Detox Diets: Do These “Cleanses” Really Work?

It’s a universal dream for everyone to bump into an overnight solution to their problems. Among the many miraculous promises devised by modern society are the detox diets. Under ideal circumstances, these cleanses should make you look and feel younger in the short amount of time of three days.


The promise of impeccable health combined with a beautiful figure was strong enough to replace long-term habits with carbs, proteins, fats, and teas with refreshing aromas. However, today we’ll summon science on our side and we’ll understand better to what extend these detox diets work.

1.     What is Detox?

The origin of this term has actually nothing to do with a diet. It describes the process our body continuously sustains which involves disintegration and elimination of toxins from the body. These virulent compounds can cover both internal and external factors that damage biological tissues.

So, we can define the waste products that our daily cell activities produce such as homocysteine, lactic acid, and ammoniaas toxic. Also, the chemicals that enter in contact with our body through ingestion of water and food or the contact of skin with a contaminated environment can be called toxins.

One of the functions of some of our organs and tissues like liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, blood, and lymphatic systems is to take part in a chemical process that changes the toxins into less harmful elements. Afterward, these are excreted out of the body. And this is how our internal detoxification works.

2.     What is a Detox Diet?

The detox diets pursue to replicate the same metabolic process of detoxification by consuming certain kinds of products for a period of time. This is a practice of alternative medicine that has yet failed to specify what the targeted toxins are exactly.

The detox diets promote several different treatments that have the common purpose to remove dietary and environmental toxins from the body. Almost all such programs are short-term, and they prescribe a minimal quantity of foods with a low level of chemicals, a diet based on vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that mostly consists of fruits, legumes, and liquids.

The rules when it comes to detox diets are very strict and shouldn’t be disobeyed during the period of the treatment. Some diets interdict us to eat anything else than juices,or they require to begin a fasting process. There’s no mystery why these programs are designed for a short period of time. The body requires all the types of nutritious products to function correctly. If deprived of even some of them, there will be dangerous side effects like fatigue, dizziness, memory loss and others.

3.     What exactly is a Toxin?

As the detox diets fail to specify exactly what kind of toxins they are protecting us from, we can assume that they are alluding to all of them. So, it is naturally to enquire what a toxin is supposed to be. When dealing with toxic substances, scientists are thinking of poison from the external environment, like snake venom or cyanide. However, detox diets are focusing on other kinds of compounds. While they are quick to designate many foods as toxic, such as pork, pastries or simple sandwiches, these programs are elusive when they have to specify in which way these substances represent a danger to our body.

Toxins are microscopic molecules that react in a harmful way even causing diseases on contact with our body tissues. There is a list of 689 toxic substances that people are more than likely to ingest on a daily basis, starting with the mercury found in fish meat and ending with the compounds created by plastic wrappers. However, scientists don’t see these toxins as toxic per se.

Here’s a fact. Plutonium is a radioactive material that is used in producing nuclear weapons. So, if someone would be asked to swallow plutonium, the answer would more than likely be “No.” The reasons might not even get to the nutritious part, as they would stumble to one decisive factor. Namely,because it is poisonous. Even though this is true, one atom of plutonium will have to effect to our body.

This is an overall image that perfectly portraits one of the core fundamentals of toxicology “the dose makes the poison.” So, can we still see things the same? Since the mercury we found in fish is called a toxin, yet we experience no illness after we finish eating white meat, is this substance toxic?  Following this line of thought, biology defines toxicity depending on the quantity we have in our bodies, regardless of what type of substance it is. This means that anything is toxic if in large quantities.

Following this conclusion, the ingredients that the detox diets use can be seen as toxins as well. If consumed too much vitamins, proteins, and lots of other compounds found in fruits and legumes, they can become toxic as well.

For a more accurate picture, the healthy old broccoli contains sulfur-based chemicals called glucosinolates that can trigger hypothyroidism. However, the same substance protects us from cancerous cells. The same goes for other known ingredients, such as sugar which is an important source of energy, or alcohol that can either trigger health problems or grant you longevity with one glass of wine daily.

4.     Are There Studies to Support Detox Diets?


The promoters of detox diets do rely most of their knowledge on a series of researches that have targeted the functionality of cleanses. These studies ended up with positive and supportive results which are in favor of this health trend.

However, The British Dietetic Association has recently taken this area that concerns public risks and benefits into consideration and created a report about it. They discovered that the commercial detox diets have little to no proof of effectiveness, as the conducted studies followed flawed methodologies and used restrictive sample sizes. Consequently, to this day, there are no official trials that show that the commercial cleanses have any impact on humans.

5.     Do These Cleanses Really Work?

Putting all the terms and details together, are toxic diets good or bad? As long as the regime is not too extreme, in which case fasting is definitely excluded, then it might work. After all, they require a moderate amount of foods that are rich in vitamins and other healthy substances. So, the only type of safe detox diet is the one that eliminates bad foods, such as sugary or processed, high-fat products and focuses on whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Since there is no evidence that supplements work, you should avoid using them as much as possible, especially the ones that promise a liver cleanse.

However, three days of foods with a low level of toxins will not protect you from the substances you’ll start consuming in day four. Moreover, the side effects of a low-calorie diet are drastic. Besides nausea, low blood sugar, lightheaded, and dizziness, you will deprive your body of essential nutrients, such as good carbs, fats, and proteins.

A much greater effect would be to adopt a healthy lifestyle, where quality nutrition meets physical exercises every day. Putting your body to greater efforts will increase your metabolism, and all your organs will work at full speed, which means improved mood, no fatigue, and turning yourself into a calorie burning machine. If you sustain your body with only low caloric intake, you will not have sufficient energy to engage in any kind of physical training.

On the other side, the exercises will use your surplus of calories as fuel which will eventually get you to the same level of toxins and calories as in a detox diet. However, one program will put your body through a great stress, while the other will improve all its functions. So the results might be the same, but the side-effects are different.

A quality nutrition covers all the five types of nutrients throughout the day, which are proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. These are compounds your body needs to fuel all its components, and in turn, they will carry out their vital functions at full capacity. If you eat these essential foods in moderation, there are small chances of gaining weight, receiving dangerous toxins, or other health issues.

So, instead of relying on detox diets, you will experience a much more positive impact if you take proper care of your body. As said before, we already have a complex detoxification program which is an ongoing process supported by kidneys, liver, intestines, lungs, blood, and lymphatic systems. As long as these function well and they receive the proper resources they need, they will continue to get you rid of toxins.

All in all, the much acclaimed cleanses are not so magical after all. Instead of aiming at overnight successes, it is recommended to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Your body has enough superheroes that will protect you from substances that might damage you. Moreover, a three-day plan will create next to zero effects long-term. However, one year can give you enough time to change the level of toxicity inside you with healthy choices.

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