Detox diets have become popular on social media. Their advocates claim you can get rid of toxins and slim down in a natural way, without too much hassle. Their popularity may encourage you to give these diets a chance. But before you do so it’s useful to learn a thing or two about them. Do detox diets work? The answer to this question is in the article below. Read on to see whether and how they could work and which approach may be useful.
What is A Detox Diet?
The term “detox diet” is used frequently today, but what does it actually represent? Detox diet refers to short-term dietary intervention whose main objective is to eliminate toxins from the body. The main premise here is that the accumulation of toxins poses a threat to our health, increases the risk of diseases, and causes weight gain. By flushing out the toxins, these diets jumpstart your “system” and help it function more effectively, they claim.
A detox diet is not a single diet or eating program. Nowadays, a wide range of detox diets is available and they are usually promoted online. Social media platforms are the fertile ground for detox diets. Many of them have no clear scientific background and their advocates tend to be social media influencers. Not all diets are equal, though. Different approaches are available and may have a different impact on a person’s weight and overall health.
How Do Detox Diets Work?
Detox diets revolve around flushing toxins out of the body, as mentioned above. These diets tend to last anywhere from one day up to a month. In most cases detox diets revolve around fasting for a short period of time, consuming only fruits and vegetables, and cutting out wheat and dairy foods. Many detox diets involve intake of a limited range of foods, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and advocate the intake of detox solutions in the form of pills, teas, and other products (1).
Advocates of detox diets claim the strict diet program aims to rest the organs by fasting and stimulate the liver to get rid of toxins. They claim detox diets could promote the elimination of toxins through sweat, urine, and feces. Detox diet programs are dubbed to improve blood circulation and supply the body with healthy nutrients.
Do Detox Diets Work?
The effectiveness of detox diets is a controversial subject. Many advocates and fans of detox diets claim they do experience benefits such as more energy. That being said, many dietitians claim the whole idea of detoxification (detox) is nonsense and unless you have a serious medical condition the body is perfectly capable of removing toxins on its own. The human body constantly filters out, breaks down and eliminates toxins and waste products ranging from medications to alcohol, dead cells, bacteria, chemicals from pollution, and products of digestion. Several organs take part in the body’s detox process including the liver, skin, gut, and kidneys. Detox products, which have become a major component of detox diets, are not magical solutions that replace the functionality of the body’s very own detox system.
The reality is that we cannot fully embrace detox diets because the evidence on this subject is limited. At the same time, we cannot dismiss them because in the near future we can expect a lot more research about them and it may show potential benefits.
What Does the Current Evidence Say?
As mentioned above, evidence on this subject is scarce. Studies that involve human subjects have a small sample size and short-term duration.
One human study was published in the June 2020 edition of the journal Nutrition and Metabolism and it involved 45 women. Thirty women were assigned to the Wellnessup diet (WD) and calorie-restricted diet group while others were in the control group.
Despite the short-term nature of the study, women from the detox diet group had lower levels of heavy metals such as nickel, lead, uranium, rhodium, gallium, tin, tungsten, and silver in their body than counterparts from the control group. However, women who ate a calorie-restricted diet lost more weight than ladies from the control group and subjects who had a detox diet. Scientists concluded detox diet might have several beneficial effects and safety like body fat reduction and could improve detox through caloric restriction. But that being said, a detox diet wasn’t more successful than a calorie-restriction diet at reducing body fat levels (2). Scientists emphasized the importance of further research on this subject.
What we can learn from this study is that a detox diet could be helpful, but it is not more effective than a “regular” approach to weight loss in the form of caloric restriction.
A different study, published in Nutrition Research, involved 84 overweight Korean women and aimed to examine the effects of lemon detox diet. This particular diet is very restrictive and requires taking a mixture of organic palm or maple syrup and lemon juice for seven days. The findings showed lemon detox diet significantly lowered BMI, body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, body fat percentage, markers of inflammation, waist circumference, leptin levels, and insulin resistance (3).
NOTE: such a strict dietary program is bound to promote weight loss, but this diet pattern is not sustainable meaning you risk regaining weight afterward.
A review of studies on this subject reported very little evidence supports the use of detox diets. It also revealed the studies on detox diets are hampered by flawed methodologies and small sample sizes (4). For instance, a study from the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine included 34 subjects who were supposed to follow a detox or cleanse diet by eliminating consumption of certain foods. The self-reported outcomes were improvements in cravings for sweet/salty foods, giving in to cravings, energy levels, and sleep quality. However, there were no significant differences in terms of weight satisfaction and overall health among subjects before and after the cleanse diet (5).
Why Do Detox Diets Work for Some People?
Advocates and fans of detox diets often claim they do experience benefits and it’s impossible not to wonder why that happens. The potential benefits of a detox diet could stem from the strict program that requires a person to avoid consuming processed foods with solid fats and added sugar. Just by avoiding these foods for a while, you can feel better and more energetic (6). But, truth be told, you don’t have to follow a strict detox program to decide to lower intake of highly processed foods.
Many diets involve drinking juices for a few days. Under these circumstances, you can lose a few pounds. It’s easy to consider a detox diet effective when that happens.
