8 Things To Know About Cleanses + Detox Diets

One of the major challenges about my work travel (especially a trip as insane as my recent trip to Orlando) is that my nutrition totally goes off the rails. I either eat way too decadently or not at all (if I’m crazy busy running around). By the time I return from one of these trips, I feel digestively wrecked and tempted to do something drastic like just drink copious amounts of water for an entire week to flush out my system. Except that I love food and I totally know I would cry if I tried to survive on water alone.

And here’s the thing, I tried a juice cleanse once and I actually really liked the process in general – except for the part about not pooping, which is a MAJOR PROBLEM. So I’ve definitely been more tuned to tactics that don’t involve a hard core cleanse or Whole 30.

But here we are. I’m about a week and a half out from returning from Orlando and was up in the middle of the night this week with stomach pains. I’m still not recovered digestively from my travel (clearly, I AM OLD) and the timing was perfect to share some expert knowledge via a recurring editorial series I’m working on with Tufts Medical Center. Today, Jillian Reece, RD, LDN, CSOWM and Michelle (O’Brien) Huber, RD, LDN of Tufts Medical Center’s Weight & Wellness Center share 8 things you should know about cleanses and detox diets. I found all of this so helpful to remind me of a more mindful, balanced approach to consumption as I’m working through my digestive situation!

1. What is a cleanse or detox?

The word “detox” or “cleanse” refers to the elimination of synthetic chemicals, pollutants, toxins, or processed foods from the body. There are several types of “detox diets” (see #2 below) ranging from reduction of a particular food or nutrient (e.g., eliminating sugar or alcohol) to interventions such as the use of laxatives to rid the body of unhealthy compounds. 

2. What types of cleanses and detox diets are there?

Some of the most common “quick fix” cleans methods are:

  • Juice cleanse: 32-64 oz. of juice made from whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Cleanse or “lemonade diet”: Consume 6-12 glasses/day of water mixed with fresh lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper, take a laxative before bed, nothing else.
  • Food or water fasting: Consume no calories or drink water only.
  • Use dietary supplements (e.g., teas, enzymes, laxatives, fiber and other supplements) to “clean out waste” in the colon.

3. What claims do these cleanses make?

It varies by product or method, but typically cleanses claim to help you lose weight quickly, improve your health and beauty, promote digestive health, elicit happiness, and reduce the effects of aging.

4. Are there health risks involved with doing a cleanse?

Absolutely. Here are 3 top concerns:

  • Dietary supplements including detox products are difficult for the government to regulate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration can review a product for safety and effectiveness once it is on the market; however, they are not involved in the initial manufacturing, labeling, distribution, or advertising of the product to consumers.
  • Without much regulation in place, products have the potential to be contaminated with other substances that may not appear on the label. Additionally, not all ingredients may be present in the dose or strength that they are listed. Without knowing what the product is fully comprised of, there may be risk involved for the consumer (i.e., electrolyte imbalances, lactic acidosis, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies or toxicities, possibly death).
  • Common detox product herbs such as Licorice Root, Ginkgo Biloba, and St. John’s Wort can interfere with the metabolism and absorption of medications prescribed by a physician, potentially lowering their effectiveness.

5. Do we actually need to detox? I’ve seen a lot of information about how I have pounds of sludge building up in my intestines – what do I do about that?

We don’t need to detox. Our bodies are built to detox for us. For example, the purpose of our colon is to remove waste – if it isn’t doing its job and “sludge” is building up, that’s a larger medical problem. We can support the colon by eating a high fiber diet, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly. In addition, our digestive track, lungs, and skin are all barriers to possible toxins, thus limiting what can enter our system. If a foreign substance does make it into our body, our liver can detoxify it and our kidneys can excrete it.

6. What if I’m really concerned about toxins?

Prevention plays a key role. If someone is concerned about toxins, they may consider analyzing their current environment and exposure risks. Looking into personal hygiene products, food packaging and storage, and cleaning products are several areas to start with.

7. If I still want to detox, what’s a safe and sustainable approach to this?

There are many ways we can support our body’s natural ability to detox. Choosing organic foods and those with limited additives, including a daily serving of cruciferous vegetables, increasing fiber intake, drinking more water, and working up a sweat with regular exercise are all great ways to achieve this. Ultimately, a healthy approach will involve implementing positive changes that you can stick with overtime. If at any point you do wish to use a dietary supplement, cleanse or detox product, always consult your primary care physician first.

8. What about juice cleanses – is juice as healthy as it seems? I see a lot of stuff that says juice isn’t always as beneficial because it leaves behind much of the fruit and vegetable.

Juice is not as healthy as it seems. Think about it this way: it takes about 6-8 oranges to fill an 8 oz glass of juice. Most of us can drink juice very quickly. Thus, we can consume the equivalent of 8 oranges in about 10 seconds if we want to. If we were to peel and eat 8 whole oranges it would not only take much longer, but it would have a much greater effect on our fullness. It’s much better to blend one whole fruit along with whole vegetables together as part of a smoothie. If you’re drinking a smoothie in place of a meal, you should add a source of protein such as plain Greek yogurt or protein powder. 

Tufts Medical Center is a renowned not-for-profit academic medical center in downtown Boston. Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center. Both are the principal teaching hospitals of Tufts University School of Medicine. Tufts MC and the Floating Hospital offer a full range of services including primary care, OBGYN services in all areas of women’s health and dedicated pediatric and adult emergency rooms.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Tufts Medical Center. All personal commentary about my poor nutritional travel patterns are, of course, my own.