car, you re-fuel before the tank is nearly empty and yet refuse to do oil changes and maintenance? will you do that? you might ask me, am i out of my mind, those are required maintenance for the car to last as long as it can.

    Simply put detoxing is just the same, its not everyday fuel, but a regulae maintenance kind of thing. I am not sure about how different detox diets work, but simple water fast for a day can give your internal organs much deserved rest.And a lot of cultures cleverly put it in religion to make sure people follow it.

    Nowadays, when google has become primary source of information , some googling and everyone things they know it all, no offense intended. Our body parts are perfectly capable, so if your legs are capable of making you stand, can you stand 24 hours a day, they get tired i suppose, not doing what they were intended to do!!!

    I am someone who has gained tremendously by detox diet, to be precise water fast and would recommend to you anyone..why anyone, you and when you are done, you can write a blog about how useless or useful it is...theory can be very very different from practical.

    - 3/12/2013   11:35:45 AM
  • ASININE58
    29
    This article is a little harsh on detox diets since it only focuses on ones that are extreme. I did a great cleanse under the guidance of my friend who is a certified health coach. I followed a gluten free, vegan diet with no sugar, alcohol or caffeine for about two weeks. I was never hungry and discovered so many new kinds of foods. I didnít do it specifically as a detox thing, more of a way to reset my relationship with food. I didnít lose a ton of weight (which you shouldnít do in two weeks anyway), but I now have a much healthier approach to what I put in my body. - 3/12/2013   10:18:56 AM
  • 28
    This makes very logical sense and its a simple way to change bad food habits. I'm going to implement these changes into my meal plans. - 3/12/2013   9:49:03 AM
  • MGATES4
    27
    Thanks for the article, I would have to say I agree. In addition though, I can't honestly say I've done a lot of research on this, I mostly eat seasonally for flavor and cost benefits, but I do believe there's something to it. If you do eat (mostly) seasonally, you are naturally switching from the heavier roots, tubers and winter squashes to the lighter and fresher baby greens, sprouts, asparagus, sweet peas, rhubarb etc...I wonder if that's as much of a natural "detox" as your body needs? Do you have access to any research to support that? Thanks! - 3/12/2013   7:57:51 AM
  • BOBBIMULLINS
    26
    Detox means many things to many people, but has been used throughout the ages for health promotion. Spring is the time of year most associated with detox because nature actually provides us with cleansing and purifying foods like dandelions and nettles. I lead dietary detox groups that teach people about the body's detoxification system. I give guidelines to follow in customizing a their own diet that works for them. It relies on foods that support the 2 phases and 6 pathways of detoxification and the elimination system... but gently. It is never pushed on anyone. The most resistance I hear from people is that they've done a harsh detox in the past or know someone who did. Once they see that natural foods can support detox, they lose the fear. My detoxes are educational and can be as delicious as you want them to be. They teach people how to eat healthier, which is our goal here anyway! - 3/12/2013   7:54:41 AM
  • LUBEDOC
    25
    Hi, I get really frustrated that people jump to conclusions regarding a detox program. I have been on the Master Cleanse now for 43 days today and I got to tell you that I feel absolutely great. I really feel like a million bucks. Do your own research good and bad then make your own decision as whether it's for you or not. You may end up being very surprised. You can't believe everything that people say, I agree it's not for everyone but just because others may have had issues or were unable to do it for one reason or another doesn't mean that the same thing will happen to you. Remember we are all different. I have done it several times with the same result. I FEEL GREAT after being on it for a while. (anywhere from 15-now 43 days) This is something that Money can't buy. I usually agree with Spark People but in this case based on my own experience I disagree. Again look at the good the bad and the ugly, but make your own decision based on how you feel about it and or how it works for you. Something else to consider is that the directions need to be followed correctly to avoid some of the side effects described by others. (some side effects will happen, but will also pass quickly) For me this program is a must do anywhere between 1-2 times per year. While being on this cleanse I have discovered the reasons I over eat to begin with and have learnt how to correct these issues. That's big for me. It has reset my taste buds to crave healthier foods which I have been eating for some time now. I have lost 77 lbs due to the changes I've made and I credit the master cleanse for my progress. Again Just be fair and make your own decisions on your life and what works best for you, your opinion and how you feel is the only things that counts. Please use the above info constructively. Thanks for reading my post. - 3/12/2013   2:36:52 AM
  • 24
    Good information - worth re-reading! I detoxed from sugar (and other whites) a couple of years ago. Felt so much better - it's time to get back on track. TU for the reminders. - 3/10/2013   10:27:50 AM
  • MZNAYLUV
    23
    I am trying to detox from sugar. - 3/9/2013   3:41:31 PM
  • 22
    my mom did that master cleanse. for like a day. she was planning to do it the full term but after one day the taste of the drink made her sick. it was gross. she made me try a sip so i knew what it was and i almost threw up. - 3/9/2013   2:16:26 PM
  • 21
    I am on a detox put on it specifically by my MD. It is the best thing I have ever done. Not all cleanses are the same. Her's is working. It feels like the MS symptoms I have are leaving. My legs feel stronger, my body is getting more toned, I have ENERGY for the first time ever. I don't feel like sleeping all the time, I wake up alert, ready for the day. My cog fog is lifting, my hormones are balancing, my skin looks younger, my eyes aren't droopy, my eyes sparkle. It's a simple detox that actually works. I wasted money doing other ones. She knows her stuff. If you want more info. email me.

