Do Extreme Detox Programs Really Work?

June 18, 2019

"There has not been convincing evidence or scientific research demonstrating that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health."

Today’s show, the first in a 2-part detox series with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, holistic nutritionist, is about the real science behind the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of short-term detox cleanses. We’ll share what research says about detoxification, we’ll talk about some of the most popular types of detoxes, and dispel some of the most common myths that big business, advertising experts, and so called “health experts” want you to believe about detoxes and cleanses. 

Dr. Nancy will also share a better way to go about detoxing, and how these types of detox and cleanses can improve your health. Then she’ll introduce you to a super popular new type of detox that is actually changing the way researchers are looking at the benefits of detoxification.

Video Highlights

  • 00:26: Do short-term detox programs work?
  • 05:08: A little interesting detox history
  • 06:56: Extreme detoxes are not what they claim to be
  • 10:27: The purpose of detox
  • 11:54: Three main types of detox diets
  • 12:17: The most common way to detox
  • 15:26: Your Body’s Natural, Built in Detox System
  • 17:07: So, Why Do People Continuing to Detox?
  • 19:23: Where the real health benefits come from
  • 24:54: The most effective way to naturally, safely, detox
  • 28:40: Detox Diet Plan: How to Detox

Do short-term detox programs work?

Which sounds healthier — a total juice detox diet, such as the popular master cleanse, for a week or eating nothing but white bread and steak for a week?

It turns out the latter is not only more nutritious, but might even be safer for you! Okay, maybe that example is a bit extreme (we don’t recommend either choice), but it raises a really good question about the nutrition and health benefits of extreme detox programs.

So, here’s the real question: do short-term detoxing programs really work?  Do all of these juice cleanses, liver detoxes and colon cleanses really serve the intended purpose of pulling harmful toxins out of our cells and ridding them from our bodies?  Do they support our detoxing weight loss efforts and our overall health and wellness goals, and most importantly, are they healthy?

A little interesting detox history

The modern, extreme detox diet dates all the way back to the 1940s, when an alternative medicine advocate named Stanley Burroughs launched The Master Cleanse detox, which promised full-body detoxification by fasting on lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup for 7 to 10 days. People once swore by this cleanse, and it became popular again in the past few years. What many don’t know, is that Burroughs, the guy who invented the master cleanse, eventually went to jail for medical fraud!  Nonetheless, this crazy concoction paved the way for one of the most lucrative — and controversial — health practices out there today: extreme detoxification and cleansing practices.

Extreme detoxes are not what they claim to be

At Smarter Nutrition, we believe in using natural and organic whole foods as a way to improve health, so our answer to the question, “Are extreme detox diets and cleanses effective ways to improve health?” is no. These types of cleanses and detoxes do not remove toxins from your blood, cure chronic levels of inflammation, or cause meaningful, long-term weight loss (meaning fat-loss).

These detox plans come in all shapes in sizes, some more extreme than others. Some of them even have mottos like “if you’re chewing, you’re cheating”. There’s a liver and gallbladder flush, which involves drinking drinking two cups of apple juice every two hours, and on the last day, chug a whole cup of olive oil and a cup of salt. Sounds crazy, right? There’s another one, called the Sunlight Water Diet, which requires participants to live on water and sunshine for the duration of the cleanse. There’s a ketogenic diet that involves inserting a feeding tube into the nose, and keeping it there for 10 days, deriving nutrients through it in lieu of eating. Then there’s the cotton ball diet, in which participants dip a cotton ball in juice and eat it, and eat nothing else for days. One the baby food diet, adults eat nothing but little jars of baby food in an attempt to learn portion control.

If these things sound extreme and dangerous, that’s because they are. But many people are desperate to try anything that works! This is why it’s so important to be more focused on your whole body health than on meeting an extreme weight loss goal.

Our experience with detoxing has demonstrated that detoxing diets and cleanses do not directly result in the reported benefits claimed by the so-called “health experts”. However, specific types of detoxes do have important health benefits that we can all benefit from.

