Do "Detox" Diets Really Work?
After the junk-food binge of the holidays, many people look to so-called “detox diets” to flush toxins out of their systems and get back on track to eating healthy. But many doctors say that these diets are misleading, that they do not, in fact, have detoxifying effects, and can in some cases be dangerous.
Detox diets, like the popular “Master Cleanse,” drastically restrict dieters to a regimen of primarily liquids (such as lemonade) for several days, and sometimes include taking laxatives, enemas, and colonic irrigation. They claim that as we go about our daily lives, our bodies accumulate toxins such as artificial sweeteners, sugars, alcohol, and caffeine, and that going on a detox diet can flush these toxins out of our bodies. Many doctors, however, say that the science behind these claims is deeply flawed. The body already has mechanisms for flushing toxins from the body, they say, and there is no evidence that detox diets enhance these detoxifying effects. Detox diets may not, in fact, have any positive health benefits.
Detox Diets Not an Effective Weight-Loss Method
Some proponents of detox diets cite weight-loss as one of the benefits of the diets, and popular culture and media often encourage the use of these extreme diets. Beyonce Knowles, the singer and actress, famously lost 20 pounds in 10 days in preparation for her role in Dreamgirls. But doctors claim that any weight loss that occurs during these extreme diets is likely to be water loss, and that dieters often gain back most or all of the weight they lose.
Can Detox Diets Make You Feel Healthier?
Many people who have tried diets like the Master Cleanse claim that the diet made them feel healthier, more alert, and more energetic. However, doctors say that these effects are common to people who are fasting, and is the body’s natural response to starvation. Benefits such as fewer headaches, clearer skin, and more energy can be linked to simply eating less junk food, and consuming more water and vegetables, but are not an effect of “detoxifying” or removing so-called “toxins” from our bodies.
Instead of participating in extreme detox diets, doctors recommend switching to a healthier lifestyle and diet, with more fruits and vegetables, and staying hydrated. Restricting the amount of food you consume (in moderation) can also have health benefits. Recent studies have shown that eating less may help you to live longer, but not to the near-starvation extremes of detox diets.
The Danger of Detox Diets
Any extreme diet has its risks, and some people are particularly vulnerable to restricted diets, including pregnant women, teenagers, children, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes. Some side effects of fasting (an important part of detox diets) can include anemia, low blood sugar, headaches, and more. In addition, the use of laxatives in many popular diets can lead to dehydration, or even heart and colon damage, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Colonic irrigation can lead to a perforated or infected bowel, which can both be fatal. Extended use of detox diets can lead to malnutrition and lack of protein, which can result in muscle loss instead of fat loss.
The Verdict on Detox Diets
Although some anecdotal accounts claim that detox diets can help you to feel healthier and more energetic, there is little evidence to show that detox diets actually help to detoxify your body. Instead of participating in an extreme and potentially dangerous diet, doctors recommend simply adjusting your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of water. Reducing your caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake can also have positive health benefits, without requiring you to resort to an extreme diet.