Gut and Brain Health

Do Detox Diets Actually Work?

I am sure you have seen Instagram “influencers” and detox companies claim how you can perform a detox diet to reduce bloating, remove toxins, promote weight loss, and improve digestion. People claim to detoxify the body through fasting, apple cider vinegar shots, juice diets, commercial supplementation, laxatives, etc.

When most people mention toxins, they usually are not able to formulate a list of toxins that exist in the body. Ask yourself this right now: what toxins are we removing through detox diets? Most likely you cannot answer this and that is because no one ever tells you.

Your diet should be realistic and sustainable. In this 6-week customized meal plan, I focus on giving you a healthy lifestyle while getting the results you want. No fad diets and no detox diets here.

Some Common Toxins

Free radicals: molecules naturally produced by the body and are crucial for cell function. In large quantities, these cause oxidative stress leading to DNA damage, inflammation, cell death, and in extreme cases, cancer. This is because radicals are highly unstable and extremely reactive with other molecules. These come from environmental pollutants, smoking, radiation, etc. Their constant overproduction can lead to serious neuronal disorders.

Endocrine disruptors: chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system (produces hormones to regulate the body). This can lead to cancerous tumors, birth defects, developmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and in severe cases, death. This is caused by certain pharmaceuticals, pesticides, plastic with BPA, DEHP in food packaging, cosmetics, lotions, phytoestrogen from soy-based products, etc.

Heavy Metals: Heavy metals are essential for the body in low concentrations, but high concentrations lead to severe health problems, and potentially death. Some heavy metals are lead, mercury, arsenic, and copper which we are exposed to very frequently. Mercury is fat-soluble and accumulates in the brain, deteriorating it at high concentrations. Heavy metals are prominent in many cosmetics, deodorants, pesticides, E-cigarettes, air pollutants, etc.

The Problems with Detox Diets

Detoxification is conducted in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances that usually arise due to drugs and alcohol overdose or other poisons in the body. Companies use “detox” because it is a medical terminology that gives the perception of scientific legitimacy to useless products.

Commercial detox companies never identify the specific toxins they aim to remove and exactly how they will do so, making it difficult to investigate their claims. The detox industry has also created two categories to place any substance under, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. The toxicities of most substances are based on concentration. Our body still needs free radicals and heavy metals at low concentrations to function. Grouping these two toxins under the ‘bad’ category is not realistic.

No rigorous clinical investigations on detox diets have been conducted. The few studies available are extremely limited in sample sizes, sampling bias, lack of control groups, and qualitative rather than quantitative measurements.

Juice diets can be very dangerous due to high oxalate levels in some of the fruits and vegetables. This includes spinach, mixed greens, beets, rhubarb, nuts, berries, oranges, etc. Oxalates are harmful at high concentrations because they bind calcium, reducing its absorption in the body. Not only can this lead to bone disease, but this calcium-oxalate complex accumulates in the kidneys, causing kidney stones.

The research does not support the use of apple cider vinegar to reduce toxins and kill infectious bacteria. There is actually no evidence to support that apple cider vinegar reduces digestive issues. Many experience the placebo effect and claim that these detox diets do wonders despite the lack of evidence.

One concern with apple cider vinegar is its acidity. Your stomach produces its own acid to aid with digestion. Introducing acid from apple cider vinegar to your empty stomach may cause your stomach to produce less acid. Over the long run, this may actually really damage your stomach because you condition it to produce less acid which leads to digestive issues.

Many fad detox diets lead to weight loss not because the diets are working, but simply because of a caloric deficit. Many detoxes involve a caloric deficit but in a non-deal way. There is a deprivation of micronutrients and macronutrients that the body needs and this will cause a far greater loss of muscle mass rather than fat mass.  

Can You Detox Your Body?

The body has evolved thousands of highly intricate mechanisms for eliminating toxins. The liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, skin, and lungs all play a role in the excretion of unwanted substances.

Some Ways to Minimize the Buildup of Toxins

  • Avoid smoking and being around smokers
  • Avoid plastics and choose reusable stainless steel bottles
  • Choose cosmetics and soaps that are heavy metal-free
  • Avoid processed and refined carbohydrates to reduce inflammation
  • Avoid foods heavily wrapped in plastics
  • Read the labels on everything you purchase
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products that are free of harsh chemicals
  • Buy produce at the farmers’ market from farmers who do not use harsh chemicals
  • Sweat through frequent exercise
  • Drink as much filtered water as you can
  • Choose fish that are low in mercury

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  1. Klein, A. V; Kiat, H. Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management : A Critical Review of the Evidence. 2014, 675–686.
  2. Obert, J.; Pearlman, M.; Obert, L.; Chapin, S. Popular Weight Loss Strategies : A Review of Four Weight Loss Techniques. 2017, 17–20.