Detoxes & Cleanses: What Are They and Do They Work?

Cleanses and detoxification diets may not be as healthy as they seem

(RxWiki News) Cleanses and detox diets may sound healthy, but do they really work?

The evidence is somewhat mixed, according to health officials. But one thing is clear: Some of these diets could actually be harmful to your health.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about cleanses and detox diets.

What Are These Diets All About?

A quick Google search will show you that there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of cleanses and detox diets. They all look a little different, but the main point is that they claim to help with something like the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Removing "toxins" from the body
  • Promoting good health

These diets claim to achieve their health effects through processes like eating only particular foods, juice diets, fasting, herbs and supplements or colon cleansing.

Are They Safe?

It's impossible to claim that all detoxes or cleanses are completely unsafe, but there is reason to believe that many of these diets and processes could pose health risks.

That's part of why federal health officials have taken legal action against various companies promoting these so-called cleanses and detoxes.

The problem with these diets is multi-faceted. On the one hand, they tend to make health claims that have not been tested or proven, often relying on poorly conducted or even falsified research.

On the other hand, some of the processes these diets promote can actually be dangerous. Here are some examples:

  • Drinking way too much water could lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances.
  • Consuming too much spinach or beet juice could cause kidney damage and dysfunction.
  • Fasting without medical supervision can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
  • Unpasteurized juices can contain harmful or even deadly bacteria.
  • Laxatives and other supposedly "colon-cleansing" methods can lead to dehydration.
  • Major shifts in diet can severely threaten the health of people with diabetes.

Does Research Support Any Cleanses or Detoxes?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the research on detoxes and cleanses has been limited. While some studies have found potentially positive benefits associated with these diets, those studies were usually too small or lacked peer review.

In other words, most of the studies that have positive things to say about these diets are low quality, meaning they may not be trustworthy.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive and high-quality study about these diets — a 2015 review that looked at many existing studies on the subject — found that there was no evidence to suggest that these diets actually remove toxins from the body or help with weight management. A 2017 review found similarly disappointing results when examining cleanses and detoxes specifically for weight loss.

I'm Interested in Doing One of These Diets. What Should I Do?

While there is little research to support detoxes and cleanses, that doesn't mean they are all bad. These diets vary so widely that it's impossible to make accurate broad statements that describe each of them.

So, how are you supposed to know which ones are OK to try?

The most important thing is to speak with your health care provider about any diet before you try it. Your doctor will know your health better than anyone and can offer personalized guidance on what you should and should not do with your diet.

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Review Date: 
July 22, 2022