National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health

Información en Español

Health Topics A-Z

“Detoxes” and “Cleanses”: What You Need To Know

Share:
email
Twitter
Facebook
AddThis
Vegetable smoothie surrounded by fruits and vegetables

© Thinkstock

What are “detoxes” and “cleanses”?

A variety of “detoxification” diets, regimens, and therapies—sometimes called “detoxes” or “cleanses”—have been suggested as ways to remove toxins from your body, lose weight, or promote health. 

“Detoxification” programs may involve a single process or a variety of approaches. These include:

  • Fasting
  • Drinking only juices or similar beverages
  • Eating only certain foods
  • Using dietary supplements or other commercial products
  • Using herbs
  • Cleansing the colon (lower intestinal tract) with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (also called “colonic irrigation” or “colonics”)
  • Reducing environmental exposures
  • Using a sauna.

These programs may be advertised commercially, offered at health centers, or part of naturopathic treatment. 

Some “detoxification” programs can be unsafe and falsely advertised. For more information on safety, see the “What about safety?” section below.

(The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends chelation therapy, a type of chemical detoxification procedure, for removing toxic metals from the body in some specific serious cases. This page does not address that type of detoxification.)

 

What does the research say about “detoxes” and “cleanses”?

There have been only a small number of studies on “detoxification” programs in people. While some have had positive results on weight and fat loss, insulin resistance, and blood pressure, the studies themselves have been of low quality—with study design problems, few participants, or lack of peer review (evaluation by other experts to ensure quality). 

A 2015 review concluded that there was no compelling research to support the use of “detox” diets for weight management or eliminating toxins from the body. A 2017 review said that juicing and “detox” diets can cause initial weight loss because of low intake of calories but that they tend to lead to weight gain once a person resumes a normal diet. There have been no studies on long-term effects of “detoxification” programs.

If you want to protect yourself from environmental hazards or control your weight, visit the resources under General Information below.

 

What about safety?

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken action against several companies selling detox/cleansing products because they (1) contained illegal, potentially harmful ingredients; (2) were marketed using false claims that they could treat serious diseases; or (3) in the case of medical devices used for colon cleansing, were marketed for unapproved uses.
  • Some juices used in “detoxes” and “cleanses” 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.
  • Some juices are made from foods that are high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance. Two examples of high-oxalate foods are spinach and beets. Drinking large quantities of high-oxalate juice can increase the risk for kidney problems. 
  • People with diabetes should follow the eating plan recommended by their health care team. If you have diabetes, consult your health care providers before making major changes in your eating habits, such as going on a “detox” diet or changing your eating patterns.
  • 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, severe hemorrhoids, kidney disease, or heart disease.
  • “Detoxification” programs may include laxatives, which can cause diarrhea severe enough to lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Drinking large quantities of water and herbal tea and not eating any food for days in a row could lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances.

Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use, including any “detoxes” or “cleanses.” Together, you and your health care providers can make shared, well-informed decisions.

 

Are all fasting programs considered “detoxes” and “cleanses”?

Although some fasting programs are advertised with “detoxification” claims, other fasting programs—including intermittent fasting and periodic fasting—are being researched for health promotion, disease prevention, improved aging, and in some cases weight loss. But there are no firm conclusions about their effects on human health. Also, fasting can cause headaches, fainting, weakness, and dehydration.

This page last modified September 17, 2019