A Detox Diet: Bogus or Brilliant?

Created by Rachel Raymond, Dietetic Intern

Do you ever scroll through a social media account and notice ads or posts about “detox water for weight-loss” or a “3-day liver cleanse?” Claims about the supposed health benefits of a cleanse or a detox are everywhere nowadays. Do you ever wonder what all the hype is about? Let’s go over the basics.

The Definition of “Detox” and “Cleanse”

First of all, let’s define a “cleanse” and a “detox.” There isn’t a medical definition for “cleanse,” but it does imply that something will be made clean or rid of impurities. We can assume that anyone creating “cleanse” recipes makes them to eliminate something from the body.

Detox diets focus on removing toxins from the body. Certain detox diets are claimed to remove toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides, allergens, and pollutants. Many of these detox diets even claim to detoxify a specific organ such as the liver or kidneys.

It’s true that external toxins such as these listed above do enter our bodies. In addition, certain toxins are even produced inside the body such as lactic acid, urea, and waste products from microbes in the gut. However, to find out if we really need a cleanse or a detox, let’s look into how the body normally processes toxins and rids itself of impurities.

The Body’s Natural Detoxification System

The human body is an incredible machine. It is constantly working around the clock to keep us kicking. One of the countless processes that the body does day and night is called detoxification. When the body encounters a toxin, the liver transforms the toxin into a waste product to be excreted through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Sometimes, however, if the toxins build up too much they can be stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone. These can negatively affect health.

Despite the build-up of toxins that can occur in the body over time, there isn’t much research on a detox diet or cleanse. Sure, certain ingredients in these detox diets are beneficial for overall health, but there haven’t been any clinical trials to recommend their usage. In addition, detox and cleanse diets are not regulated by the FDA.

Protecting Your Natural Detox System

The best way to protect your body’s own natural detoxification system would be to prevent yourself from getting liver disease. You can do this by avoiding excess weight-gain, limiting alcohol intake, and being vaccinated against Hepatitis A, B & C. Limiting weight-gain will help prevent development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Limiting alcohol will prevent alcoholic liver disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that men consume no more than 2 drinks a day and that women consume no more than 1 drink per day. The hepatitis viruses cause damage to the liver, so getting proper vaccinations against them will prevent damage to the liver.


The liver is the main contributor to our body’s natural detoxification system. Keeping the liver running at its best is done not by following a specific cleanse or detox diet, but by eating healthy, staying active, and avoiding over consumption of alcohol and food.

When it comes to specific detox or cleanse diets, proceed with caution. If a diet excludes an entire food group altogether, we don’t recommend it. If you’re interested in a cleanse diet that is simply a healthy diet including whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and lean proteins, then feel free to follow it!

Adapted from EatRight.org & JohnsHopkinsMedicine.org   

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