You hear a lot about the supposed health benefits of cleanses and detoxes. These quick fixes supposedly remove toxins from your body and make you healthier — like the TikTok Detox drink or the much-hyped “internal shower.”
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Cleanse and detox proponents say they’ve found a secret to removing toxins in your body by swapping regular ol’ foods in favor of drinks, powders or smoothies.
Fans of detoxes and cleanses usually claim several supposed health benefits, including:
Sure, sounds great. What’s the catch?
We talked to registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, to get the low down on detoxes and cleanses and whether they’re all they’re cracked up to be.
What you may not realize, Patton says, is that our bodies naturally detox. Every day, your digestive tract, liver, kidneys and skin break down toxins and eliminate them through your urine, stool and sweat. So, that celery juice you’ve been downing? Probably not doing what you think it is.
The theory behind cleanses is that by eliminating solid foods or specific food groups, you’re eliminating toxins.
“That supposedly gives your digestive system a break, allowing it to heal and better absorb nutrients in the future,” explains Patton. “Most of the time, the ingredients suggested in a cleanse aren’t necessarily bad for you. They’re just not likely to do what they say.”
Detox diets and cleanses often suggest replacing solid foods with drinks like special water, tea or fruit and vegetable juices. While popular on social media, the effects of detoxes and cleanses haven’t been backed up by any substantial scientific research.
Good stuff, that green tea. Does that mean you should drink it by the gallon to cleanse your whole system and make you radiant? Not exactly.
“Green tea is caffeinated, so you want to be careful about not overdoing it,” Patton says. “Also, drinking an excessive quantity of green tea or taking high dosages of green tea supplements is linked to upset stomachs, liver disease, bone disorders and other issues.”
An entire industry has been built around the notion of cleaning out your system with a series of juices. The idea is that all those vitamins and minerals can kick-start your system by purging toxins and giving you a clean slate.
At least one study shows that because “juicing” is commonly associated with a low consumption of calories, it can lead to some quick weight loss. But the effects aren’t likely to last. And those little juice bottles can be costly.
Some people claim that drinking water laced with lemon, apple cider, cayenne pepper or other additives will do amazing things for you. Clearer skin! Weight loss! Better poops!
OK, nothing wrong with drinking water. Water makes up 60% of your body and is super important for your body to function properly.
A water detox drink? Eh. It’s probably not going to do much for you in reality. If flavoring your water with a little cucumber — or vinegar for that matter — is your thing, go for it. Just don’t expect any miracles.
Careful, too, not to drink excessive amounts of water. If you drink so much your pee is constantly clear you’re overdoing it and could be losing out on electrolytes and salt your body needs, Patton says. The basic rule of thumb is to aim for drinking 64 ounces of fluid a day to keep your system operating at peak efficiency.
“Solid foods are helpful and important to a healthy diet,” Patton says.
Sure, you may lose a few pounds if you replace food with water, but it’s unlikely to last.
“Cleanses aren’t effective for long-term weight loss,” she continues. “The weight you lose from a cleanse is a result of losing water, carbohydrate stores and stool, which all return after you resume a regular diet.”
For athletes, losing carbohydrate stores means losing your body’s preferred fuel source during exercise. So, a cleanse isn’t appropriate while training for any sport. If you choose to do a cleanse or detox, do so for no more than two days during a recovery week when you are doing little to no exercise.
Before you decide to cleanse and spend big bucks on a magic drink or pounds of freshly juiced fruits and vegetables, Patton says to be sure to weigh the benefits and drawbacks.
Whatever you decide, remember that your body is designed to detox itself, so sipping on lemon water with maple syrup — or whatever your detox of choice may be — likely won’t lead to any long-term health gains.
“A balanced diet of whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes is healthy for your entire body,” Patton says. “Your body is built to take care of business, and fueling it with healthy foods will help you achieve the results you’re looking for.”