March 18, 2024/Weight Loss

Detox or Cleanse: What To Know Before You Start

Research doesn’t support many health claims linked to detoxification programs

Green detox smoothie in glass,with green fruits and veggies around

Be gone, toxins! Those three words sum up the main objective of many internal cleanses and detoxes. These quick-fix programs supposedly remove all sorts of icky stuff from your body to make you healthier.


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It’s easy to do, too: Just swap out some regular ol’ foods in favor of some special drinks, powders or smoothies, and then let the magic happen!

If you think that all sounds too good to be true … well, you may be onto something. So, let’s explore the world of cleanses and detoxes a little more with registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, LD.

Why do people try cleanses and detoxes?

Fans of cleanses and detoxes often claim they experience benefits like:

  • Increased energy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Relief from constipation.
  • Reduced headaches, muscle aches and fatigue.

So, how does this happen? The theory is that eliminating solid foods or specific food groups helps your body shed toxins gumming up your system. Detoxification diets and cleanses often recommend consuming primarily drinks like special water, tea or fruit and vegetable juices.


“The idea is to give your digestive system a break, allowing it to heal and better absorb nutrients in the future,” explains Patton. “And most of the time, the ingredients suggested in a cleanse or detox aren’t necessarily bad for you.”

The difference between a cleanse and a detox

The terms “cleanse” and “detox” are often used interchangeably. In some cases, they’re even merged in phrasing. (A detox cleanse, anyone?)

If there is a subtle difference, though, it’s this: Cleanses tend to focus more directly on your digestive system and literally “flushing” you out, while detoxes may take a broader approach that extends to your liver, kidneys and other organs.

Do body detoxifications work?

There isn’t exactly a mountain of scientific research proving that cleanses or detoxes offer the many claimed health benefits, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Now, it’s true that a few small research studies show positive results for weight loss, insulin resistance and blood pressure — but the research isn’t quite rock solid, according to the NCCIH.

And various study reviews of detoxification diets raise more doubt than offer validation.

Bottom line? Be skeptical of health claims connected to cleanses or detoxes. “They’re just not likely to do what they say,” says Patton.

Possible benefits of a cleanse or detox

While cleanses and detoxes may not work magic, there are some potential benefits, notes Patton. They include:

  • A vitamin boost. It’s estimated that only 1 in 10 adults eat enough fruits and vegetables every day. Given that, adding juices or smoothies to your diet may offer you vitamins and minerals you aren’t currently getting.
  • Finding food sensitivities. If eliminating a certain food from your diet during a cleanse or detox makes you feel better … well, you may have found a potential food sensitivity. Talk to your healthcare provider about your suspicions.


Concerns about detoxifications

There’s a chance that trying a detox or cleanse may create a health issue instead of resolving one. Concerns about detoxification programs include:

  • Nutrient deficiencies. Cleanse and detox diets aren’t known for being well-balanced, meaning you may not be getting essential proteins, nutrients and electrolytes your body needs to be at its best.
  • Energy drain. Restricting your diet and calories during detoxification can leave you with little energy to exercise or take on the tasks of a day. The process may disrupt your metabolism and blood sugar levels, too.
  • Gastrointestinal distress. Many cleanses and detoxes include a laxative effect. That’s not always the most pleasant experience. Excessive diarrhea also can cause dehydration.
  • Product safety concerns. You don’t always know what you’re getting in a cleanse or detox dietary aid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acted against companies for selling products that have illegal and potentially harmful ingredients.

Different detoxification programs

There’s no shortage of cleanse and detox programs. Just go searching for ideas on TikTok. It’s overwhelming. But here are a few of the more popular options — and why they deserve some caution.


Green tea detox

Consider green tea the official drink of superfoods. For proof, check out this medical literature review. It gushes about green tea’s ability to combat cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and other health concerns,

Good stuff, that green tea — but that doesn’t mean drinking it by the gallon can cleanse your whole system and make you more radiant.

Too much green tea can cause issues, too. “Drinking an excessive quantity of green tea or taking high dosages of green tea supplements is linked to arrhythmias, sleep disturbance, constipation, high blood pressure, rash and liver injury,” warns Patton.

Juice cleanses

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 low consumption of calories, it can lead to some quick weight loss. But the effects aren’t likely to last.

Detox water

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! The list goes on and on.

Let’s start with the obvious: There’s nothing wrong with drinking water, which is super important for your body to function properly.

But a water detox drink? Meh. It’s probably not going to do much for you. But 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,” cautions Patton.

And be careful not to chug excessive amounts of water. Drinking too much can flush out electrolytes your body needs, says Patton. (Pro tip: If you drink so much water that your pee is constantly clear, you’re overdoing it.)

Learn more about how much water you need a day.

Final thoughts

There’s little proof that a planned cleanse or detox lives up to the promises and high expectations often connected to the concept.

In a way, too, you’re trying to do something your body naturally does. Your digestive tract, liver, kidneys and skin break down toxins daily and get rid of them through your urine, stool and sweat.

“Your body is built to take care of business,” says Patton. “If you fuel it with a balanced diet of whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes, it’ll help you get the results you’re looking for without starting a special cleanse or detox.”


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