Those who struggle with losing weight or who may just want to boost their overall health sometimes turn to cleanses for help. Cleansing or detoxification diets promise quick weight loss by “cleansing” the body of built up toxins from the environment that may be causing weight gain, inability to lose weight or various illnesses. While weight loss can be achieved with these types of diets, there are potential health risks as well.
How Detox Diets Work
Cleanses purportedly rid the body of toxins that invade the body through pollution or from activities such as smoking, eating processed foods on a regular basis, drinking alcohol or consuming caffeine. There are various types of detox diets, but most require some sort of herbal supplements to be taken in the form of pills or liquid and a severely restricted diet, if any food is permitted at all. A very popular detox diet, the Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet, permits only 6 to 12 glasses per day of a concoction made up of lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper. Cleanses are typically followed for 10 days, but can last up to 30 days.
Potential Risks of Cleansing Diets
While weight loss may occur from detox diets, potential harmful effects include:
Fluid loss: Weight loss experienced during a detox diet is mainly due to muscle and fluid loss. When large amounts of fluid loss occurs, dehydration, fatigue, headache, mood swings, irritability, and electrolyte imbalance which in extreme cases can lead to cardiac arrest.
Deprives the body of much-needed nutrients: Any type of detox diet that severely restricts calories or requires only liquids be consumed deprives the body of necessary vitamins and minerals from food, weakening the body’s immune system and ability to fight infections and inflammation.
Slows metabolism: Research indicates severely restricting calories or skipping meals actually makes it harder to lose weight since the metabolism slows down when calories are restricted to a level below what the body needs to perform everyday functions. Also, when the body is not consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates, the body turns to muscle for energy, which also causes a slowdown in metabolism.
Weight is regained: Since the weight loss during a cleanse is mostly fluid, after a cleanse is complete and regular eating patterns resume, weight is naturally regained. Also, since weight is lost quickly on a detox diet, a dieter may gain back even more than what was lost to begin with.
Other disadvantages of a detox diet can include blood sugar problems, nausea, vomiting, frequent diarrhea, and binge eating.
Scientific Research on Safety and Effectiveness of Detox Diets
According to Juliann Schaeffer in the May 2008 issue of Today’s Dietician, detox diets have little scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, and any research on their safety is scarce, at best.
Unless one has a medical problem, the body is perfectly capable of ridding itself of toxins through the liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin, especially when one follows a healthy diet consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and water, and avoids processed foods, sugar, harmful stimulants, and drinks alcohol in moderation. Experts suggest this is the best type of cleansing for the body since an adequate amount of food is consumed that provides the body with essential nutrients and also addresses the issue of healthy eating habits.