The purpose of detox

Detox diets are more popular than ever. They claim to quickly rid your body of toxins, heavy metals, and harmful chemicals. Detoxing is also often reported to be an effective way to give your digestive system a much-needed break with the intended and reported results of supposedly strengthening your immune system, reducing your levels of inflammation, and restarting your metabolism — all leaving you feeling younger, healthier, and more energized.

Specific detox diets vary, but they all typically consist of a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet of raw vegetables and fruit or vegetables and fruit juices, and drinking plenty of water. In addition,  sometimes a detox might includes herbs, teas, supplements, and colon cleanses or enemas which claim to improve health by emptying out your intestines

Most detoxes typically fall under one of three main types:

  • Those that replace foods with liquids
  • Those that claim to support your body’s natural detoxification process
  • Those that “cleanse” your digestive tract via the colon

The Most Common Ways to Detox

There are many ways to do a detox diet — ranging from total starvation fasts to simpler food modifications.

Regardless, most, if not all, detox diets involve at least one of the following components:

  • Fasting for 1–3 days
  • Drinking only fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, water, and tea
  • Drinking only specific liquids, such as water, tea, or lemon juice
  • Taking supplements or herbs
  • Using laxatives, colon cleanses, or enemas

In addition, nearly every one of the detoxes, cleanses, or flushes we’ve come across claimed to:

  • Rest your organs by fasting
  • Stimulate your liver to get rid of toxins
  • Promote toxin elimination through feces, urine, and sweat
  • Improve and speed up weight loss
  • Improve circulation
  • Provide your body with healthy nutrients

Look at the list of reported claims; who wouldn’t want those benefits? They all sound like great health benefits, right? In theory, yes, but not so much in practice… Believe it or not, there has not been convincing evidence or scientific research demonstrating that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health. Many do report weight loss while on a detox diet — however, that is usually a by-product, and often is a result of the detox diet being very low in calories. In fact, it’s important to note that many detoxes or cleanses drastically reduce caloric intake, so much so that it is actually very common for our metabolism to actually slow down in an effort to reduce calorie usage for sustained energy, meaning when the you start to consume calories again and the weight comes back, it’s even harder to lose.

Your Body’s Natural, Built in Detox System

What if we told you that you don’t need to detox because your body has a complex, natural, effective detox system built right in? Well, it’s true — your body is naturally detoxing itself 24/7. It’s actually a full-body effort that requires all of your organs work together. Consider this:

  • Your skin detoxes bacteria and toxins from your body through the sweat
  • Your kidneys filter toxins and waste from your blood, excreting it through urine
  • Your lungs expel carbon dioxide,
  • Your intestines extract nutrients from food and excrete waste products
  • Your liver clears out toxins from the body by filtering the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. Your liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs, keeping them from causing damage or further damage to the body.

So, Why Do People Continuing to Detox?

So, if there is no scientific evidence supporting these claims, and our bodies are already constantly detoxing, why in the world would people continue to turn to detox and cleanse diets as ways to improve their health? And if they don’t work, why do people continue to report losing weight, feeling better, and having increased energy levels during and after detox diets?

The answer is simple — detox diets require people to take notice of their health and wellness. People on detox diets are acknowledging that they are overweight, that they are experiencing health issues associated with inflammation, toxins, and excess weight, that they need to improve their health, and they are starting to address the issue. That right there is a huge first step in improving any health issue; acknowledging that there is a problem. A detox diet, like any attempt to improve health is a commitment to action — another essential step to improving a situation!

So it’s not surprising that people report feeling better during a detox. We really want this to work, people tell us it’s going to work, and we’re trained through advertising and marketing that detoxes and products designed to “cleanse” or “flush” our system will make us feel great both during and after the detox.

