Debunking Cleanse and Detox Diets

It is a million dollar question: Are detoxes and cleanses all they’re cracked up to be? The idea that drinking juice or taking a magic pill is going to do a better job than our own organs is very misleading to consumers.  I recently sat down with ABC7‘s Suzanne Kennedy to explain why detox diets and cleanses are a waste of money, and could actually be doing more harm than good to your health. Check out the video clip below and be sure to read on to learn the truth behind the hype.

The modern diet of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars does take a toll on the body, sometimes causing inflammation, weight gain, constipation, and fatigue.  These effects are partially due to the effect of a high-fat, high-calorie diet on the kidneys – they become overwhelmed and cannot filter the junk out fast enough.  However, a juice cleanse, colonic, or fasting will not fix poor diet; that requires a long term solution instead of a quick fix. In fact, many “cleansing” options can actually wreak havoc on the body’s metabolism and vital organs.

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These are all the rage, but they are unnecessary.  Juices lack the fiber, protein, and fat the body needs to slow digestion and regulate blood sugar levels.  Many juices (even the green ones) are full of sugar that is absorbed right away, creating a huge spike in blood sugar that is then followed by a crash.  This pattern of ups and downs causes the pancreas to produce more of the hormone insulin; overproduction of insulin is linked to type 2 diabetes and other chronic health problems.

Juice cleanses usually fall short of calorie needs, which can lead to exhaustion, light-headedness, extreme hunger, and irritability. Juices also lack fiber, which is important in the prevention of high blood cholesterol, constipation, and some cancers.  Additionally, those on juice cleanses may ultimately end up gaining, not losing, weight because they damage their metabolism when restricting calories.  And not only that, but fancy juices can cost upward of $8 each – drinking five or six of those a day isn’t cheap!


Fasting and juice cleanses actually have a lot in common.  Both involve calorie restriction through extreme methods.  Fasting diets come in a few varieties, but the common thread is depriving the body of adequate fuel and nutrients on a regular basis.  Some fasting diets have a shockingly low limit of 500 calories per day.  It might sound like that would be a great way to lose weight, but your bodyfasting actually goes into “starvation mode” at that point and starts holding on to any and every calorie you put into it.   Plus, once you go back to your regular diet (which you will, because a fasting diet is not sustainable), your metabolism will be impaired which can also lead to weight gain.

The idea that fasting is a good “detox” method – that our bodies need a break from all that hard work of digestion – is lacking in scientific evidence.  Our bodies are made to digest and absorb nutrients from food.  The best thing we can do for ourselves is to fuel our bodies properly with whole, healthy foods – not deprive them of energy and nutrients.

Colon Cleanses

There are various ways people “cleanse” their colons: laxatives, enemas, and even colonics. The concept behind a colon cleanse is that it aids in the removal of GI bacteria and toxins, helping to improve gut health, increase energy levels, and encourage weight loss.  In reality colon cleanses can lead to infection, dehydration, bowel perforations, and dangerous electrolyte imbalances.  The digestive system is quite capable of keeping itself detoxified without the use of any invasive procedures.

Cleansing for Weight Loss:

  • When the body is in a state of starvation, metabolism slows down. That means you’ll still feel hungry post-cleanse, but your metabolism will have slowed. That is why people gain extra weight back after a very restricted diet plan.
  • The weight loss people experience when on a cleanse is primarily water weight and maybe some minor loss of muscle mass. The moment they go back to eating normally, their muscles will replete its glycogen stores and water and all the weight will be gained back.

The Downsides of Cleanses:

  • In otherwise healthy people, there is no scientific evidence that cleansing or detoxification has any benefit.
  • The human body is amazing –  removing wastes and toxins; mainly using the kidneys, but also through the skin, colon, and liver. The kidneys effectively filter waste from the blood and excrete them in the urine.  This system is very efficient, and does not need the help of a “cleanse” or fasting to remove wastes.
  • They’re unsustainable – starving yourself, drinking only juice, or having your bowel irrigated is not something you can do forever.
  • They potentially do more harm than good by undermining your body’s natural ability to keep itself “toxin” free.
  • They are expensive.
    • A typically cleanse lasts between 5-10 days–On average expect to pay between $50 and $400, depending how long you choose to cleanse. The average consume rspends only $150 per week on food, a juice cleanse is nearly double or triple the amount.
  • Cleanses eliminate essential nutrients, like minerals, vitamins, fiber, protein, and fat from your diet.
  • Fiber, which is absent in an all-juice diet, is what keeps the bowels moving.
  • The contents of what ends up being consumed during a ‘detox’ are essentially stimulants, laxatives, and diuretics or very low-calorie juices
  • Cleanses can throw a major wrench in your social life. Not only will you be “hangry“, you also can’t go out and enjoy a nice meal with friends.

Tips to help your body’s natural elimination:

  • Eat healthy, whole foods.  Aim to eat four to five cups of fruit and veggies per day. Less junk in your food means less junk for your body to get rid of, which puts less stress on your kidneys
  • Exercise – sweat is one of the ways to eliminate toxins naturally. Working out also helps eliminate fat and burn calories.  Do whatever you enjoy.  “The best exercise is the one you do”.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated allows our kidneys to work at full capacity and flushes unwanted wastes away
  • Focus on improving your overall diet to incorporate more naturally detoxing foods.
    • Leafy Green Vegetables are one of the most effective foods for cleansing the liver. They contain extremely high amounts broccoliof chlorophylls which have a distinct ability to neutralize heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides. They can be eaten raw or cooked, both equally effective.
    • Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage stimulate the activation of crucial liver detoxifying enzymes that help flush out toxins. Try eating more kimchi, coleslaw, cabbage soup, and sauerkraut.
    • Walnuts aid the liver in detoxifying ammonia and are also high in glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids, which support normal liver cleansing actions.
    • Tumeric is the liver’s favorite spice! Try adding this spice to your next lentil stew. This spice helps your liver by assisting enzymes to flush out dietary carcinogens that we may ingest from food additives and pesticides.

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