Using a natural detox diet to remove toxins and poisons from your body might sound like a good idea. After all, what could be better than eating pure and natural foods and avoiding processed and refined ones?
Certainly, there's something to these ideas. But there's also more than meets the eye. The rising interest in lifestyle enhancement has also ushered in many misconceptions about toxins and about the best way to clear them from the body. Fueling the confusion is a major marketing blitz by authors of diet books and producers of supplements and other detoxifying products.
Most natural liver detox diets lack science to support them. Additionally, detox diets are very restrictive and can cause harm if they're not used with care. Here's what you need to know.
What Is the Idea Behind Detox Diets?
The idea for detox diets comes from the concern that toxins are constantly bombarding our bodies. Toxins are chemicals with potentially harmful effects. While some toxins are more obvious, such as pesticides or smog, some people consider even seemingly normal substances to be toxins. They may come from many sources, including:
- pesticides or other chemicals used to grow or prepare food
- smog or other substances in the air
- substances such as artificial sweeteners added to food
- impure water
The belief is that the body holds onto toxins in the digestive, lymph, or gastrointestinal system as well as in skin and hair. They, then, can cause problems such as fatigue, headaches, nausea, and a wide range of chronic diseases.
What Is a Detox Diet?
Detox diets are designed to help the body rid itself of toxins. To attempt this, you temporarily give up certain kinds of foods. This is called fasting or purging. Then you gradually reintroduce foods. For example, you might start with a liquid diet for one or two days. Then you might move to four or five days of brown rice, fruit, and steamed vegetables. Finally, you might add other foods, except red meat, wheat, sugar, eggs, and prepackaged or junk food.
In general, organic foods and drinks and lots of water are required on a natural detox diet. And alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, drugs, processed or refined foods, and certain supplements are not allowed.
In some cases, a detox diet is paired with changes in lifestyle, which is also meant to foster the cleansing of toxins from the body. Saunas and exercise might also be recommended to increase sweating, another way thought to purge the body of certain substances.
These are examples of popular detox diets:
- Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet
- Fat Flush Diet
- Liver Cleanse Diet
- Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox
- Raw Food Diet
In some cases, people suggest using cleansing products or herbs to "purify" the liver and help it work more effectively. Or, you might be asked to do a colon irrigation to clean out your colon. This involves using an enema or having a practitioner clear the colon with up to 20 gallons of water through a tube inserted into the rectum.
Proponents believe that occasionally cleansing the body with natural liver detox diets can clear the body of poisons that have built up. They also suggest that detox diets help with weight loss. Other claims range from greater energy and more clear headedness to the prevention and cure of chronic diseases.
Symptoms may improve with a detox diet, but there is no evidence that this is due to clearing toxins from the body. Instead, improvements may result from what is and is not eaten and drunk on these diets, such as:
- more water
- less caffeine
- less fat and animal proteins
- fewer refined and processed foods
- more healthful, whole, plant-based foods
As it turns out, a balanced, proper diet may be more helpful than a detox diet. Perhaps taking the best of the detox diets -- eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed, refined, and fatty foods, for example -- is the way to go.
What's the Problem With Detox Diets?
One problem is that most of these detox diets are so restrictive that you can't maintain them for long (most are designed to use for a couple of weeks). Also, any weight loss is usually from fluid and muscle loss. Most people quickly regain weight once they go off the diet. Worse, especially if used long term, detox diets can cause harm.
How Does the Body Naturally Detox?
The good news is that your body has its own natural detoxifying process that works quite well. The liver and kidneys do a good job of processing chemicals and eliminating them in sweat, urine, and feces. For example, the colon's natural bacteria detoxify food wastes and its mucus membranes prevent bacteria and toxins from reentering the body. The liver combines its own chemicals with other chemicals, making water-soluble compounds that your kidneys can excrete in urine. And some chemicals are also excreted through the lungs and skin.
Are There Precautions to Take on a Detox Diet?
If you want to try a natural liver detox diet, be sure to talk to your health care provider first. Do not use a detox diet for longer than a brief period. The same goes for the use of any laxatives or supplements that have a laxative effect, especially if they're stimulant laxatives. They can cause dehydration, mineral imbalances, and problems with your digestive system if you use them long term.
Here are some other things you should know about natural liver cleansing:
- Over time, fasting can slow your metabolism, making it harder to keep your weight off.
- If you fast, make sure you get all the nutrients you need, including protein found in beans, milk, eggs, yogurt, and lean meat.
- Fasting can be addicting because it causes a kind of "high." If overused, it can lead to eating disorders and other health problems.
Some people are more vulnerable to detox diets. Always check with your health care provider before starting a detox diet. Do not go on a detox diet if you have:
- low blood sugar
- an eating disorder
- a heart condition
- a chronic condition, unless cleared by your doctor
Also, detox diets are not appropriate for children, teens, seniors, or pregnant or breastfeeding women.