    She found I had heavy metal toxicity, HGH levels of a 100 year old, adrenals were functioning poorly, thyroid issues, and more. No other MD had tested me for these issues.

    Her program is detoxing the stuff out of my body, balancing my hormones, have cleared out the cog fog, I am loosing inches as my hormones are balancing out.

    She does free phone consults. She is a MD, PhD who specializes in anti-aging medicine. She trained at UCSF and other places. Gosh, I feel like she is kind of like a Dr. House. She found the root issues of my health problems and is treating the cause NATURALLY. I am off of the Rx. that was creating more health issues.

    I look so much younger and alert. My blog has photos starting in November. She made me a believer in detoxing, cleansing, hormone balancing, and nourishing. - 3/9/2013   10:45:04 AM
  • QUEEN3510VA
    20
    Thanks for the information. - 3/9/2013   10:19:58 AM
  • 19
    I was one of those kids who was lined up with brother and cousins to have dose of Cod liver oil given to us poor families and tortured us kids. BUT I was rarely sick and we had very little to buy good food. My reality is it kept me healthy. But it was not a detox since that oil is high in great nutrients, good job Grandmother. Pat in Maine. - 3/9/2013   9:55:56 AM
  • 18
    I have never tried a detox and have no plans for it. I believe my body can handle itself when it comes to "cleansing". I laugh to myself when I read some of the detox stories. It brings to mind the olden days when Ma lined up the kids and gave them all a dose of cod liver oil or castor oil whether they needed it or not :) - 3/9/2013   9:24:02 AM
  • 17
    This is timely and helpful for me - I am not "detoxing" per se but considering a wheat-free lifestyle. So I haven't had pasta/bread/flour etc. for a few days and I have not had any binges or cravings. I feel pretty good about my plan and happy to have some control. However - is it really due to the wheat? Or is it simply all the other stuff mentioned in the "increased energy" section (sugar-filled goodies) that I haven't been eating that are helping out? Will continue the experiment to find out. - 3/9/2013   9:20:19 AM
  • 16
    Just yesterday on the Dr.Oz show, Dr. Mark Hyman, talked about the importance of following a very smart, healthy, 3 day detox, which Dr. Oz did himself. It was a total of 1200 calories for the day, consumed in 4 smoothie type shakes that you make in the blender, along with a cup of green tea and lemon. He did stress, however, that it is important to continue on with a clean healthy diet after the 3 days, and not to revert back to unhealthy processed foods. There were no gimmick ingredients. Everything was found right in your grocery store. The 3 day detox plan is on droz.com - 3/9/2013   9:03:47 AM
  • 15
    Whether you believe in doing a "detox cleanse" or not is up to the individual person as many people find it works for them. I follow Dr. Mercola's advice on his web site and he recommends them. But, that is my personal decision. Last November my husband who is 66 had his colon rupture from an abcess and had to have emergency surgery & deal with a colostomy for three months before having a second surgery to reattach his intestines. He has NEVER believed in my "stupid cleansings" that I do, but that is all well with me. When I had my colonoscopy screening done and I'm 63, the doctor said "You sure have a beautiful looking colon with smooth walls." Right. So, I'll take my "stupid detox cleansing" and let everyone else to their own decisions. - 3/9/2013   8:24:14 AM
  • 14
    I planned a 2 day cleanse diet before starting with my Spark People program. It seemed a good idea at the moment, eating only fruit, raw vegetables, water and tea. No salt, no cooked nothing, no caffeine, just for a few days. I started OK, but as the day passed I was REALLY hungry and ended up eating 2 pancakes the first day, and a roll full of cheese and nuts the second day. Now that I am taking 1500 calories everyday I don't feel hungry and I don't have the need for these things, so I feel more clean and better than I did in that 2 day fruit experience. - 3/9/2013   7:23:40 AM
  • CHERYLHURT
    13
    I went on an expensive de-tox regime once and all it did was drain a lot of money...no health improvement at all.. - 3/9/2013   7:06:44 AM
  • 12
    I am glad to see you address Detox Diets, because, one always does wonder. I have problems with IBS and with what I go through, I am generally watchful of what I eat. However, sometimes things get to be to much for my stomach, and all I can do is the old rice, apple juice, toast, etc. It is almost like many episodes of fasting (or near to) and I know it does nothing for me, include make me lose weight. - 3/9/2013   5:00:25 AM
  • 11
    Great article. I'm amazed at the people who believe in "detoxing" works and I'm amazed that companies and organizations still push it. Very sad. - 3/9/2013   2:39:38 AM
  • 10
    I always have to laugh when I see an ad for a product that says you have decayed fecal matter clinging to the walls of your colon...and I think that's a bunch of crap (pun intended)! The only detoxing I did was for my colonoscopy...there wasn't anything clinging to the walls of my colon that day! - 3/9/2013   2:08:09 AM
  • 9
    You can't "detox" or "cleanse" your body in t hat way. Your body isn't a toilet, and it can't be flushed. There is absolutely NO scientific evidence of any kind that anything you put in your body can flush anything from your liver. Your body already does a fine job detoxing itself, and it doesn't need help. Your liver and kidneys are already designed to remove toxins. That's what they do!