Some detox diets may exhibit effects similar to short-term intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is a popular practice today; it involves cycles between periods of fasting and eating (7). Studies show short-term fasting has the potential to improve several disease markers in people including leptin and insulin sensitivity (8, 9). Basically, short-term intermittent fasting could help induce rapid weight loss and improve several aspects of our health.
These Benefits Do Not Apply to Everyone
While certain aspects of detox diets such as short-term intermittent fasting could have certain benefits, they do not apply to everyone. For example, studies evaluating the effects of a 48-hour fast or calorie restriction diet in women found the eating approach contributed to weight loss but increased stress levels. In fact, one of the studies pointed out dieting could be disastrous to the psychological wellbeing and biological functioning of a person (10, 11).
You see, crash dieting and restrictive eating patterns can be a stressful experience. As you suddenly stop eating anything for eight to 12 hours or avoid solid foods and do juicing, the body starts “fighting” with itself. You may experience intense cravings and extreme hunger. Besides physical impact, these eating approaches can also act on your mental health and contribute to stress.
What Can We Determine About the Effectiveness of Detox Diets?
Most studies on the topic of detox diets focused on small sample sizes and short-term effects. A lot more research is necessary, especially to measure long-term outcomes in large sample sizes. Current evidence demonstrates detox diets could have some beneficial effects, but they could also increase stress levels and may not provide better weight loss effects than other strategies such as limiting calorie intake.
What is the Best Detox Diet?
Nowadays, people have the option to do a detox diet in many ways. It would be impossible to choose the “best one” due to insufficient evidence regarding their effectiveness. One thing you shouldn’t do is follow fad diets that are restrictive and tend to do more harm than good. If you want to try a detox diet anyway, there’s a way to do it without having to adhere to a strict protocol for a while. These tips and strategies can help you out (12):
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables because the Western diet focuses primarily on carbs and unhealthy fats. For a healthy detox diet endeavor, you may want to up the intake of fruits and vegetables. But avoid focusing on one type of the produce only. Instead, opt for different colors such as green, red, purple. Different fruits and vegetables and the colors of produce supply the body with different antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
- Avoid added sweeteners: Americans tend to overload on sugar and consume up to 20 teaspoons a day. Strive to limit or avoid intake of added sweeteners. For instance, you may want to stay away from sweetened yogurt, granola bars, cereals, cookies, soda, some baked goods, and ice cream. Or you may want to opt for low-sugar alternatives and natural sweeteners.
- Take care of your gut: The health of your gut is crucial for the immune system and general wellbeing. Many advocates of detox diets often recommend various products like teas to cleanse the gut and improve its effectiveness. There is no evidence these cleanses work. Instead, you can take care of your gut in a healthy way through a well-balanced diet and intake of probiotics and prebiotics. Prunes, pulses, and pears can help your gut as well. Prunes maintain good digestive health and exhibit favorable effects on bacteria in the gut. Pulses strengthen the gut barrier while pears are abundant in prebiotic fiber.
- Limit or avoid alcohol intake: The cornerstone of every detox diet, and their most positive aspect, is the avoidance of alcohol. Alcohol tends to lower your inhibitions and may increase consumption of unhealthy foods.
- Consume hydrating foods: Your body needs water to function properly. One way to hydrate the body is to up the intake of foods high in water content such as fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups.
- Avoid snacks: They tend to be high in salt or sugar and calorie content. Most of us are included to believe a small snack can do no harm, but that’s not quite correct. Strive to avoid snacking or opt for healthier alternatives such as apple slices and carrot sticks.
Your detox diet approach should also include the following (13):
- Get enough sleep
- Drink more water (but not flavored water due to added sugars)
- Reduce salt intake
- Exercise regularly
- Flavor dishes with cilantro which enhances exertion of certain toxins
- Opt for natural body care products that don’t contain potentially harmful chemicals
Things to Know Before You Start A Detox Diet
Before you start a detox diet you need to consult your doctor. This is particularly important if you have a health problem and are taking medications. Your doctor will explain whether you could benefit from these changes or not.
If you plan to adhere to a specific detox diet you need to keep in mind it may involve severe calorie restriction. In this case, you risk experiencing irritability, fatigue, and bad breath.
Detox diets that require fasting for long-term periods may also harm your health. Long-term fasting can cause energy, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies as well as an imbalance of electrolytes (14).
Colon cleansing products and methods, which are integral components of some detox diets, may induce side effects such as bloating, dehydration, cramps, nausea, and vomiting (15).
Even though a common detox diet practice is to opt for juicing as a meal replacement for a certain period of time, you should strive to avoid that method. Juices are okay and could be healthy for you, but you still need to consume whole foods.
Detox diets have become popular worldwide. They are dubbed effective for the elimination of toxins and other health benefits such as weight loss. Nutritionists and dietitians largely disagree explaining our body is perfectly capable of detoxing itself unless a person has some serious health problems. Evidence regarding the effectiveness of detox diets is scarce and most studies analyzed short-term effects in a small sample size. More research on this subject is necessary. Detox diets could provide some short-term benefits, but may also induce side effects. Instead of following a specific detox diet, you may benefit more from modifying your lifestyle and regular diet.