Do detox diets offer any health benefits?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Detoxification (detox) diets are popular, but there is little evidence that they eliminate toxins from your body.

Specific detox diets vary — but typically a period of fasting is followed by a strict diet of raw vegetables, fruit and fruit juices, and water. In addition, some detox diets advocate using herbs and other supplements along with colon cleansing (enemas) to empty the intestines.

Some people report feeling more focused and energetic during and after detox diets. However, there's little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Indeed, the kidneys and liver are generally quite effective at filtering and eliminating most ingested toxins.

So why do so many people claim to feel better after detoxification? It may be due in part to the fact that a detox diet eliminates highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar. Simply avoiding these high-calorie low-nutrition foods for a few days may be part of why people feel better.

If you're considering a detox diet, get the OK from your doctor first. It's also important to consider possible side effects. Detox diets that severely limit protein or that require fasting, for example, can result in fatigue. Long-term fasting can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Colon cleansing, which is often recommended as part of a detox plan, can cause cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration also can be a concern.

Finally, keep in mind that fad diets aren't a good long-term solution. For lasting results, your best bet is to eat a healthy diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.

If you do choose to do a detox diet, you may want to use it as a way to jump-start making healthier food choices going forward every day.

March 17, 2015 See more Expert Answers