Detox Diets: Do They Really Work?

Juice and detox diets

Feeling sluggish? Want to lose weight? Worried about toxins in your body? There are plenty of pills, potions and concoctions that promise to boost energy, shed pounds and eliminate poisons.

Many do-it-yourself cleanses call for fasting followed by a regimen of vegetables, fruits, juices and water, in addition to taking herbs and other supplements.

The thought of wiping the slate clean is appealing, but is there proof to back these claims?

“There is little evidence that detox diets eliminate toxins from the body,” said Matthew Bechtold, MD, a gastroenterologist at MU Health Care. “Detox programs may help in weight loss by eliminating or reducing high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and by reducing water weight for the period of the detox.”

Matthew Bechtold, MD
Matthew Bechtold, MD

After the detox, though, the water weight quickly comes back. If people return to their unhealthy eating habits, those pounds also pile back on, Bechtold said.

So why do so many people extol detoxing benefits? They may feel better during the period when they eliminated highly processed foods and sugary treats, both of which have nothing to do with a magic pill.

What about cleanses that purport to remove toxins and impurities from organs such as the colon or liver? Bechtold said our bodies have all the detox mechanisms needed for optimal health.

“The colon collects, concentrates and removes toxins from the body in the form of stools,” he said. “The liver also removes toxins that are absorbed through the gut by the portal vein. This is how the body protects us against ingested toxins.”

While the body naturally eliminates toxins, cleanses claiming to clean colons that use laxatives, such as enemas, can have adverse effects on the body and overall health.

“Patients must be wary of cleanses with laxatives because they can result in bloating, cramping, nausea and possibly dehydration if used in a period of fasting. Furthermore, laxatives may affect the good bacteria in the colon that protects us from bad bacteria,” Bechtold said.

One of the most popular cleanses involves consuming a mixture of lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne for a week to 10 days. At the same time, dieters take laxatives every night and gulp salt water every morning to encourage a bowel movement. 

This laxative regimen can cause the same problems as those with the colon cleanse, Bechtold said, but with prolonged use during fasting, it can also cause depletion of electrolytes and impairment of normal bowel function. Although weight loss is common because no food is eaten during this plan, the pounds typically return after the fast. 

If you’re looking to reverse the effects of a bad diet, the prescription to better health is a lot less splashy, but as Bechtold points out, it’s safe, sustainable and simple.

“Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and limit treats to small portions and special occasions,” he said.



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