Detoxification (detox) diets are more popular than ever.
These diets claim to clean your blood and eliminate harmful toxins from your body.
However, it is not entirely clear how they do this, what specific compounds they're supposed to eliminate, and if they even work.
This is a detailed review of detox diets and their health effects.
What is a detox diet?
Detox diets are generally short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins from your body.
A typical detox diet involves a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet of fruit, vegetables, fruit juices, and water. Sometimes a detox also includes herbs, teas, supplements, and colon cleanses or enemas.
This is claimed to:
Detox therapies are most commonly recommended because of potential exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment or your diet. These include pollutants, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, and other harmful compounds.
There are many ways to do a detox diet — ranging from total starvation fasts to simpler food modifications.
Most detox diets involve at least one of the following (1):
Detox diets vary in intensity and duration.
Detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove. The mechanisms by which they work are also unclear.
In fact, there is little to no evidence that detox diets remove any toxins from your body.
What’s more, your body is capable of cleansing itself through the liver, feces, urine, and sweat. Your liver makes toxic substances harmless, then ensures that they're released from your body (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Despite this, there are a few chemicals that may not be as easily removed by these processes, including persistent organic pollutants (POPs), phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and heavy metals (3, 8, 9, 10, 11).
However, these compounds generally are removed from or limited in commercial products today (15).
Overall, there is little evidence that detox diets help eliminate any of these compounds.
Some people report feeling more focused and energetic during and after detox diets.
However, this improved well-being may simply be due to eliminating processed foods, alcohol, and other unhealthy substances from your diet.
You may also be getting vitamins and minerals that were lacking before.
That said, many people also report feeling very unwell during the detox perio
Effects on weight loss
Very few scientific studies have investigated how detox diets impact weight loss (2).
While some people may lose a lot of weight quickly, this effect seems to be due to loss of fluid and carb stores rather than fat. This weight is usually regained quickly once you go off the cleanse.
One study in overweight Korean women examined the lemon detox diet, which limits you to a mixture of organic maple or palm syrups and lemon juice for seven days.
This diet significantly reduced body weight, BMI, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio, waist circumference, markers of inflammation, insulin resistance, and circulating leptin levels (16).
If a detox diet involves severe calorie restriction, it will most certainly cause weight loss and improvements in metabolic health — but it’s unlikely to help you keep weight off in the long term.
Several varieties of detox diets may have effects similar to those of short-term or intermittent fasting.
Your body is frequently exposed to toxic substances. However, most of the time, it can remove them without additional help.
While detox diets may seem tempting, their benefits likely have nothing to do with vanquishing toxins, but rather with eliminating various unhealthy foods.
A much smarter approach is to eat healthier and improve your lifestyle rather than go on a potentially dangerous cleanse.