Some people try cleanses, also called detox diets, in the hopes of eliminating toxins in their body or losing weight. However, according to a review article published in December 2015 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, very little evidence supports detox diets for either of these purposes. Your body is good at getting rid of toxins, with the liver, kidneys and intestinal tract all assisting with this process, so you don't have to go on a very restrictive and possibly risky and expensive cleanse.
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Typical Cleanse Components
Cleanses often consist of a combination of supplements, fasting and food restriction. In many cases, the cleanse allows only liquids, although some versions of these diets also permit participants to eat raw fruits and vegetables. At the very least, you'll have to give up alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, and many cleanses also require that you forgo meat and many other solid foods. Supplements could include probiotics, vitamins, minerals, antibiotics, enemas and laxatives. These supplements can get expensive, as can any specialized juice blends required by the cleanse. There is often a lead-in period, in which you gradually stop eating the foods not allowed on the cleanse and then a transition period at the end where you slowly add foods back into your diet. Both the lead-in and transition phases should be about as long as the detox itself.
Cleanse Components to Avoid
According to an article published in Today's Dietitian in May 2008, it's best to avoid any cleanse or detox diet that recommends saltwater solutions, enemas, syrup or herbal laxatives. No proof exists that these substances actually remove any toxins from your body, and they can have unpleasant side effects. Using laxatives for weight loss is often associated with eating disorders; it isn't a long-term solution, so dietitians don't recommend this practice.
Potential Risks of Whole-Body Cleansing
Cleansing or following detox diets can have side effects, such as headaches, irritability, tiredness, cravings, a runny nose or diarrhea. These diets tend to be too low in essential nutrients, thus increasing the risk for nutrient deficiencies. They can affect your concentration and critical thinking due to the lack of calories and nutrients. Pregnant women, people with low blood sugar or diabetes, children and people with eating disorders shouldn't cleanse, as it isn't safe for them. If the cleanse involves laxatives, the resulting diarrhea could cause mineral imbalances, dehydration and digestive issues, such as laxative dependence. Long-term cleanses may make your metabolism slower, which means you'll have an even harder time losing weight. This is because they are typically very low in calories, many times having no more than 1,000 calories per day. This type of low-calorie diet can also result in the loss of muscle mass due to the potentially low protein content of the foods allowed.
Healthiest Way to Cleanse and Lose Weight
Fasts, detox diets and cleanses aren't likely to lead to long-term weight loss, especially if you go right back to your previous unhealthy diet after the cleanse. It's better to make more permanent healthy changes to your diet. Follow a balanced diet containing mainly whole foods, including plenty of water, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, instead of processed foods. Eliminate or minimize added sugars, sodium, saturated fat and additives, as well as caffeine and alcohol. For long-term weight loss, you'll need to cut calories while increasing your activity level. Cutting about 500 calories per day will help you lose about 1 pound per week, and exercising will help ensure that most of the weight comes from fat instead of muscle. The best part about losing weight this way is it doesn't have to cost much -- all you need to purchase is healthy food from the grocery store.
- American Council on Exercise: Do Detox Diets Work?
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence
- Today's Dietitian: Spring Cleansing: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Detox Diets
- TeensHealth: Are Detox Diets Safe?
- U.S. News & World Report: Juice Cleanses: Health Hocus Pocus
- Los Angeles Times: Dietary Cleanses Rise in Popularity, But There Are Risks
- Fox News: 'Cleansing' Diets May Be Worthless, Dangerous