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Why You Should Never Do a Cleanse or a Detox - From a Dietitian

Living in a society very focused on diet and weight loss, we all have seen an ad or promotion for some form of detox or cleanse. We’ve seen celebrities and influencers promote juice cleanses, ginger shots, or detox herbs that claim to help you lose weight, cut cravings, “boost” metabolism, and eliminate toxins. As a dietitian, I think it’s incredibly important to set the record straight. Unlike what you might see on social media, drinking an expensive concoction of celery, lemon, parsley or any other mix of herbs and veggies does not hold magical properties. Here’s why.

What are cleanses and detoxes?

First, let’s look into what exactly cleanses and detoxes are. What qualifies as a cleanse or detox/detoxification is incredibly broad and encompasses a lot of different methods and programs. However, the general definition usually looks something like replacing normal eating habits with a rigorous variety and combination of fruits, veggies, herbs, and water. The goal of these cleanses is to rid the body of toxins such as harmful metals or chemicals left in the body from food that we eat regularly. PS that’s not how the body works, more on that later. This week while I was formulating this blog post, I actually heard someone online mention that they wanted to try a cleanse that Kourtney Kardashian endorsed on the Kardashians’ television show. It made me realize the importance of reminding people that social media influencers are NOT medical professionals. The research behind almost all cleanses and detoxes you see out there is often not backed by proper science and is not approved by doctors and health professionals.

What are the supposed benefits of cleanses and detoxes?

Besides what we previously mentioned about removing toxins from the body, most cleanses and detoxes claim to aid in weight loss, improve organ health, improve energy, and also prevent illness. However, to date, there is no credible science put forth about cleanses or detoxes that proves any of these claims. Those that have shown positive results in these factors were described as “low quality.” “Low quality” meaning that these studies had study design flaws, few participants, and lack of peer review. Peer reviewed studies are those studies that have been rigorously reviewed by others in the field to ensure the validity and truth of the material being presented. Along with this, the FDA does not monitor or regulate cleanses and detoxes. Without this regulation, you don’t actually know what type of ingredients these companies are putting into their products. This lack of regulation brings into question a lot of these detoxes and cleanses overall safety and credibility.

In regards to the claims that cleanses and detoxes remove toxins from the body, our bodies already have a built-in system already in place for these processes. A major role of our skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, and digestive tract is to remove toxins from the body. The liver breaks down blood to remove toxins from food, medications, and alcohol. From there, the kidneys further filter down the broken-down toxins to excrete them out of the body through urine. Bottom line, your body has got you covered!

Another point to mention here is that a lot of these detox and cleanse influencers and companies also promote the idea of toxins being associated specifically with feces. By encouraging cleanses and detoxes, they say that you are then removing built-up toxins from your intestines through bowel movements. As mentioned previously, this is not how that works. There is also no evidence that toxins “build up” in the intestinal wall at all.

What are some potential symptoms and risks of cleanses and detoxes?

There are plenty of physical symptoms associated with detoxes and often are due to the lack of energy and electrolyte imbalances that occur in the body due to these drastic changes in nutrition. Along with malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance, other symptoms include headaches, nausea, loose stool, stomach pain, and fatigue. Not only are there physical ramifications to this, there are also emotional and mental factors to take into consideration. Liquid cleanses and other very low energy cleanses and detoxes can play a huge role in the restrict-binge cycle of disordered eating. Just like any fad diet, these cleanses/detoxes also feed into the narrative that there is something inherently wrong with your body and that it needs to be fixed. On top of that, it also sets incredibly unrealistic expectations that will often lead individuals to feel disappointed, even further compounding the idea that they do not know how to care for their bodies.

With all of that being said, it is incredibly important to remember that cleanses and detoxes are most often not approved by medical professionals. They also can be incredibly unsafe and can pose many mental and physical threats to one’s health. Next time you see an ad promoting some form of cleanse or detox, remind yourself of the facts that we went over in this blog and remind yourself that your body deserves adequate, complete nutrition!

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