    You can't remove any "bad elements" from your body. It's not about weightloss, it's about snake oil and bad science. - 3/9/2013   12:01:53 AM
  • 8
    Great blog!!! I feel the same way about these whey shakes people are existing on. Two couples who are friends of ours use these whey drinks for the first two meals of the day then eat a normal meal for dinner.
    Do you think it is a coincidence that the four of them have been very ill this winter - seeming to catch everything that comes around while DH and I who eat three healthy meals a day have not had so much as a sniffle this winter. We will stick to our abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and some meats for three meals a day!!! - 3/8/2013   9:50:08 PM
  • 7
    Great Blog! Thanks for sharing. I totally agree. - 3/8/2013   6:07:04 PM
  • 6
    I agree with this article. I am now looking to clean out the SUGAR!!! It always nice to be reminded and encouraged. Thanks!! - 3/8/2013   4:11:46 PM
  • WORKINONIT123
    5
    I agree with the author totally. I equate the master cleanse with throwing out all the furniture, rugs, curtains, etc when spring cleaning, rather than just cleaning them. I agree that a better idea is just taking a look at the bad foods we have let slip back into our diet and cleaning them out. - 3/8/2013   3:04:54 PM
  • RACEWELLWON
    4
    I still drink warm water with fesh lemon , a touch of cayenne pepper and honey , when I awake and before I go to sleep everyday . I do eat healthy during the day , while I do this cleanse with plenty of clean water. The point to this cleanse is to remove the bile from your liver and kidneys not to be used as a sole tool for weight loss. This is where many people become confused . The point of the cleanse is to rid the body of bad elements so the enzymes can process food correctly . - 3/8/2013   2:18:14 PM
  • 3
    On the efficiency of a detox... the answer is revealed in min. 6 of this part, but the whole experiment is described in the previous parts.
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzAw0MltDso

    Watch before you undergo any unnecessary discomfort :P - 3/8/2013   2:08:48 PM
  • 2
    Thanks for the great article. I have been adding the benefits of juicing to my everyday routine lately and I feel much healthier. During the first three days of juicing I did it twice daily followed by a healthy salad with chicken or salmon for dinner and had an apple or celery sticks with Nutzo Omega-3 Butter for my snacks. I now juice once per day with kale, spinach, apples, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli and other healthy fruits & veggies so that I get a juice with no added sugar or salt that's packed with nutrition. It also helps my tummy because I have a hard time digesting broccoli. I think if you 'juice' in moderation instead of 'detoxing' with lemon juice and cayenne it's going to be much more beneficial and my calorie count was still about 1200 the 1st 3 days and now I am back to 1400-1500 and still losing weight with two healthy meals per day along with my one freshly made juice, water and exercise. :-) - 3/8/2013   2:01:07 PM
  • 1
    Thank you for such a smartly written blog.

    I find it so frustrating when people I know are constantly pushing others into detoxing when in reality it seems to not be a very healthy thing to do. I received the same advice on detoxing from my doctor (whom I believe to be brilliant and genuinely compassionate) as I received from my Naturalist... The only detox your body wants and needs is water! If you want to detox, drinking plenty of clean water will actually clean you out better than any wives tale remedy. I am so happy to read this article because so many things we see online tell us to do the opposite. Great job! - 3/8/2013   12:14:35 PM

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