A friend of mine recently told me she’d done a “cleanse” that lasted 9 days. It cost her $150. It involved a regime of supplemental shakes and powdered cleansing drinks (this product was the reason for the $$), fasting days of only juice and water, alongside other recommended dietary changes. The main claims? Weight loss, cleansing the body of toxins, improved energy and digestion.
My friend is hardly the first person to go on such a regime. It seems like, these days, every other celebrity is talking about this, and I’ve had countless patients tell me they’re “doing a cleanse”.
So here’s my question: Do detox diets and cleanses actually benefit your health? Do they live up to their claims?
Or, put another way: does a detox diet cleanse anything other than your wallet?
My friend said, after the 9 days, she felt great, and she had lost “inches”. And this wasn’t the first time she’d done this particular cleanse. She was telling me this, of course, as we munched our way through a big tub of movie popcorn. Had she changed her diet long-term? Nope. The last few times she’d done this cleanse she’d also lost weight, and inches, and felt great. Had she regained the weight each time? Yep.
So, naturally, as we talked I was formulating an opinion on this particular diet, but I decided I needed to do some research. Here are the positions of some reputable institutions on “detox-ing”:
Essentially, what everyone seems to say is this: there’s no evidence to support these sorts of “cleanses” or “detox diets”. But does that mean there hasn’t been sufficient research done yet? Or does it mean there is definite evidence against it? That bit is a little unclear.
I think it’s helpful to tease out the reasons for using a cleanse. And there appear to be two different camps. One primary goal is to rid the body of toxins. The other is to lose weight. There are all sorts of side-benefits mentioned in these programs, but as far as I can tell, these are the two primary goals. And they can be considered separately.
The consensus is pretty clear on the weight loss goal: it will work, but it will be short-lived, and you will likely have rebound weight gain–often more than your initial loss. See, the thing is, your metabolism is now slower. Your body has gone into starvation mode.
As for the detoxification goal, I think this one is still up for debate. I do believe that our bodies need detoxification. But the fact is, we were born with internal systems designed to do this job for us (liver, kidneys, and skin, via sweating). However, whether these systems are sufficient for this job in our modern age, and with our North-American-ized diet, is perhaps not totally certain.
I really, really wish I’d been able to find some solid scientific studies on this topic. But I didn’t. I’m going to keep checking, and maybe something will be forthcoming. As Dr. Marc Cohen, Professor of Complementary Medicine, in a paper that reviewed detox diets (in Australian Family Physician) said: “lack of evidence for an effect does not mean lack of effect”. Which is quite true.
That being said, I would personally expect there to be some pretty convincing evidence available to prove a system’s effectiveness before shelling out $150.
Here are some prominent physicians’ viewpoints:
Here is what Dr. Weil said about cleansing/detox-ing diets:
Fasting and near-fasting routines such as the Master Cleanse are not effective weight loss tools – they alter your metabolism in a way that actually may make it harder for you to lose weight or easier to regain the weight once you go back to the way you normally eat. Most people compensate for the deprivation of the regimen by increasing their caloric consumption afterward.
I mean, if someone like Dr. Weil doesn’t even endorse this kind of thing (and he’s a fan of some pretty out-there stuff sometimes), it’s quite likely you’ve really got something pretty ineffective on your hands.
I have little doubt there’s a placebo effect to these pre-packaged detox systems. I mean, you’ve got a vested interest in believing that something is working when you’ve forked over a big chunk of your paycheque, don’t you?
The diet system my friend used also required that she eliminate dairy, meat, alcohol, and caffeine from her diet during the 9 days. And drink plenty of water. I asked her what she thought might happen if she tried just doing the diet cleanup part, without all the pricey shakes. Any chance she might feel better, slim down, have more energy…all without the hyped-up product?
And I guess that’s my opinion in a nutshell. If you’re looking to detox from junk food and processed food and all those other toxins…how about not eating junk food and processed food? How about having a healthy, bountiful diet of whole food? How about drinking plenty of water anyway? How about exercising, and sweating, and getting lots of sleep?
Any thoughts? Anybody have any experiences doing a cleanse?