Detoxes — debunked
written by Kirstin Kade from Taste & See
With the start of a new year, conversations often turn towards the resolutions and noble intentions that many of us have to overhaul our diet and lifestyle to make up for our ‘bad’ decisions and indulgences during the festive season. The word ‘detox’ is thrown around like confetti, and whilst many of us have been or will be tempted by the attractive marketing behind juice cleanses, special teas, and supplements, their promises are nothing more than nicely disguised lies.
Do a Google search of the word ‘detox’ and you will find plans and products that promise to promote health and wellbeing. Despite the fact that the detox industry is booming, there is not much scientific evidence to back up most of these claims. The few studies that are available are hindered by their poor methodologies and relatively small sample sizes, and at this point no randomised-controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of juice cleanses, detox teas, or detox diets. Although there are some preliminary studies suggesting that certain nutritional components, including chlorella, nori, and selenium, may support detoxification processes in the body, most of them have been conducted on animals and thus cannot be directly translated to humans.
Detox products seem to be attractive to the general population for a number of reasons, the main one I believe to be the fact that they promise us a quick fix. They promise to rid our bodies of environmental toxins, relieve us gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disease, overall inflammation and chronic fatigue syndrome, and help with weight loss. The idea of ‘going on a detox’ is also often linked to a clean start, some kind of ritual of cleansing and purification. Although the word may mean different things to many people, it is usually linked to removing food groups from the diet, restricting food intake, and, more often than not, purchasing and consuming expensive products.
Dangers associated with detox diets and juice cleanses
1. Low fibre, high sugar intake
Juice cleanses may provide you with lots of vitamins and minerals, but they are also devoid of fibre and provide you with far more sugar than you need all in one go, and neither of these things are good for maintaining good gut health.
2. Desired short-term gains
The weight lost on a juice cleanse or crash detox diet will be mostly water weight, and although this might make you feel great in the short-term, it rarely stays off in the long-term.
3. Unwanted long-term damage
As with any diet, severe calorie restriction tends to cause metabolic damage by stimulating appetite and reducing both metabolic activity and energy expenditure, leading to a weight loss ‘plateau’ fairly quickly. Most detoxes literally starve you, and at the core are very low-calorie diets. Also, dieting in general can often be a stressful experience for the body, with evidence showing that stress and anxiety related to restriction and dieting might elevate cortisol levels that promote weight gain.
4. Psychological stress
Detox programs are often also psychologically damaging, feeding into anxious thoughts and an unhealthy relationship with food. This is because they involve resisting temptation and enduring physically uncomfortable feelings of hunger and deprivation for days on end.
Our amazing bodies
Detoxification ( detox for short ) refers to the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from an organism. In medicine, detoxification often refers to a hospitalisation process required when someone has ingested poison. The human body has a number of sophisticated physiological mechanisms for removing unwanted toxins from the body, without the need for costly products. Every time you go to the loo, breathe, or even sweat your body naturally detoxes. We have a liver, with hundreds of different enzymes that convert harmful compounds (many of which are actually naturally produced by our bodies through normal processes) into less toxic, water-soluble forms. Our lungs, kidneys, digestive system, and sweat play a critical role in eliminating these processed metabolites and other unwanted compounds from the body
An alternative message
‘Detoxes’, like any other quick fixes, don’t work. Spending a couple of hundred Rands on a ‘specially formulated’ juice detox will not undo bad eating habits. Although my advice might not be quite as attractive as a quick-fix, why not try to implement a few of these practical tips, which are far more sustainable, affordable, and achievable in the long-term:
1. Eat your veggies
Vegetables are packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other amazing components, so why not try eat a new vegetable once a week, and incorporate an extra serving of vegetables into every meal, breakfast included?
2. Eat smaller portions and chew more
Give your digestive system a bit of assistance by chewing your food properly and eating reasonable sized portions of food that it is able to digest with ease. Allow enough time between meals for your GIT to process the food that you’ve eaten.
3. Eat more whole foods
Eating foods in their natural, whole form is always best. Healthy compounds found in foods work together, and are far better for you as part of a whole. Eating whole foods also means less waste, as often leads to a whole lot of unnecessary waste, with pulp and skins usually being thrown in the bin.
4. Eat your greens
Broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables can do wonders in supporting your body’s natural detoxification mechanisms. Broccoli is a great source of a phytochemical known as sulforaphane, which does an amazing job of boosting out liver’s ability to process and eliminate foreign molecules.
5. Drink more water
Many of us don’t drink enough water, but it’s actually the most affordable way to support your body’s natural detoxification processes. Adequate hydration levels help to regulate weight and appetite, and promote good digestion. Water also facilitates the excretion of metabolites in urine via our kidneys.
6. Get moving
Gentle, enjoyable, purposeful movement is fantastic for so many reasons, including the fact that it can be calming, clears the mind, and can boost your mood. It also improves digestion and promotes blood flow around the body, which are both processes support natural detoxification.
Kirstin is a qualified Food Scientist and is currently studying a MSc Human Nutrition at the University of Surrey in the U.K. Her blog, Taste & See, is a space where she shares nutrition-related knowledge and wholesome recipes that aim to make good health through food accessible to others.
1 — Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Dec;28(6):675-86. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25522674
2 — Pixie Turner. 2 January 2016. A Scientific Guide to January Detoxing (http://www.plantbased-pixie.com/scientific-guide-to-detoxing/)
3 — Kate Brateskeir. 6 December 2017. What To Eat Instead Of Going On A Juice Cleanse (
4 — Dara Mohammadi. 5 December 2014. You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy? (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/detox-myth-health-diet-science-ignorance)
5 — Michael Gregor. 12 April 2012. The Best Detox. (https://nutritionfacts.org/2012/04/12/the-best-detox/)