Do Detox Diets Work? Are They Safe?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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EVILCECIL 5/12/2021
Gotta detox from sugar. Report
DIVAGLOW 4/19/2021
This is good information to think about. Thanks! Report
CKEYES1 4/8/2021
No thanks Report
JUDY1676 3/12/2021
Thanks Report
EVILCECIL 3/12/2021
Good to know. Thx Report
FERRETLOVER1 2/13/2021
I have no interest in doing a detox. Report
DEE107 10/17/2020
thanks Report
Thanks Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Good info. Report
Great article! Thanks for sharing! Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Excellent article. Good need-to-know information! Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
I asked my Dr. about these and he does not advise them at all. Report
I generally distrust de-toxing, ketosis, and other gimmick diets. The human body is a magnificent machine that will service itself for the most part and de-toxing and similar strategies have the primary benefit of fattening the wallets of their promoters whether you are thinned or not! Report
great information Report
I have always felt that detoxing and cleansing and whatever other name the currently popular gurus will come up with were hooey and that they could cause more long term harm that good. I have an acquaintance who goes on a cleanse fortnightly (every two weeks) I haven't noticed any real change but she is oh so self-righteous when she declines and offer of food and drink exclaiming "We're on a cleanse" I guess it makes her feel self satisfied so there is some value emotionally if not health wise. Report
Great article thanks for sharing Report
interesting article Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Don't see much sense in detoxing. Better to stick to balanced low carb diet. Report
Thanks Report
I wrote an extensive comment which Spark People rejected because it had an emoticon in it! Bleeh! Report
The big question is: exactly which toxins do these products eliminate? If you read critically, they never specify. This is because if they do, suddenly they're making a medical claim and have to back it up with actual science. By being deliberately vague, these snake oil salespeople can make medical-sounding claims without ever actually proving their product does anything. If you have a liver and kidneys, your body will remove toxins just fine. If not, see your doctor. These "detox" diets are utter BS, and will do nothing but empty your wallet. Report
Good information! Report
Thanks for the article. I never thought "detoxing" was a good idea. Clean foods sound like a better way. Report
wafgtik8o'9 Report

Thank you for this nice post.I think Should I Eat Breakfast When I'm Not Hungry Should I eat breakfast when I'm not hungry. Common Breakfast Questions Answered I'm not hungry in the morning but hungry at night, why? Hormone imbalances, faulty eating patterns, poor sleep. Should i eat even if i'm not hungry . Report
In the past 6 weeks I have taken 4 courses on nutrition and 2 on diets. They say Detox diets are bad for you and the body will do the Detox for you if it needs to. Report
Clearly, this author doesn't know how to use EBSCOHost, or they wouldn't be claiming that "There are no published, peer-reviewed, or well-designed research studies on detoxing that indicate any health benefit or weight loss," because there are. (And it took me all of 3 minutes to find a half-dozen.) But this author assumes we're like her, and are incapable of doing our own research. We're not. (At least I'm not, and if the rest of you need help finding REAL research on this, visit your local library -- they'll be more than happy to help.) Think for yourself, Sparkers, and don't trust other people to think for you... especially when they're wrong. Telling people research doesn't exist, doesn't make the research not exist.
Do your own research. Think for yourself. That's the only way you'll learn.
Thanks for writing this. I'm so relieved that SP is cutting through all of this detox mania lately. Completely agree with JEMLOVA29 - It IS frustrating when people push detoxing on others. I'm watching my sugar intake and drinking water lately. Report
I work at a medical clinic in Tampa and a lot of our patients come to us for weight loss. The very first thing we do for every patient (not just the weight loss ones) is to put them on a short 1 week detox regimen. We ask them to avoid carbs but do not get too restrictive. This helps to cleanse the body and allow it to function better in general. For many, this alone will allow them to begin loosing weight like they previously couldn't.

Here is the kicker though... You DO NOT want to stay on a detox diet or supplement for an extended period of time!!!

This will do more harm than good as it will strain the body and put unneeded stress on your immune system. Detoxification is a GREAT way to start a diet or begin a health cleanse but it is not something you want to overdo. We also recommend taking probiotic supplements when you are finished detoxing because flushing the body will lower both the good and bad bacteria found in your stomach & GI tract. Probiotics will help to replace some of the good bacteria and help to boost your immune system. You can learn more about probiotics at

Conclusion: A short detox will be beneficial for loosing weight but should not be overdone. Use probiotics afterwards to help restore body and boost immune system. You can view our site to learn more about our beliefs on detox (
etoxification/) and weight management (
eight-loss/). Hope this helps some of you out there! : ) Report
Very interesting article. Thanks Spark! Report
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. Report
Great article.

Sharon Report
Great blog, Becky! I really appreciate your comments on this topic and I wholeheartedly agree. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
Well..i never commented on a sparker's blog 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.

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 didn’t do it specifically as a detox thing, more of a way to reset my relationship with food. I didn’t lose a ton of weight (which you shouldn’t do in two weeks anyway), but I now have a much healthier approach to what I put in my body. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report