However, this improved sense of health and wellbeing experienced during detox is also a result of actual, notable health improvements that occur from simple changes made during the detox process, including eliminating processed foods, alcohol, and other unhealthy substances from your diet while at the same time replacing them with vitamins,  minerals, antioxidants, essential nutrients, and water that were most likely lacking prior to the start of the detox. This is where natural detox diets and cleanses, if done right, can have tremendous supporting roles in producing tremendous health benefits.

In fact, a detox diet (as opposed to a short-term cleanse or flush) is a really healthy and effective way to refocus and get back on track by supporting your body’s natural detox system, which is what really protects you by filtering out toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals, while also keeping your organs and systems functioning efficiently and effectively.  

Here’s the problem: over time, chronic inflammation resulting in large part from excess toxins, excess weight, a diet of processed foods, stress, and a lack of sleep steadily causes your organs to become less efficient — they get sluggish and tired — which eventually results in a number of health issues, including things like:

  • Autoimmune issues, including fibromyalgia, lupus and thyroid issues
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Weight gain
  • High cholesterol
  • Joint and muscle pain, including arthritis flare-ups
  • Brain fog
  • Low energy, fatigue, and depression

So, the reality is that extreme detox diets — the master cleanses, fasting, colon cleanses — just don’t work and they are just not sustainable.  However, a body cleanse and detox diet that involves cutting out unhealthy, inflammatory foods and increasing your intake of nutritious whole foods along with a few powerful inflammation-fighting foods, is an easy and effective way to help support your body’s natural detox efforts.

Unlike other detox diets, this kind of natural, inflammation-fighting detox or reset doesn’t drain your energy. Instead, it actually boosts energy levels, reduces inflammation, strengthens your immune system, improves your mood and mental clarity, and helps you feel great.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal? To feel great, to feel healthy, and to be at your best?  

So, let’s forget the extreme detox diets, cleanses, and flushes that you are used to hearing about. Let’s talk about the most effective way to naturally and safely detox as a way to support the efforts already happening in your body.

The most effective way to naturally, safely, detox

Taking steps to address these issues, especially by removing chronic inflammation, involves some healthy detox, or removal of certain foods or substances known to contribute to health issues as just one part of a complete, well-rounded plan designed to improve health. This type of detox doesn’t require extreme action like long-term fasting or extreme colon cleanses. This is about balance and purposeful, intentional actions in support of health and wellbeing. This healthy type of detox involves:

  • Removing unhealthy foods, including refined sugars, soda, store-bought cakes and cookies,  processed foods, packaged foods, processed meats, high-sodium foods, and trans fats
  • Replacing these unhealthy foods with whole, raw foods, including organic fruits and vegetables, omega-3 rich fish, lean grass-fed proteins, probiotics, fresh herbs, and natural foods known to reduce inflammation
  • Exercising on a regular basis to increase excretion of toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals through a combination of sweat and breath. The movement helps to massage your internal organs, and improve your health from the inside out.
  • Increasing the amount of water you drink as a way to flush harmful chemicals and toxins from your cells, tissues, and organs through frequent urination.
  • De-stressing and relaxing to reduce the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, a known contributor to inflammation and most serious health issues.

Detox Diet Plan: How to Detox

There are lots of different definitions, opinions, and theories of what defines the best detox methods or the best way to cleanse for weight loss or improved health.  Regardless of what you hear or what detox method you choose to follow, you need to make sure you are giving your body all of the important and required nutrients, while also cutting out the chemicals, processed foods, and added, artificial ingredients that are making you sick.

Following Dr. Nancy’s simple guidelines by incorporating some standard natural detox foods into your diet is, in our opinion, the best way to optimize your body’s built-in detox system, reduce your levels of chronic inflammation,  and give your body the tools it needs to clear out toxins efficiently.

Make sure you tune in for part two of our detox series, where Dr. Nancy will introduce you to a new detox craze that’s currently sweeping the country. This one's different than the others, and actually has some real potential to be an effective contributor to detoxing your body in ways all the others have not been able to.

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