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Detoxification, or detox, diets are more popular than ever. These diets claim to clean the blood and eliminate harmful toxins from the body.

However, it is not entirely clear how they do this, what they’re supposed to eliminate or if they actually work.

Detox diets are generally short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins from the body. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Detox diets are generally short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins from the body. Photo credit: Shutterstock

This is a detailed review of detox diets and their health effects.

What is a Detox?

Detox diets are generally short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins from the body.

A typical detox diet involves a period of fasting, followed by a strict diet of fruit, vegetables, fruit juices and water. Sometimes a detox also includes herbs, teas, supplements, colon cleanses or enemas.

These methods claim to:

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

Detox therapies are most commonly recommended because of exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment or diet. These include pollutants, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals and other harmful compounds.

These diets are also claimed to help with various health problems, including obesity, digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, allergies, bloating and chronic fatigue (1).

However, research on detox diets is lacking and the handful of studies that have been published suffer from significant limitations (2, 3).

The Most Common Ways to Detox

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

Most detox diets involve at least one of the following (1):

  • Fasting for 1 to 3 days
  • Drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, water and tea
  • Drinking only specific liquids, such as salted water or lemon juice
  • Eliminating foods high in heavy metals, contaminants and allergens
  • Taking supplements or herbs
  • Avoiding all allergenic foods and then slowly reintroducing them
  • Using laxatives, colon cleanses or enemas
  • Exercising regularly

The different detox diets vary in intensity and duration.

Which Toxins are Eliminated?

Detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove or how exactly they eliminate them. In fact, there is little to no evidence that detox diets actually remove any toxins from your body.

More importantly, there is really no scientific evidence backing up the claim that our bodies are loaded with toxins and need to be cleansed. Your body is actually very capable of cleansing itself, through the liver, feces, urine and sweat. The liver makes toxic substances harmless and then makes sure they’re released from the body (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Despite this, there are a few chemicals that may not be as easily removed by these processes, including persistent organic pollutants, pthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and heavy metals (3, 8, 9, 10, 11).

These tend to accumulate in fat tissue or blood and can take a very long time, even years, for the body to get rid of (12, 13, 14). However, generally speaking, these compounds are removed from or limited in commercial products today (15).

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