Does science back up claims about “detox diets”?

People who want to improve their health are turning to “detox diets,” or eating plans designed to “detoxify” the body from toxic substances. Are they, however, beneficial or harmful?

Detox diets are popular, but are they good for health?
Detox diets 

It is very common to promote diet plans as a way to detoxify the body. Dietary restrictions and supplementation with various nutrients and herbs are usually part of these plans.

Despite the fact that detox diets are popular in the wellness world, the majority of them are unnecessary, and some can even be harmful to one’s overall health.

We explain what detox diets are and look at the science to see if they have any health benefits in this Special Feature.

What is the process of detoxification in the human body?

The body uses detoxification to remove potentially harmful substances as part of its ongoing effort to stay healthy.

The detoxification system in the body is intricate, involving multiple organs such as the liver, kidneys, and skin.

Toxins are produced endogenously by normal metabolic processes, but they can also be acquired exogenously through exposure to medications and chemicals in food and the environment.

Detoxification entails metabolic processes known as biotransformation, in which the chemical structure of toxic substances is altered, rendering them inactive. These substances are then excreted by the body.

Age, sex, health conditions, genetics, medications, and diet all play a role in the body’s ability to detoxify.

Because the liver cells are responsible for the majority of the body’s detoxification processes, liver disease can impede detoxification, resulting in the buildup of harmful substances such as ammonia.

What are detox diets?  

Detox diets are promoted as a way to promote optimal toxin elimination, improve overall health, and encourage weight loss, despite the fact that the body can detoxify through biotransformation.

Juice fasting, supplementation, strict vegan diets, liquid diets, fasting, and other purportedly detoxifying methods are commonly used in these programs.

Coffee enemas, in which a person administers coffee through the rectum, are one example of potentially dangerous detox practices.

Self-administered coffee enemas have been linked to serious side effects like rectal burns, electrolyte imbalances, and rectal perforation, according to studies. This practice has the potential to be fatal.

Despite claims from proponents and creators of detox diets that they improve health, most detox programs lack clinical evidence to back up their effectiveness or safety.

Furthermore, detox diet programs, particularly those that encourage the use of herbs and other dietary supplements, can be costly.

Online, you can find a variety of detox diets, including juice and smoothie detoxes as well as plant-based detoxes.

Many detox diets aren’t harmful because they’re only followed for a few days and usually consist of plant-based foods like smoothies and juices.

Detox diets that include long periods of fasting or extreme calorie restriction, the use of herbal supplements, or practices like enemas, on the other hand, can cause dangerous side effects and have long-term health implications.

Is it beneficial to follow a detox diet?

Even though most detox diets are unnecessary, the foods a person chooses to eat still have an impact on the body’s detoxification system.

Harmful substances from the environment build up in the body. Heavy metals, such as mercury, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are examples of these.

POPs are a type of environmental contaminant found in foods, soil, and water. They build up in body fat and have been linked to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and a higher risk of death in studies.

Despite the fact that the body is capable of detoxification, eating a nutritious diet and limiting exposure to toxic substances in foods and the environment can help support the organs involved in biotransformation and, as a result, promote health.

This does not, however, imply that a person should participate in a detox program. Instead, they should eat a well-balanced diet to help their bodies detoxify.

A diet lacking in protein, for example, will hinder the body’s ability to detoxify because protein is required for the enzymatic reactions that are necessary for the detoxification process.

Unfortunately, most detox diet plans are protein-deficient, which may hinder the body’s ability to properly detoxify.

Another important nutrient that aids in the excretion of toxins through the feces is fiber. It can also help protect the organs involved in detoxification from proinflammatory bacteria by improving gut barrier function.

Fasting may also help to improve the health of the liver, which is the primary site of detoxification, as well as the function of enzymes involved in detoxification, according to some evidence.

Detox diet research

Despite the fact that a healthy diet is critical for the body’s detoxification system, studies on commercial detox diets have yielded mixed results.

The current body of research in this area is lacking, with the majority of studies being poorly designed.

According to a 2015 review, a small number of clinical studies looking into the effects of detox diets found that some programs may improve liver detoxification and lower POP levels in the body. The authors do point out, however, that these studies were flawed and had small sample sizes.

Researchers asked some participants in a 2015 study of 84 women to follow a low-calorie lemon detox diet consisting of lemon juice and syrups for 7 days, while others were asked to follow a low-calorie placebo diet. Both groups lost weight and had lower insulin levels, implying that it was the calorie restriction, not the detox diet, that improved health.

Furthermore, consumers should be cautious of supplements that claim to detoxify the body. These supplements are frequently made up of a combination of nutrients and herbs that may interact with commonly prescribed medications.

A 2019 study of 22 women found no health benefits from taking a detox supplement containing 1,350 milligrams of a proprietary blend of papaya leaf, cascara sagrada bark, slippery elm bark, peppermint leaf, red raspberry leaf, fenugreek seed, ginger root, and senna leaf for four weeks.

Even though research suggests that certain supplements, such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)Trusted Source, and certain foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, can help the body’s natural detoxification system, the simplest way to improve overall health and support the organs involved in detoxification is to eat a nutrient-dense diet rich in protein, fruits, and vegetables.

Concerns about the detox diet

Even though some detox programs are safe, detox programs that use extreme methods raise safety concerns.

Long-term fasting, severe calorie restriction, and the use of certain dietary supplements can all result in negative health effects such as nutrient deficiencies, weakness, mood change, dehydration, and more.

Certain people should avoid detox diets because they are more likely to experience negative side effects. These people include:

  • People who suffer from long-term illnesses
  • Anyone who is pregnant or nursing a child or adolescent
  • Those who are underweight
  • People who have eating disorder, or have a history of eating disorders

Before starting a detox diet, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor, especially if the person is taking any prescription medications.

A well-balanced diet is beneficial to health and the body’s natural detoxification system, but no special detox diet is required.

These programs are usually costly, and they may be deficient in nutrients such as protein, which are necessary for biotransformation.

Summary

Despite the popularity of diets that claim to help the body detoxify, scientific evidence for their effectiveness is lacking.

On the other hand, a large body of evidence suggests that eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding alcohol, smoking, and exposure to environmental toxins can benefit overall health, including the body’s detoxification system.

Detox diets, according to current research, are unnecessary and unlikely to have any significant health benefits. In some cases, they may even be harmful.

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