Published 31st August 2022

Can detox cleanses provide health benefits?

“Detox cleansing” is a popular term in the health and wellness world. But is there anything to the hype? 

These cleanses are based on the idea that to stay healthy, we need to clear out toxins that build up in our bodies.

People who promote these cleanses say that they can support weight loss and digestion, reduce inflammation, raise energy levels, and help the immune system. 

While these can all be sensible goals, the approach is flawed.

Detoxes often involve eating fruits and vegetables or cutting out processed foods. This is not necessarily bad advice.

However, claims about the benefits are often exaggerated and misleading. And they focus on quick solutions that are unrealistic and unsustainable. 

Typically, detox cleanses involve extreme or strict changes to your diet. These can include:

  • removing certain foods

  • drinking water, juices, or smoothies instead of eating

  • fasting in an unhealthy way

  • cutting out whole food groups

In this article, we’ll explore the science around detox cleanses. We’ll also look at why they aren’t a miraculous path to good health. 

Are there any benefits?

To date, there is no scientific evidence that detox cleanses are effective or offer health benefits beyond those of a healthy, balanced diet. 

What's the point of a detox?

Detox cleanses can seem tempting because they appear to offer a quick solution.

However, they often require extreme changes to your diet and involve repetitive habits. It’s important that you take any steps to improve your health in a safe, sustainable way. 

As far as removing toxins — thankfully, our bodies are incredibly well-designed to get rid of anything they don’t need. In a nutshell, our bodies detox naturally. 

Our organs are constantly working to remove waste and unwanted products. 

These may be produced during normal bodily processes. Some examples include excess lactic acid, dead cells, and urea.

Other waste products come from the environment. These include pollutants, heavy metals, and harmful compounds that we take in through food or drink, or the air.

Your body gets rid of toxins in urine and feces, and through breathing and sweating.

For example, your skin sweats out excess water and electrolytes. Your lungs trap unwanted airborne particles and get rid of them through sneezing or coughing.

Your gut destroys and fends off harmful bacteria. It also decides which substances can enter your body and which can’t.

Your liver converts harmful substances into less harmful ones. For example, it converts ammonia into urea, which your kidneys then filter out and excrete in urine. 

A doctor may recommend a type of “detox cleanse” in certain circumstances. For example, they may suggest a liquid-based diet to induce remission of Crohn’s disease. It’s important only to do this under the guidance of your healthcare provider.

Risks

Detox cleanses can be harmful. This is because they often don’t include essential nutrients, and they can cause unwanted symptoms and promote unhealthy eating habits. 

The bold claims of detox cleanses often prey on people’s eagerness to improve their health.

Here are some examples of detox cleanses: 

Juice or smoothie detox cleanse

These typically involve consuming large amounts of blended fruits and vegetables. These foods are important parts of a healthy, balanced diet. However, they are typically low in protein and fats. 

Also, juices often contain fruits and vegetables without their skins. Removing the skins takes away most of the fiber, which is key for gut health.

And for people with sensitive guts, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, consuming large amounts of certain fruits and vegetables may cause problems.

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Water detox cleanse

This involves drinking large volumes of water-based fluids, often with additions such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or cayenne pepper. While these ingredients are not unhealthy, they aren’t enough to sustain a healthy body on their own.

Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar detoxes may also erode tooth enamel. 

What’s more, drinking excessive amounts of water-based fluids can result in dangerous imbalances in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium. 

Fasting detox cleanse

There are many types of fasts, and some involve alternating fasting days. A person may fast for 12–20 hours in a day or even for 2–7 days.

Healthcare professionals may recommend fasting for certain reasons, like before an operation.

However, fasting without careful consideration and support from a healthcare provider can be dangerous.

It can increase the risk of dehydration, as well as general hunger and intense cravings.

Fasting may also lead to irritability, headaches, and gut symptoms like constipation, low energy, tiredness, and nutritional deficiencies.  

If you want to experiment with fasting, you could try intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted eating, which is a more moderate, sustainable approach. 

Healthy alternatives to detox cleanses

There are plenty of ways to help your body with its own “detoxing” processes. These include:

  • having a diverse, plant-based diet that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices

  • drinking plenty of water throughout the day, which could involve tea, infused water, and soda water — as well as milk

  • avoiding highly processed foods 

  • trying to eat high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods less frequently

  • aiming for 7–9 hours of sleep a night

  • avoiding smoking and large amounts of alcohol

  • making time for regular exercise

  • making time for self-care and relaxing activities

These approaches can help you achieve the goals of a detox cleanse in a safe, manageable way.

Summary

We encounter toxins every day. Some are waste products that our bodies produce, and others come from the environment. 

Detox cleanses may seem tempting because they promise a quick-fix solution. However, they are often unrealistic and unsustainable, and they can be harmful. 

Our bodies detox naturally. The skin, lungs, gut, liver, and kidneys get rid of anything that’s not wanted.

Sometimes, such as when treating Crohn’s disease, a doctor may recommend a type of detox cleanse. But these circumstances are rare.

An alternative is to have a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. This should include eating a diverse, plant-based diet, having enough quality sleep, and getting exercise in the fresh air.

While there isn’t a magic solution for improving your health, at ZOE, we believe that eating the best foods for your body can play an important role. We know that the best foods aren’t the same for everyone, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

With the ZOE at-home test, we can analyze your blood sugar and blood fat responses, and give you a breakdown of the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut. Using this information, we’ll give you personalized recommendations on what foods are best for your body.

To get started, take our free quiz.

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