Detoxing - does it work?

We’ve probably all heard of detox diets - a short-term dietary intervention that’s meant to help eliminate toxins from your body and aid in weight loss. They generally include fasting for a specific period of time and a strict diet consisting mostly of fruit and vegetable juices. But do they work? And are they even necessary?

Detox diets generally claim to stimulate the liver and other internal organs to get rid of toxins, eliminate toxin waste through the body’s natural processes and provide the body with healthy nutrients to further assist the detox process. Some claim to help weight loss, digestive problems, inflammation, bloating, tiredness and so on. However, scientific evidence that going on a detox diet helps any of this is lacking, and the few studies that have been published on the matter suffer from significant limitations. Your body possesses a natural ability to remove toxins through the liver, sweat, faeces and urine. You don’t need to go on a week long raw fruit and vegetable juice cleanse in order to help it do so.

There is some evidence that detox diets help with weight loss and a reduction in body fat, but this is generally down to the calorie deficit that is achieved due to the restricting nature of the diet itself. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. That’s 101 dieting take-home number one. And while a detox diet might help reduce inflammation in the body, I would nearly always categorise it under ‘crash dieting’ which generally never leads to long-term results unless there is a significant lifestyle change introduced at the same time.

It’s often claimed that certain types of food have detoxing qualities, in particular garlic, lemon, beetroot, ginger, green tea and turmeric. These foods are overall very good for you, and each and every one possess specific nutrients that any healthy and varied diet should contain. But there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that, for instance, drinking hot lemon water every morning will ‘cleanse’ your liver. That doesn’t mean it’s not good for you - the juice from lemon is packed with vitamin C as well as containing lower levels of folate and potassium. And there is some evidence to suggest that foods like coriander, nori and olestra have detoxification properties, however most of these studies have only been conducted on animals.

Intermittent fasting, which often forms part of a detox diet - can have several health benefits  (more to come on this another day!) - but starving your body of its essential nutrients for days on end is not healthy. And that’s exactly what you would be doing by going on a 7-day juice cleanse without consuming anything else. I would argue that for most, detox diets are unnecessary. Your body possesses a natural ability to detoxify itself, and while you can help the process along by not putting junk in your body in the first place, there is little evidence to suggest that going on a strict detox diet will help the already functioning processes significantly.

If you feel better by going on a detox, it’s probably because you’ve stopped putting junk in your body! Overall, I’d rather suggest a varied diet with plenty of whole foods, organically grown fruit and vegetables, sufficient amounts of protein containing all the essential amino acids, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. This should be tied in with regular exercise, which will help your body and make you feel great in ways a detox diet never can.