Are You Planning a Cleanse or Detox? Read This First

Find out what's true about these regimens
Carrot juice as part of a detox or cleanse program

You hear a lot about the supposed health benefits of a cleanse or detox, designed to eliminate toxins from your body. There are many claims about various detox regimens, which could be in the form of a fast, diet, drink or powder.

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Removing toxins has questionable benefits, including:

  • Improved energy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Relief from constipation.
  • Resolved headaches, muscle aches and fatigue.

Sounds great, right? What you may not realize is that our bodies naturally detox! Our digestive tract, liver, kidneys and skin are responsible for breaking down toxins for elimination through urine, stool or sweat. Here we talked to registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, to get the low down on detoxes.

How does a detox work?

The theory behind cleanses is that, by eliminating solid foods or specific food groups, you are eliminating toxins, Patton says. “That supposedly gives your digestive system a break, allowing it to heal and better absorb nutrients in the future,” she explains.

Solid foods are often replaced with drinks like water with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper; green tea; or freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Cleanses can last from a day to a month.

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Are detoxes effective?

The truth is, there is no conclusive medical evidence that your digestive tract will heal from skipping solid foods (unless you have a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s disease or gastroparesis), Patton says.

“Solid foods are actually helpful,” she notes. Fiber, found in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, slows digestion, helps with nutrient absorption and removes toxins via stool. Your digestive tract uses probiotics from fiber to nourish your intestines with beneficial bacteria, which helps maintain immune health.

“Cleanses aren’t effective for long-term weight loss,” Patton says. “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.

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What are the pros and cons of detoxing?

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.

Pros:

  • You’ll benefit from increased intake of vitamins and minerals either naturally from juiced fruits and veggies or supplemented from drinks.
  • It can help you identify food sensitivities by eliminating certain foods for several days, then gradually reintroducing potential trigger foods.

Cons:

  • These diets are low in calories, which will leave you with little energy to exercise and may disrupt your metabolic rate and blood glucose levels.
  • You may experience gastrointestinal distress and frequent bowel movements.
  • Detox diets are low in protein.

Whatever you decide, remember that your body is meant to detox itself. “A balanced diet of whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes is healthy for your entire body and won’t interfere with your ability to exercise,” she says.

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