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Does Going on a Cleanse Really Help Your Body Detox?

Cleanses - do they work?


From peppermint hot chocolate to gingerbread cookies, from turkey to pigs in blankets—it’s all too easy to over-indulge during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Still, the arrival of the new year may lead you on a desperate search for strategies that’ll whip you back in prime health and wellness. STAT. Hence, the popularity of cleanse diets. These regimens promise to “detoxify” your body, improving health and promoting weight loss. In turn, these diets beg one question: “Do cleanses truly deliver on their promises?” Read on to find out.

What’s a “Cleanse”?

In general, cleanse diets fall under one of two umbrellas: 

  • First up: juice or smoothie cleanses. On a juice or smoothie cleanse, solid foods are replaced with various fruit- and vegetable-based juices or smoothies. 
  • Next, there are cleanses that'll have you eating in a particular way (e.g., eating lots of broccoli or turmeric) in the name of supporting healthy liver and/or colon function.

Cleanse diets—often through the elimination of foods—are thought to give the digestive system a break,  flushing out toxins and improving health.  

Do Cleanses Work?

Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that cleanse diets actually help your body remove toxins. Before getting into the mechanics of why they don't, it's worth explaining the term "toxins."

In the context of cleanse diets, toxins refer to substances that are found in your food, environment, air, and water that contribute to health problems. Examples include charred meats, food additives, second-hand smoke, and water contaminants like lead and arsenic. Now, back to why cleanse diets don’t do much good on the detoxification front. Your body comes equipped with its own toxin removal system: namely, your kidneys and liver.

  • Liver: The liver’s primary function is to take up toxic substances in the blood (e.g., alcohol and its metabolic byproducts) and convert them into harmless substances (e.g., carbon dioxide and water) or make sure they are released from the body.

Note: Your liver and kidneys require proper nutrition to perform their jobs optimally. So, in that sense, if you’re replacing too much food with juice—or excessively cutting down on your food intake—you might (ironically) be hurting your body’s natural detoxifying functions.  

Cleanse diets aren’t simply ineffective at helping your body detox, either. They may even hurt your health. Restricting calories heavily, fasting for long periods, and taking certain dietary supplements—all common features of cleanse diets—can lead to a slew of adverse health effects, including nutrient deficiency, fatigue, “brain fog,” mood changes, dehydration, and more.

How to (Actually) Help Your Body Detox 

So, if cleanse diets can’t help your body detox, what can? Here are four scientifically backed tips that’ll optimize your body’s natural detoxification system:

  1. Focus on sleep: Sleeping allows your brain to remove toxic waste byproducts (e.g., beta-amyloid, a protein that contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s) that have accumulated throughout the day. In general, you should be sleeping anywhere between seven and nine hours per night.
  1. Limit your alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can severely damage your liver’s ability to perform its necessary tasks (i.e., filtering waste and other toxins from the body). As such, limiting—or abstaining entirely from—alcohol is one of the best ways to promote the health of your body’s detoxification system. Health experts recommend limiting intake to one drink per day for women and two for men. 
  1. Drink more water: Your body uses water to transport metabolic waste products (e.g., urea and carbon dioxide) and then removes them from your blood through urination, breathing, or sweating. Staying adequately hydrated is thus key for detoxification. The adequate daily intake for water is 125 ounces for men and 91 ounces for women. That said, your exact water needs also depend on factors like your activity level and diet.
  1. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants: Exposure to toxins causes your body to produce free radicals capable of damaging healthy body cells (through oxidative stress). Thankfully, antioxidants help neutralize free radicals by “donating” extra electrons to the latter—stabilizing and, in turn, preventing them from wreaking havoc in your body. Antioxidant-rich foods you should add to your plate include berries, fruits, nuts, cocoa, vegetables, cannabinoids, and various spices (e.g., turmeric).

Bottom line? You don’t need to jump on a fad cleanse diet. Your body is more than capable of “detoxing” itself already. Instead, you should focus on creating the right conditions for your body to function at its best. Making long-term improvements to your lifestyle is a much wiser and healthier move than relying on short-term, “quick fixes” like cleanse diets.

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