Do Detoxes and Cleanses Actually Work?

Everyone wants a quick fix and companies selling detoxes and cleanse products promise just that. Whether it’s a flat tummy tea or supplements to support liver detox, tons of products boast long lists of purported health benefits. But do detoxes and cleanses actually work? Here’s everything you need to know about this ever-confusing corner of the wellness market. 


A Quick Note on Reputability 


Good news for companies that create detoxes and cleanses: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate their products.  Bad news for consumers: That means the ingredients we see listed on supplement labels aren’t necessarily what we’re getting in the bottle.

What’s more, scientific studies on the efficacy of detoxes are extremely limited, with most utilizing questionable methodology and too-small sample sizes. Womp womp. 


So…Why Are Detoxes a Thing Again?


Despite the lack of clinical evidence backing cleanses and related products, the detox industry is projected to hit nearly $70 billion by 2025. Why? Because companies capitalize on consumers’ guilt and fear. In other words, these brands promise that their products will reverse the damage caused by those three (or was it four?) glasses of wine you drank last night.

But poor eating or drinking habits are not reversed with a 3-day cleanse, and these very “solutions” can actually cause more health issues, including weight gain from ultra low-calorie diet plans or diarrhea and dehydration from laxative teas.

The real detox MVPs are our liver and kidneys, which – we may remind you – are free! The liver naturally supports the body in removing toxins (not to mention storing vitamins, metabolizing food and aiding in immune function), while the kidneys constantly filter the blood, eliminating toxins and waste products 24/7. You’re welcome.


How Do Detox Products “Work”?


Many cleanse products contain high amounts of fiber, vitamins and herbs that act as laxatives. But dietary fiber, which naturally helps to promote bowel movements, can easily be found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. In other words, an entire market of pricey products that claim to “cleanse” the body are simply…expensive laxatives.

Since certain herbal supplements can interact with medications, we recommend speaking with a healthcare professional before adding any new products to your pill box. Though herbal supplements seem less potent than prescription drugs, they can cause toxic effects or lower the effectiveness of other medications.


Detoxing With Lifestyle and Diet Changes


By now you know that the liver and kidneys are the major players in detoxification. However, there may be a few other ways to rid the body of toxins. One small 2020 study reported that women who followed a low-calorie, plant-rich diet for four weeks had significantly lower levels of trace toxic elements in their hair compared to women who followed a control diet. While the study’s sample size was small, the research suggests that plant-forward diets along with caloric restriction could potentially reduce toxin load in the body.

Another study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health assessed the effects of weight loss on toxin release into the bloodstream. Most toxins are fat-soluble – aka, they are stored in our fat cells. Some experts believe that weight loss could potentially promote the release of stored toxins into the blood. This thereby increases oxidative damage and upping chronic disease risk. Fortunately, this study reported that a high-protein, low-calorie diet not only produced successful weight loss but also lowered the amount of toxins like PCBs in the blood, most likely thanks to an upregulation in the body’s antioxidant defenses per the researchers. 

It’s important to note that very low calorie diets like those often utilized in research are not meant to be followed long-term. Instead, we recommend emphasizing nourishing foods, living an active lifestyle and honoring your natural hunger and fullness cues. This sustainable approach will support both your physical and mental health.


Which Foods Naturally Support Detoxification?


Research on which foods upregulate detoxification pathways remains limited, but plant foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices may activate enzymes that promote antioxidant defense and detoxification in the body. 


Here are a few of our favorite detox-friendly foods:


  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage
  • Purple sweet potatoes 
  • Apiaceous vegetables like carrots, parsnips, celery, parsley
  • Soybeans
  • Grapefruit
  • Pomegranate
  • Citrus
  • Berries
  • Alliums like garlic, onion, leeks, chives, scallions
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric
  • Coffee
  • Black, rooibos tea, green, chamomile, and dandelion teas
  • Chicory root


The Takeaway


Research is limited on detox and cleanse products. What’s more, supplements lack a great deal of regulation – meaning they may not be safe or effective. Luckily our organs’s job is just that – to detoxify. You can support your liver and kidneys by adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate. These whole foods deliver fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals – all the nutrients that support long-term health. 


Not sure where to start? Work with a Culina Health dietitian to upgrade your meals and “detox” your diet the sustainable way today. 

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