Do Detox Diets and Cleanses Really Work?

GwynethPaltrow-detox-dietDetoxification (detox) diets are extremely popular among celebrities, natural food enthusiasts, and everyday dieters.

They claim to be able to eliminate harmful toxins while cleaning the blood in the body.

The problem is, this is a very vague claim and studies generally find no proof they are effective (1).

Also, there is a great variety of ingredients in detox products  and some can have negative side effects (2).

This is a detailed review for detox diets to help explain the possible health effects these diets have on the body.

What Exactly Is Detox Diet

The short answer is, mostly fasting, water, and juice

They prescribe a short period of fasting followed by a period of a few days taking only  water, fruit juices, vegetables and fruit.

Most detox diets are short-term dietary interventions intended to eliminate various toxins that can be found in the human body.

Depending on the diet, it might call for enemas, colon cleanses, supplements, teas and herbs.

WHY would you need a detox diet


More than ever, we are exposed to toxic chemicals through our diets and the environment.  Detox therapies are used frequently to combat the effects of environmental pollution.

Some of these toxins are heavy metals, synthetic chemicals, pollutants and other dangerous compounds.

A strict detox diet (as opposed to a basic cleanse) plan is supposed to:

  • Improve circulation within the body.
  • Use fasting to give bodily organs a rest.
  • Provide the body with healthy nutrients.
  • Encourage the elimination of toxins through sweat, urine and feces.
  • Cause liver stimulation that helps to get rid of toxins.

There are many claims that detoxification diets can help to soothe different health issues, such as chronic fatigue, bloating, allergies, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, digestive issues and obesity (3).

The problem is that there is a lack of human research for detox diets, and the few studies that have been released don’t offer conclusive evidence (45).

Detox diets are used to rid the body of toxins, and they can be viewed as short-term tools. According to various claims, they can help soothe a wide range of health issues.

Most Common Detox Strategies

no sugar alcohol cigarettesBesides the basics of fasting and a lot of juice, there are some different strategies, but
almost all detox diets have one or more of the following in common (6):

  • Regular exercise.
  • Drinking tea, water, smoothies, vegetable juices and fresh fruit.
  • Fasting for a period of one to three days.
  • The use of enemas, colon cleanses or laxatives.
  • Consuming herbs or supplements.
  • The elimination of foods that contain large amounts of allergens, contaminants and heavy metals.
  • The total elimination of refined sugar, cigarettes, coffee and alcohol.
  • Avoidance of allergenic foods and gradual reintroduction of these foods.
  • Drinking only lemon juice, salted water or other specific liquids.

The duration and intensity of various detox diets can vary wildly.

There are countless detox diets to choose from, and some of them involve eating certain foods, avoiding dangerous ingredients, taking supplements and fasting.

Do Detox Diets help remove Toxins?


The reality is that the human body is quite capable of ridding itself of toxins. The body eliminates toxins through sweat, urine and feces(7,4).

Our bodies remove most toxins without help

The liver is the organ that takes the harm out of substances and releases them from the body (8, 9).

However, the body does have difficulty removing some chemicals, such as heavy metals, BPA, phthalates and organic pollutants. These compounds can accumulate in the blood or fat tissue, and the body can take years to remove them (10, 11).

The good news is that most modern products don’t contain these harmful compounds (12).

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of individuals who’ve reported feeling more energetic and focused after undergoing a detoxification diet.

However, these feelings could be attributed to the removal of alcohol, processed foods and other harmful compounds.

NO Evidence they help remove toxins

There is no real research that proves the effectiveness of detox diets for helping to remove toxins in humans.

There have been various animal studies that seem to show coriander, pectin and fruit acids can eliminate organic pollutants and toxic metals (13).


Detox Diet plans may use some scary images like the one at right showing “toxins” taking over your body, but for the most part, there isn’t any evidence that our bodies ARE filled with toxins and need to be cleansed.

Most detox diets don’t disclose specific toxins that they’re able to remove, and there isn’t much evidence that shows they’re capable of eliminating toxins. The human body is very efficient at using sweat, urine and feces to remove toxins all by itself

Weight Loss and Detox Diets

green smoothie detoxIt is believed that the weight loss experienced from detox diets can mostly be attributed to a loss of carb stores and fluids.

There are few scientific studies that show detox diets help with weight loss, and no known randomized trials comparing detox diets vs other diets with the same caloric restrictions. (14).

One of the most popular recently is the “lemon detox diet,” which studied overweight Korean women.

The women consumed mostly organic maple or palm syrups and lemon juice for 7 days.

They showed significant reduction in  body weight, waist size, body fat, body mass index, body fat percentage and waist to hip ratio  (15).

They also showed beneficial effect on reducing the key fat hormone leptin and lowering  insulin resistance .

If a detox diet involves severe calorie restriction, then it will most certainly cause weight loss and improvements in metabolic health, the same as any other diet.

However, this type of “crash” dieting probably won’t lead to long-term results unless you change your lifestyle at the same time.

There are no known studies showing increased weight loss from detox diets. Some studies show detox diets can deliver a short-term reduction in body weight due to the severe calorie restrictions

Stress, Short-Term Fasting and Detox Diets

Some detox diets could have effects that are similar to what intermittent fasting can provide. Short-term fasting might improve disease markers and improve insulin and leptin sensitivity (16, 17).

These effects don’t work for everyone. The problem with crash diets is that they can be stressful (18, 19).

There are detox diets that can deliver effects that are similar to intermittent fasting regimes and can improve health biomarkers.

The Benefits of Detox Diets

Some aspects of detox diets have been shown to be beneficial (20).

Some of these are:

• Getter better sleep and limiting stress.
• Drinking more green tea and water.
• Sweating and getting regular exercise.
• Avoiding organic pollutants and heavy metals.
• Eating whole foods.
• Avoiding foods that have been excessively processed.

Many of the aspects of detoxification diets have been linked to better health. A few of these aspects are relaxing, reducing stress, drinking more water and exercising.

Side Effects and Diet Safety

Before starting any type of detox diet, the potential side effects need to be considered.

Calorie Restriction

Many detox diets recommend severe calorie restriction, which can cause bad breath, irritability and fatigue. Some potential side effects of long-term fasting are electrolyte imbalance, mineral deficiencies and death (21).

Colon cleansing strategies can cause nausea, bloating, vomiting, cramping and dehydration (22).


Believe it or not, some detox diets can actually lead to overdosing on water, diuretics, laxatives or supplements.

The detox industry isn’t moderated very well, so some products don’t match what’s on the labels (23).

When to Avoid Detoxification Diets

Certain people should avoid detox diets. Some examples are individuals who’re pregnant or malnourished, and children, elderly individuals and adolescents.

Detox dieting should also be avoided by people who have medical conditions or blood sugar issues.

Detox diets can cause severe restriction of nutrient and energy intake. Some detox plans can include harmful supplements and approaches, and some people should avoid all types of detox diets.

Final Thought: Don’t Fill Your Body with Junk

Except for extreme circumstances your body doesn’t need any help removing toxins you encounter from the environment.

If you have been overindulging in alcohol, cigarettes, and other unhealthy habits, the cleansing and fasting phases of a Detox Diet can be beneficial to give your liver and other organs a break and help you get back on track.

If you are mainly interested in weight loss, a Low Carb High protein, or Ketogenic Diet is much more effective and better for long term health.