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“Detoxes” and “Cleanses”

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Vegetable smoothie surrounded by fruits and vegetables

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A variety of “detoxification” (“detox”) diets and regimens—also called “cleanses” or “flushes”—have been suggested as a means of removing toxins from your body or losing weight. Detoxification may be promoted in many settings and may also be used in naturopathic treatment.

Detox programs may involve a variety of approaches, such as:

  • Fasting
  • Consuming only juices or other liquids for several days
  • Eating a very restricted selection of foods
  • Using various dietary supplements or other commercial products
  • Cleansing the colon (lower intestinal tract) with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (also called “colonic irrigation” or “colonics”)
  • Combining some of these or other approaches.

Bottom Line

There isn’t any convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health. Weight loss on a detox diet may be because these diets are often very low in calories.  

If you want to protect yourself from environmental hazards or control your weight, visit the resources under General Information below. There’s information supported by research that can help you reach your goals.

Safety

Some of the products and procedures used in detox/cleansing programs may be harmful to your health.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission have taken action against several companies selling detox/cleansing products because they contained illegal, potentially harmful ingredients; were marketed using false claims that they could treat serious diseases; or (in the case of medical devices used for colon cleansing) were marketed for unapproved uses.
  • Juices that haven’t been pasteurized or treated in other ways to kill harmful bacteria can make people sick. The illnesses can be serious in children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.
  • Drinking large quantities of juice may be risky for people with kidney disease because some juices are high in oxalate, which can worsen kidney problems.
  • People with diabetes should follow the eating plan recommended by their health care team. If you have diabetes, consult your health care provider before making major changes in your eating habits, such as going on a detox diet.
  • Diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food you eat usually don’t lead to lasting weight loss and may not provide all the nutrients you need.
  • Colon cleansing procedures may have side effects, some of which can be serious. Harmful effects are more likely in people with a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, kidney disease, or heart disease.
  • Detoxification programs often include laxatives, which can cause diarrhea severe enough to lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Fasting can cause headaches, fainting, weakness, dehydration, and hunger pangs.

This page last modified September 24, 2017