Do Detox Diets Really Work?

There is a popular belief that restricting what you eat for a period of time can rid your body of built-up toxins and help you lose weight. The appeal of this claim is hard to ignore – and it seems that advertisements for detox diets pop up everywhere, in magazines, health food stores, and online. While other diet fads have come and gone, detox diets remain popular. But do they really work?

The concept of dieting to detoxify your body can be traced to ancient Indian cultures. These days, there are plenty of detox diets from which to choose, from the one-day fast to the five-day juice diet to the three week detox program. The diets are all different, but they all focus on severe food restriction for a period of time.

The Case for the Detox Diet

Promoters of detox diets claim that the only way to rid the body of chemicals and toxins is through a detoxification diet. If these toxins aren’t removed, they claim, they can lead to health problems, and even cancer.

The most common type of detox diet allows the dieter to eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, but not meat, fish, eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, caffeine or alcohol. There is also a juice diet, which only allows juiced vegetables and some fruits. Another option is fasting, during which a person consumes only water – although some diets allow herbal teas and fruit juices. Fasting is also commonly done for religious reasons – not just for health.

Proponents of detox diets believe following the diet will give the following benefits:

  • Fewer headaches
  • Improved complexion
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased bloating

These are actual benefits, and it’s really no mystery why these things occur. Since you are drinking more water and less caffeine and alcohol, you may have fewer headaches. Since you’re becoming better hydrated and getting more nutrients from fruits and vegetables, your complexion may improve. And because you’re consuming fewer calories and less salt, you will likely see weight loss and decreased bloating.

Scientific Evidence Lacking

Very little research has been done on the various detox diets available, therefore there is no scientific support for or against any of the diet’s claims. Those who attempt to make cases for or against the diet method rely on what is known about the functioning of the human body as well as toxicology.

We do know that certain components of detox diets are very healthy, such as:

  • Focusing on fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows fruits and vegetables are healthy choices. The most recent dietary guidelines have raised the recommended daily servings for these foods. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are full of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.
  • Reducing calorie intake. When food groups such as meat and dairy are eliminated from a person’s diet, calorie intake will be lowered. Since most Americans consume too many calories, reducing calorie intake will likely lead to gradual weight loss. Many of these diets, however, reduce calories too much, which can lead to muscle loss and put the body in starvation mode, leading to a slower metabolism.

The Body’s Way of Detoxifying

Our bodies filter out toxins on their own on an ongoing basis. The liver, lungs, kidneys and skin all work to detoxify our bodies. When nutrients and other substances enter our bodies, their first stop is the liver, which filters out and eliminates harmful toxins. The kidneys also filter out waste by creating urine. The skin allows us to sweat out toxins, and the lungs help us filter the air we breathe.

Our bodies are about 70 percent water, so it makes sense that staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water will help us stay healthy. But to date, there is not scientific evidence to support the idea that drinking water flushes out toxins.

Safety Concerns

The benefits of detox diets are questionable. If you decide to go on one, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Certain people should never use a detox diet, including children, pregnant women, and diabetics. Also, vigorous exercise should be avoided during these diets since calorie intake is severely limited.

The Bottom Line

Those who are considering a detox diet should be careful. There is little research available to support their claims. Instead of short-term detox diets, healthy long-term changes would be more beneficial. Eat a more plant-based diet, drink more water, and cut back on your caffeine and alcohol intake.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

Nutrition – Answers.com

http://nutrition.answers.com/

The Nutrition Source

Harvard School of Public Health
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/