Editorial: Cleanse and detox diets work but at what cost?


Cleanse and detox diets are dangerous and should be avoided.  

Detox Diet

Detox Diet

I am absolutely certain that you have seen or heard of a celebrity what had a friend that lost a lot of weight on one of these new liquid diets.  These new liquid or cleanse diets are all the rage in Hollywood, and you cannot go through the checkout line at the grocery store without seeing a magazine or what I refer to is the “lie papers” that feature these diets on the front page.  The questions behind these diets are: are these diets healthy and are they effective?

Nothing will fire up medical and nutrition professionals more than the concept of a cleanse or detox diet.  You have some professionals that believe in the concept and others that think it is nothing more than voodoo.  Many are convinced that they are dangerous fad diets that deprive you and are nothing more than another purge method.  Not too long ago, I decided to give it a try but more on that later.  

Does my body need to be cleansed or detoxified?  First and foremost, let me clarify this question.  Your body has all the processes it needs to cleaning or detoxifying itself.  You eat toxins all the time.  Examples of compounds that our body tries to clear are alcohol or Tylenol.  Small amounts of both are fine, but large amounts are toxic.  It travels to the liver, and the liver removes it from the blood.  The basics are that our colon, liver, and kidneys have means to pass toxins right out of the body.  Most of them or metabolized by the kidney and liver and either destroyed or excreted from the body in either your urine or stool.    

What is a cleanse or detox diet?  First I want to define what is meant by a cleanse or detox diet. A cleanse diet eliminated junk food and replaces it with either nutrient-dense foods that are low in processing or water infusions.  Adding this change is supposed to boost your body’s natural detoxification process.  A cleanse is often a liquid diet.  The cleanse concept is based on the belief that if you focus on fueling your body without all the harmful additives, you will reduce the stress on your kidneys and liver and allow them to recover.  The cleanse is reported to allow your body to get a jumpstart a healthy eating plan.  This cleansing process will rest your detoxification process and will enable it to function better in the future.  The problem is that there is no evidence that this process even works.  

Detox water cocktail

Detox water cocktailis

What is the problem with this concept?  A detox diet focuses on eliminating junk food from your diet and often requires a very restrictive way of eating. The problem is the elimination of this unhealthy food from your diet and replacing it with healthier ones has never been proven to assist with detoxification.  In fact, I will go one step further and say that there is insufficient evidence to support the changing of your diet to detoxify and in fact, your body will detoxify itself without a change in diet.  You can see that these two diets are very similar in nature.

So, I tried a detox diet for seven days.  I found one on the internet called a ten-day “Master Cleanses” and unfortunately, I did not make it ten days.  It was a portion controlled diet that used smoothies and lemon water in place of food.  The bonus to these sort of diets is that they often have planned meals, so there is limited planning from your end.  You make a list for the store and just buy the ingredients.  The only prepping involved is cutting up and juicing.  

Now for the bad parts.  Detox diets are essentially another form of a purge diet or crash diet that is very restrictive.  I cannot understand why some people get hooked on them. By the fourth day, I was so tired, cranky, and poorly motivated and I would have given a body part for a steak.  You may lose weight, but most of us will be miserable doing it, and I found myself on the verge of a binge.  By the seven days, I had headaches and could not focus on work.  I just could not continue any further, so I quit.  You may actually get different results, but I suspect most will ahem similar results.  

Lemon water detox

Lemon water detox

However, my problem with these liquid diets that they are deficient in macronutrients, which means that our bodies need large quantities of fats, proteins, carbohydrates in order to perform essential cell functions.  Some of the amino acids and fatty acids are essential and our bodies do not make them.  The only way to get them is from our diet, and these liquid diets are early entirely lacking.  We need these in our diet to function and cleanse or detox diets deprive use of them.  In fact, most cleanse diets offers absolutely no protein.  Low protein diets lower your immunity and make you more likely to get sick.  

Additionally, many of the symptoms I had pointed to further dangers.  The problem is that there is insufficient scientific research on the safety or efficacy of using regimes like this for weight loss.  Of course, they work because detox diets are so restrictive in caloric intake that the body goes into starvation mode and the body must burn muscle and fat for energy.  I lost a total of 6 pounds, and half of it came back on when I added back regular food in a reasonable portion-controlled diet.  You have no choice but to lose weight on such a small amount of food and calories.  Hopefully, the potentially disastrous effects of a liquid diet will deter you from ever trying this diet. 

Would I recommend a cleanse diet again? Absolutely not! I felt so deprived that I could not focus on anything but my next meal.  A net loss of 3 pounds is just not worth the effort and suffering.  I will stick to portion control in the future.  It only takes more sense to me.  Being more mindful of what I eat makes sense for me so I will continue to watch what I eat and slow down. 

The bottom line: Cleanse or detox diets are just hype and they are potentially dangerous.  I would never recommend them.  They deprive you of the essential amino and fatty acids you need to function efficiently.  Instead, consider portion controlled diets with a smoothie for breakfast.  Cleanse and detox diets are just not worth the risk!

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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