Nutrition Fact or Fallacy: Detox Diets

Nutrition Fact or Fallacy: Detox Diets

Have you heard of a Detox Diet? If so, how would you define it? Well, whatever definition you just came up with is correct. I have been researching for over an hour now, and I cannot find a consistent or evidence-based definition for what a detox diet is. Definitions vary from flushing the body of unwanted toxins, a period where you stop eating unhealthy or harmful foods, to periodically clearing the toxic waste from your body. Even then, some detox diets specifically target one organ (for example, the liver or large intestine) or an area of the body.

Common detox diets include fasting, juicing, herbal juices and supplements, range from 7 to 21 days long, and are based on anecdotal, rather than scientific evidence. Despite this, many people share positive reviews of detox diets, here are a couple of reasons why people could believe detox diets work:

  1. Large Calorie Deficit – Many detox diets, such as juicing, result in a large calorie deficit, glycogen depletion and water loss, which all give the effect of weight loss or facilitate rapid weight loss, and the idea that detox diets work.
  2. Improved Dietary Habits – Many people have extremely poor dietary habits. Therefore, removing alcohol, refined foods and foods low in micronutrients, and replacing them with a nutrient dense diet abundant with fruit and vegetables will be beneficial, but not because its a detox diet, entirely because of effective dietary changes.

Lets take one example of a detox diet, the liver detox. The liver monitors the contents of the blood and removes/metabolises any potentially toxic substances. Enzymes within the liver (specifically in the hepatocytes) metabolise these toxic substances, such as alcohol, and converts them into inactive metabolites to be excreted or sweated. However, it is important to note that toxins do not accumulate in the liver, and as such the liver does not need detoxifying, flushing or purging.

Other detox diets, aimed at detoxifying the colon or other organs, lack scientific evidence and are unjustifiable. The human body has physiological mechanisms in place to metabolise and excrete toxins that enter, or are processed within the body. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a detox diet is necessary to neutralise these toxins or enhance your health. On the other hand, evidence demonstrates if you have an unbalanced diet that contains large amounts of processed foods, and alter this to a well balanced, alcohol-free and nutrient rich diet, you may feel physically or psychologically better-off for a whole host of reasons. But, one of those reasons is not because you have become detoxified.

Conclusion: Nutritional Fallacy. A detox diet is a marketing strategy designed to treat a non-existant medical condition, and if anything, does the opposite of helping. Detox diets lead people to believe they have been ‘cleansed/flushed/purged’ and can return to consuming an unbalanced refined diet only to ‘detox’ again in 6 months. The consequences of poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, and alcohol consumption, cannot simply be ‘flushed’ or ‘purged’ from the body; lifestyle and long-term dietary habits must be changed.

About the Author

Mark Funnell holds a BSc (Honours) degree in Sport and Exercise Science and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition from Loughborough University. He is currently working as a Performance Nutritionist for the England and Wales Cricket Board with both the England Women’s Academy and Midlands Regional Disability Cricket squads. Additionally, Mark is a graduate member of the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), an ISAK Level 1 Anthropometrist and a UK Anti-Doping advisor.