Have you ever been to any of the following?

  • A gym

  • Whole Foods

  • A youth soccer game

  • A break room in any business

What do they all have in common? It is the place to talk about the latest diets trends, but particularly one that has gained quite some track in the past years: DETOX DIETS. So today’s post is to reveal some scientific insight into these diets and whether or not, they are an effective method for “detoxifying” the body, or for losing weight (which is the main reason people follow them)

 What are they?

DETOX diets are popular short-term nutrition strategies designed to eliminate harmful toxins from the body – or so its proponents claim –. Detox-based diets range from starvation fasts to juice fasts, and even some modification approaches that include the use of vitamins, minerals, laxatives, diuretics, and other “Cleansing foods” (1) A recent survey of naturopathic doctors found that almost 92% of respondents use some form of detoxification therapies, while 75% reported use of diet-based detox measures (1)

Here is a brief summary of common detox diets and their claims. This information was adapted from Klein & Kiat (2015)

  • The Master cleanser/lemon detox diet

    • Plan: A 10-day programme in which all meals are replaced with a beverage containing lemon juice, purified water, cayenne pepper, and tree syrup.

    • Claims: Removal of toxins, weight loss, glowing skin, and strong nails

  • The liver Cleansing diet

    • Plan: Only vegetarian foods, high fiber, low-fat, dairy free, and sometimes liver tonics and Epson salts are incorporated

    • Claims: Improve liver function, increased energy levels, removal of toxins reduction of inflammation and degenerative disease, better immune function, efficient fat metabolism, and weight control

  • The Clean Cleanse

    • Plan: a 21-programme where only “Cleanse shakes”, “Cleanse Supplements” and probiotics are allowed for breakfast and dinner, and a solid meal that must exclude gluten, dairy, added sugars, soy, corn, beef, pork, and some fruits and vegetables

    • Claims: Removal of toxins, improved skin, sleep, digestion, mental clarity

  • Fat Flush

    • Plan: 2 week-programme where you are only allowed to consume hot water with lemon, dilute cranberry juice, supplements, pre-prepared cocktails, and small meals that are high in protein and vegetables.

    • Claims: Removal of toxins, lower stress levels, improved liver function, and weight loss.

  • The Hubbard purifications rundowns

    • Plan: a huge dose of niacin (vitamin involved in fat metabolism) in combination with a bunch of other vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, “balanced meals” and to sit up to 5 hours in a sauna daily (WOW!!)

    • Claims: Removal of fat-sored toxins, improved memory, IQ, reaction times, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure

Now that you know some of these crazy approaches, the important questions are what toxins are they talking about? Do we really accumulate toxins in the body?

Ever since the global industrialization era started, numerous chemicals have been introduced in the ecosystem we are exposed to, from materials we use, to foods we consume. It has been proven, that some synthetic chemicals have the ability to accumulate in the body, particularly in adipose tissue (fat stores). Some of these pollutants include Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates (found in some cosmetics, food packaging, plastic toys,), and Bisphenol A (BPA). Not that you need to remember this, but it is important to know what you are exposed to.

So can nutrition and these diet-based detox approaches really detoxify the body? The straight up answer based on the strength of the scientific research is NO but maybe if more controlled research is available.

The truth is the body has evolved over time in a sophisticated manner to eliminate those toxins, however, there are some substances including some metals and POPs which tend to accumulate in adipose tissue and may take years to break down. For example mercury can stay in your blood for almost 2 months, and lead for up to 20-30 years

There is some data to show that some nutritional components have detoxifying

properties. Some of these food components include:

  • Coriander

  • Malic Acid (in citrus fruits)

  • Succinic Acid (found in apples and berries)

  • Citrus pectin (peel and pulp of citrus fruits)

  • Chlorella (type of green algae)

  • Selenium

Coriander was shown to reduce cadmium accumulation in the liver of rainbow trout by 20-30% (2) Last time I checked I didn’t have gills to breath under water though.  In mice, injections of malic acid, succinic acid, and citric acid significantly decreased excretion of aluminum (3). Again it is hard to extrapolate this data to humans, as the aluminum intake of humans is a lot lower. Lastly Chlorella, a green algae was shown to reduce concentrations of mercury and lead in mice (4)

As for detox diet specific research studies only two very poorly controlled studies have shown positive effects of these detox approaches in the health of humans. (5,6) An important consideration however, is that the energy restrictions produced as a result of these diets suggest that maybe the rapid fat loss may mobilize some of those toxins into the circulations facilitating excretion.

SO what to make of all these scientific gibberish??

Detox diets are stressful. You feel hungry, low-energy, cranky, and it is possible that the increased stress associated with the adherence of these diets may elevate cortisol (fat increasing hormone), and stimulate appetite, clearly making it difficult to lose weight. Not only this, you it is also important to think about the rebound effect these diets may cause when completed. Probably binge eating episodes which will lead to that weight gain.

When you restrict your diet to such low-energy low-nutrient approaches you are setting the scene to possible protein and vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and even death. So it is important to weight the pros and cons of such extreme approaches and really determine whether they are worth to try or not.

To be honest, I believe these diets are so appealing because of the psychological effect and seductive power of them. It is pretty attracting to follow a dietary strategy that promotes the ultimate body purification and redemption.

As the new year starts, my recommendation is to skip these detox diets, and focus on a diet that includes tons of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, and you will be providing all the tools for your body to use to “detoxify” unwanted substances naturally, and not having to sacrifice food groups, or follow extreme liquid-only approaches.

Have you followed any DETOX diets? Comment below or connect with me to discuss.