Do Detox “Cleanse” Diets Work?

If you rounded up a group of people who had 10-20 pounds they were trying to lose, “do you wish you could lose it in a week? How about less than a month?” I guarantee you every one of them would answer yes.

This is the offering made by every detox cleanse diet. These “fad” “crash” diets have been made popular by celebrities, who face considerably pressure to make their body fit the director’s description of various characters. Beyonce made the “Lemonade Cleanse” famous when she lost 20 lbs in preparation for Dreamgirls. After shooting was over, however, she regained the weight rather quickly (Yahoo)–in general, we only see the dramatic losses, not the eventual regains in weight.

Are cleanse diets really worth it? Do they really “detoxify” your body? 

This is a rather broad question, so I’ll break it down into several points:

What is a detox diet?

It seems that almost every “detox” diet has a different definitely of what it truly means to “cleanse.” As a general rule, diets that claim you cannot properly cleanse your cells without their specially formulated product are probably not worth your while. Common sense dictates that if it’s something we need to do, then what we need to do it must occur naturally, not require a laboratory for manufacture.

Further, diets that claim you need a specific (naturally occurring) substance, such as apples, kale, or their great grandmother Hagatha’s tears of true joy, are also eliminated as bunk. Humans live throughout the world, and so far there have been few  deaths that resulted from a person dissolving into a “bag of puss.” (thanks for that visual, Raw Reform)

Essentially, if you’re looking for a diet that will “cleanse” your system, pick one that is either a water fast, or requires only a variety of produce to do.

As far as not for profit detox diets, their definition of the word seems to be:

  1. Resting of internal organs, especially the kidneys and liver
  2. Eliminating harmful foods from the diet
  3. Hydration
  4. Encouragement of toxin expulsion through the intestines, kidneys, lungs, and skin
  5. Improved blood circulation

The Benefits

The benefits of a diet such as a water fast, a juice fast, or eating only raw produce for a period of time are very similar (or identical, in the case of water fasting) to that of any kind of fasting.

As I mentioned in a previous article, fasting induces some physical reactions similar to those that exercise creates, as well as many others. The scholarly literature goes back into the 19th century, but in the two most sought after are usually:

  1. Rapid weight loss (though maintaining this loss requires a considerable change in lifestyle once the fast is broken)
  2. Increased insulin sensitivity (again, lifestyle must be maintained after fast to keep this benefit)

These benefits will also be seen in a “detox” diet, as they almost unanimously lower calories into the realm of a “partial fast” (under 600 kcal a day).

Detox diets also remove junk food, psychologically reactive chemicals (such as alcohol and caffeine), and most–if not all–of the more difficult to digest foods, such as fibrous produce, meat, and fat. Perhaps the most logical reason that dieters feel “clean” during and after “detoxing” is that by removing most or all of their food sources, they also eliminate possible allergens, or foods that they are sensitive to, such as wheat, soy, lactose, eggs, and peanuts (as well as many more uncommon sources of irritation).

If you’re experimenting with detoxing and feel less enflamed (not to be confused with bloated, which is caused by excessive sugar or salt, but not an usually by an allergy) than you did previously, they would be wise to experiment with removing single ingredients from their diet to expedite the process of finding what food is causing discomfort. 
 

The Risks

As with fasting, low calorie diets or diets intended to put you in a state of ketosis (cleanse diets can be both or either) have the potential to upset your electrolyte balance, which can cause cramping, irritability, and lethargy. Seniors, children, adolescents, and women who are pregnant or nursing should definitely not attempt these, and others should keep in mind that if they experience these symptoms they should address them (a sports drink and a more varied diet usually does the trick!)

Reducing your calories should be approached cautiously, especially when under 800 calories. Your blood sugar will most likely drop drastically, which, depending on your current health, could lead to extreme fatigue, dizziness, and possible faintness. If you begin this diet, start on a Friday night, for a weekend that is free of plans, especially those that require cognitive skills and driving.

Also, expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the restroom, as many “cleanse” diets are made up primarily of laxatives and diuretics.

The Myth

Overall, detox and cleanse diets can have a similar effect on your system as a prolonged fast, either traditional or modified (under 600 calories daily).

However, if you’re feeling “toxic,” there is absolutely no scientific proof that these regimens will have any effect. Your body already has a fantastic waste management system, in the form of your kidneys, liver, intestines, and cardiovascular system. 

 

Have you ever done a cleanse diet?

Do you know anyone who has completed one of these regimens?

Have you ever been tempted to try one?

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