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What is a Detox Diet?

What You Need to Know

By

Updated May 23, 2014

young woman drinking fresh orange juice, using glass bottle
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What is Detox?

Detox, short for detoxification, is the body's natural, ongoing process of neutralizing or eliminating toxins from the body. Toxins are anything that can potentially harm body tissue, including waste products that result from normal cell activity, such as ammonia, lactic acid and homocysteine, and human-made toxins that we are exposed to in our environment, food, and water. The liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, blood and lymphatic systems work together to ensure that toxins are transformed chemically to less harmful compounds and excreted from the body.

What is a Detox Diet?

Although detox is primarily thought of as a treatment for alcohol or drug dependence, the term is also used to refer to a program of diet, herbs, and other methods of removing environmental and dietary toxins from the body.

There are many different types of detox diets. Generally, a detox diet is a short-term diet that:

  • Minimizes the amount of chemicals ingested (for example, by eating organic food).
  • Emphasizes foods that provide the vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that the body needs for detoxification.
  • Contains foods, such as high fiber foods and water, that draw out and eliminate toxins by increasing the frequency of bowel movements and urination.

Why do People go on a Detox Diet?

A growing body of research suggests that many of the chemicals we ingest daily through food, water, and air can become deposited in fat cells in our bodies. Toxins include pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in food, chemicals from food packaging, household cleaners, detergents, food additives, heavy metals, pollution, drugs, and cigarette smoke. A diet that lacks certain nutrients may also impair our natural ability to detoxify chemicals, which further leads to their build-up in the body.

The cumulative load, called the "body burden", is thought to lead to illness and has been linked to hormonal imbalance, impaired immune function, nutritional deficiency, and an inefficient metabolism. Signs are thought to include indigestion, poor concentration and sluggishness, headaches, bad breath, fatigue, poor skin, and muscle pain.

To become more familiar with symptoms alternative practitioners consider to be linked with toxicity, take the Detox Screening Quiz

Benefits

People often report improved energy, clearer skin, regular bowel movements, improved digestion, and increased concentration and clarity after a detox diet.

Who Shouldn't Try a Detox Diet?

Anyone considering a detox diet should consult a qualified health professional and/or their medical doctor first. Pregnant or nursing women or children shouldn't go on a detox diet. People with certain health conditions such as liver or kidney disease should only try it under the supervision of their primary care provider. It is not intended for alcohol or drug detoxification.

Fatigue, indigestion, cough, muscle pain, and poor sleep can be signs of serious illness. That's why it's important to see a primary care provider for a thorough assessment to ensure that any symptoms are not caused by a medical condition that requires immediate treatment.

Side Effects

One of the most common side effects is headache within the first few days of starting the detox diet, often due to caffeine withdrawal. For this reason, practitioners often suggest gradually decreasing the amount of caffeine prior to starting a detox diet. In addition, some people opt to take time off work to begin a detox diet or start the diet on the weekend.

Other side effects include excessive diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte loss. Constipation may occur if people consume excess fiber without also increasing their fluid intake. Other side effects can include tiredness, irritability, acne, weight loss, and hunger. Any worsening of symptoms or new symptoms that occur during a detox diet should prompt a visit to a qualified health professional.

If a detox diet is continued for a longer time, it may result in nutrient deficiencies, particularly protein (some detox diets omit animal products) and calcium.

Choosing a Detox Diet Method

Detox diet plans may include a diet recommendations, colonic hydrotherapy, herbs and supplements, and exercise.

Alternative practitioners usually recommend that people trying a detox diet for the first time opt for a gentle detox diet plan.

What Critics Say

Detox diets aren't needed. The body can detoxify on its own without the help of a detox diet. Our system has evolved to adequately elimate new chemicals in our environment without extra assistance.

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