Detoxification (detox) diets are more popular than ever and are often included in the news. These diets claim that you eliminate harmful toxins (dangerous substances) from the blood and body.
If you are considering trying a detox diet, it is advisable to consult your doctor first, especially if you plan to take different dietary supplements. Detox diets allegedly help with various health problems such as obesity, digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, allergies, bloating and chronic fatigue.
Clinical trials on detox diets in humans are absent, the few studies that exist are significantly deficient.
What is the detox diet?
Detox diets are generally short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins from your body. Detox diets usually vary between a few days to weeks. A detox diet plan could include additional supplements as part of the plan.
It is advisable to check with your doctor before taking any supplements as some diets may reduce our intake of specific nutrients.
A typical detox diet implies a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet with fruits, vegetables, fruit juices and water. Sometimes a detox also contains herbs, teas, supplements and bowel cleansing (colon cleanse).
Detox diets involve at least one of the following
- Fasting for 1-3 days
- Drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, water and tea
- Only drink specific liquids such as salted water or lemon juice.
- Eliminate foods that include a large amount of heavy metals, impurities and allergens.
- Taking dietary supplements or herbs
- Use laxatives that clears the large intestine
- Train regularly
- Eliminate alcohol, coffee, cigarettes and refined sugar
- Detox diets vary in intensity and duration.
Alleged health effects with detox diet
- Stimulates the liver to get rid of toxin
- Promotes elimination of toxins through faeces, urine and sweat
- Improves blood circulation
Which toxins (poisons) are eliminated?
It is not quite known what specific toxins detox diets are aimed at removing. The very mechanisms that lead to the increased elimination of toxins are also unknown.
In fact, there is no evidence that detox diets remove any toxins from your body. The liver, however, is an incredible organ that gets rid of large amounts of dangerous substances. In addition to the liver, harmful substances can be eliminated through faeces, urine and sweat.
Nevertheless, there are some chemicals that may not be easily removed by these processes, including persistent organic pollutants (POP), phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and heavy metals.
These tend to accumulate in adipose tissue or blood and may take a very long time for your body to flush away.
Effect on weight loss
Very few scientific studies have examined how detox diets affect weight loss. Some people can lose a lot of weight quickly, most likely due to loss of fluid and reduced carbohydrate intake rather than fat. People who try the detox diet usually regain the weight they lose quite quickly when you return to normal diet.
A study on obese Korean women examined the lemon detox diet that limits you to a mixture of organic maple syrup or palm syrup and lemon juice for seven days.
This diet significantly reduced body weight, BMI, body fat, waist-to-clot ratio, waist circumference, markers of inflammation, insulin resistance and circulating leptin levels.
If a detox diet involves severe calorie restriction then it will certainly cause weight loss and improvements in metabolic health, but detox diets are unlikely to help you keep your weight in the long term.
Is the detox diet recommended?
Detox diet is not recommended by health authorities, one should not rely on detox diets for various reasons:
- They may be expensive
- Few studies have investigated the effect of detox diets
- Herbal ingredients may not have been tested for safety
- Herbal supplements can interact with medication
- Examples of drugs that may be affected by herbal supplements are warfarin and oral contraceptives
Some people report that they feel more focused and energetic during and after detox diets. However, this improved well-being may be due to eliminating processed foods, alcohol and other unhealthy substances from your diet.
You can also get vitamins and minerals that were missing earlier. Remember that many people report that they feel very bad during the detox period.
People with diabetes should be careful with detox diets as some of the diets may include a higher carbohydrate intake than you are used to.
Research has consistently shown that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is beneficial to health. Remember that some fruits, especially in the form of smoothies, may contain significant amounts of natural sugars, so if in doubt, you can test your blood sugar level before and after eating or drinking to see how different foods affect your blood sugar levels.
Safety and side effects
Before starting any kind of detox, it is important to consider possible side effects. Several detox diets recommend fasting or severe caloric restriction. Short-term fasting and limited calorie intake can lead to fatigue, irritability and bad breath.
Long-term fasting can result in energy, vitamin and mineral deficiency, as well as electrolyte imbalance (disturbed salt levels in the blood) and even death. In addition, cleaning methods of the large intestine, sometimes recommended during detoxes, can cause dehydration, cramps, bloating, nausea and vomiting.