That Detox Diet Is Not Going to Rid Your Body of Toxins

It doesn’t matter how many pureed veggies you drink, they won’t vaporize those mysterious “poisons” you’ve heard about

lettuce eater
Lettuce is fine, just eat something else as well. Innocenti and Lee/Image Source/Corbis

Jump start your weight loss and purifying your body with this one simple diet! The promise is alluring, but the premise is false: There is little scientific evidence backing up so-called detox diets, caution medical experts. And there is a lot stacked up to show why these diets aren’t going to help you. Restricted diets (such as the apple cider vinegar cleanse) can lead to unhealthy weight loss brought on by starvation. Healthy food, moderation and exercise may be a tired refrain, but it's one to stick by.

Detox diets are also contradictory, according to a 2009 report from Sense about Science, a UK-based charitable trust. "Whilst investigating ‘detox’ products we were shocked at how much of what they claim is contrary to what we really know about the body," writes chemist and report author Neil Young.

One expert didn’t mince words when he told Dara Mohammadi of The Guardian his thoughts on such regimes: 

“Let’s be clear,” says Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.” The respectable one, he says, is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. “The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”

Ernst goes on to explain that healthy kidneys, liver, skin and lungs all play a role in the body’s natural detox process. Need to detox after a weekend of heavy drinking? Let your body do that with an alcohol-free day (or several days). Some "toxins" might even be good for you. Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s Hospital in the UK, explained as much to Mohammadi:

“We know that a little bit of alcohol seems to be helpful,” she says. “Maybe because its sedative effect relaxes you slightly or because it keeps the liver primed with these detoxifying enzymes to help deal with other toxins you’ve consumed. That’s why the government guidelines don’t say, ‘Don’t drink’; they say, ‘OK drink, but only modestly.’ It’s like a little of what doesn’t kill you cures you.”

Even healthy-seeming broccoli has some poison—traces of cyanide. But the dose is what matters, Mohammadi writes. A little bit has a liver-priming effect similar to alcohol’s.

True, it can be hard to cope with the barrage of seemingly contradictory health advice, but when studies say eating meat will kill you, take a look at the evidence and consider how the message is getting distorted. Ultimately remember that the detox diet purveyors stand to make a lot of money off people’s fear-based purchases.

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