Prove your humanity

This article is part of our Fad Diet series

New year, new you right? With 2020 around the corner, your resolutions most likely include “eat healthier” or “lose weight”, but first, you’ll want to purify your body from last year’s dietary sins. You say “I need to detox my body” following New Year’s self-destructive bender. Not only will detoxing help you look great; you’ll feel great too! Win, win right? Well, not exactly…

Detox diets claim to cleanse, purify and flush your body of toxins in order to promote health and weight loss. With the rise of detox teas, lemon juice cleanses, juice fasting, colon cleanses, laxatives and enemas, it’s hard NOT to get sucked in. The idea that you can wash away your calorific sins by drinking cucumber juice, is the perfect antidote to our lifestyles filled with fast food, alcohol and quick fixes. I, personally, became super curious about the science behind detox, wondering whether it is all just an elaborate scam (spoiler alert: it is).

It’s important to note that there are many variations to the detox diet, but they typically involve a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet of raw fruits, fruit juices, vegetables and water. Some detox diets also recommend using herbs, supplements and colon cleansing to empty the intestines. Colon cleanses are typically used in preparation for medical procedures (i.e. colonoscopy), however, they have been popularly used as a form of detoxing. During a colon cleanse, large amounts of water—and possibly other things (like herbs and coffee)—are flushed through the colon by a tube inserted into the rectum. Fabulous!

You don’t need to detox, you’ve got organs

Your body is frequently and continuously exposed to toxic things. However, most of the time, it is more than capable of handling it. As you’re reading this now, your skin, lungs, liver and kidneys are detoxifying your body and excreting toxins via sweat, carbon dioxide, urine and poo.

Can you level up on nature? In 2009, a group of scientists put together by the UK charity Sense about Science, contacted various manufacturers of products that claim to detoxify. When asked for evidence, not a single one of the manufacturers could define what they meant by detoxification or even name the toxins their products are supposedly “de-toxing”. The products ranged from smoothies, shampoos and supplements. Yet, you step into supermarkets, pharmacies and health food stores and see many products with the word ‘detox.’ It’s a scam for gullible consumers, there’s a lot of money in the detox industry and people are making money!

What research is out there?

There is little to no credible evidence that detox diets remove any toxins from the body.

And the little research that may be out there has flawed methodologies, small sample sizes and a lack of control groups (according to a 2014 study).

In the short term, there may be some improvements in weight. But that’s because you’ve:

  • starved yourself for a week;
  • lost ‘water weight’ or;
  • eaten healthier, cut out alcohol and other processed foods and drank more water—all things that are great for your health!

Real dangers

On the other hand, some detox methods can have dire consequences. Colon cleansing can cause dehydration, cramping and bloating on the mild side, with infection and a rectum tear on the severe side. Detoxing over a long period of time can result in diarrhoea, severe calorie restrictions, with a flow on effect on energy, vitamin and mineral deficiencies. As well as a lack of protein (for muscles) and healthy fats (which make up our cell membranes, help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and protect our internal organs).

Any product that claims to detox or cleanse your body, is in fact, only truly effective at cleansing your bank account—of money—unless there is any concrete scientific evidence, I’m not sold. There’s actually more evidence out there of various detox methods doing more harm than good! Safety wise, there is a lack of regulation and monitoring in the detox industry and, as we know, not a lot of scientific evidence—making ingredient labels potentially inaccurate and misleading. Buy at your own risk.

To this end, keep in mind that fad diets come and go, and do not offer healthy or long-term solutions for your health and weight loss. For lasting results to looking good and feeling great, your best options are to eat a healthy, nutritious diet based on fruits, vegetables and lean meats, staying hydrated, and adopting an active lifestyle.

Not everyone is suited to a detox diet for various reasons, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and nutrient deficiencies. Please speak to a medical professional and do your research if you are thinking of going on a diet.