Detoxes and cleanses

Featured: Detoxes and cleanses

Detoxes and cleanses

As a new year begins, people often focus on various forms of self-improvement, and chief among those are usually getting healthy and losing weight.

Story: Christine Walsh

Photos: provided

As a new year begins, people often focus on various forms of self-improvement, and chief among those are usually getting healthy and losing weight. That motivation is increasingly being directed toward popular cleanses and detoxes.

Anita Hall, a registered licensed dietician nutritionist based in Champaign, explained that there is no scientific definition of either cleanses or detoxes but there are some general descriptions for each. “Detoxes claim to clean the blood and eliminate harmful toxins from the body,” she said. “Cleanses claim to cleanse your liver, protect you from diseases and boost your metabolism.”

Detox products may consist of probiotics’ alpha-lipoic acid; cinnamon; spirulina platensis; nori; chlorella pyrenoidosa; extreme fasting; chemical skin patches; apple cider vinegar; fat blockers; juicing; teas containing senna, guarana, yerba mate, garcinia cambogia; activated charcoal’ aloe vera; spices and herbs. Cleanses may include turmeric, milk thistle, fasting, prolonged sweating, very low-calorie diets, lemon or grapefruit liquid diets, aloe vera, keto diets, colon cleansing, food group elimination diets, herbals and supplements. Cleanse diets may call for elimination or limits on sugar, aspartame, soy, dairy, gluten, alcohol, corn, processed foods, dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives.

Among the claims of many detox and cleanse products are STDs cures; HIV prevention or cures; hepatitis A, B and C protection; weight loss; drug purging so the user can pass drug screen testing; hangover cures; cellulite erasing; wrinkles smoothing; environmental toxins purging; heavy metals’ removal; depression lifting; skin clearing: eradicating parasites; controlling inflammation; pain elimination; vision improvement; belly flattening; irritable bowel cures; bloat deflating; energy boosting; diabetes cures; cancer reversal; sex drive improvement; memory sharpening and IQ boosting.

University of Illinois Extension Media Communications Specialist Beth Peralta said people should be cautious when considering detoxifying. “Our body does that naturally,” Peralta said, noting that the skin, liver and kidneys all perform excretory functions. “Most people don’t need additional detoxifying.”

The largest internal organ, the liver, is responsible for over 500 different functions, including detoxification.

Peralta explained that detoxification can be used for specific medical reasons, such as for heavy-metal poisoning or in drug and alcohol treatment programs.

The possible negative effects of detoxing would depend on the specific diet or protocol being used, according to Peralta. Some might cause gastrointestinal distress, for example. “A lot of time, energy can be an issue with a low calorie intake,” she said. “People can feel sluggish and have a hard time doing tasks.”

“There are documented negative outcomes from colon cleansing such as emergency hospitalizations and even deaths reported due to frequent coffee enemas and taking detox products that interfere with prescribed medications,” Hall said. “Embarking on these programs can severely limit the intake of normal healthy nutrition and required energy with symptoms ranging from moodiness, bad breath, cramping, depression, fatigue, compromised immune function, bone loss, muscle loss, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, heart problems, kidney function decline, constipation to gallstones.”

While people do typically lose weight when detoxing, the effect is usually temporary, for example when diuretics cause a loss of water weight, Peralta said. “It usually rebounds when they go back to their regular eating habits,” she said.

Peralta said there are ways that people can help their bodies’ natural detoxifying mechanisms to be more effective. She suggests eating a variety of foods – especially focusing on more fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and cutting back on sugar and salt. “Most people don’t consume a lot of dietary fiber, along with drinking a lot of water,” she said.

Peralta recommends consulting with a doctor before making any significant dietary changes, however. “A lot of adults don’t see their physician regularly,” she said. “If you’re working on trying to make some changes, and the results you’re looking for aren’t happening, it might be best to check with a doctor.”

If you’re considering taking any kind of over-the-counter product, Peralta advises having a doctor take a look at it first to determine if the product’s ingredients will live up to the claims or if there are any potentially harmful side effects. A doctor can also tell if there will be interactions with any supplements or prescription medications you might already be taking.

Grapefruit and lemon cleanse diets can interfere with multiple drugs for up to 72 hours after ingestion, such as antidepressants, antibiotics, statins, narcotics, opioids, analgesics and medications for stroke prevention, bipolar disorder, psychosis, mania, anxiety, thyroid disorders and hypertension. Diabetes patients may have dangerously low blood glucose levels if following a detox program combined with a very low-calorie diet.

Peralta said most area physicians have dieticians they can refer patients to for more help with their eating habits.

Detoxes are typically not recommended for children and teenagers because they are still growing, according to Peralta. “There can be a lot of potential harm,” she said.

The frequency with which detoxing can be done depends largely on the individual, Peralta said. While some programs last for only a day or two, others can go on for 30 or more days.

“A lot of times there is a social appeal to it as well,” Peralta said. “Someone might share something on a social media network after they try something. It’s like that testimonial effect. It helps to take a step back and realize we might not need a product or a program to help our bodies work.”

Hall suggests focusing on making healthy choices from all five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy – to get the nutrients you need, as well as eating the right amount of calories based on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level. Hall advises looking for foods and drinks that are lower in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. She offers the following tips:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
    • Focus on whole fruits.
    • Vary your veggies.
  • Make half your grains whole grains.
  • Move to low-fat and fat-free dairy.
  • Vary your protein routine.
  • Eat and drink the right amount for you.

For general questions of product safety or a product complaint, contact the FDA at 1-800-332-1088 or