Although originally meant to describe the process of weaning drug-dependent patients off their drugs, the word detox now has a completely different meaning. Detox in most people’s minds, means cleansing the body of some kind of toxins, whether environmental, resulting from one’s own metabolism or from an unhealthy lifestyle, such as smoking or drinking alcohol1. But what exactly constitutes a detox diet?
This article is going to describe the purpose of a detox diet and describe the dietary plans of a couple popular detox diets.
Purpose of detox diets
Alternative medicine books talk about the way in which our body becomes filled with toxins. They cite our ingestion of pesticides and metals as reasons why we need to cleanse our body. They claim all of these toxic elements build up in our tissues and fat stores and we must systematically flush them out. This idea sounds plausible enough, but how does one go about detoxing?
Alternative medicine prescribes taking herbs to enhance the toxin filtering capability of our liver, exercise, saunas, colonic enemas, ear candles, and a combination of vitamins, minerals, and hydrotherapy, among other things. Many therapies combine drinking water to help flush toxins from the liver and flushing out the bowels, both of which are believed to act as defense mechanisms responsible for flushing out toxins.
The master cleanse and fat flush detox
The master cleanse detox is one of the more well known detox diets. The detox involves 10 days of replacing all meals with a drink made out of purified water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and tree syrup2. Dieters also drink sea salt water with a mild laxative herbal tea to stimulate bowel movements. Proponents of the master cleanse claim that it helps with weight loss and removal of toxins.
Another detox called the fat flush detox has dieters drink hot water with lemon, diluted cranberry juice, pre-prepared cocktails, take supplements and eat small meals high in protein and vegetables over a two week period. Proponents of this cleanse claim it removes toxins, lowers stress levels and improves liver function.
Who needs a detox?
There are certain signs and symptoms alternative medicine practitioners look for to judge whether or not someone needs a detox, including:
- Poor complexion, skin lesions, rashes, greasiness
- Digestive dyscrasias, halitosis, taste disturbances
- Lethargy, cognitive dysfunction
- Muscular aches and pains
- Increasing sensitivity to exogenous exposures, odours, etc.
- Hyper-reactivity to medicine or supplements
- History of heavy medical or recreational drug use or exposure to environmental chemicals’.3
Obviously these signs and symptoms are rather vague and hard to validate.
While this article went over the purpose of a detox diet and different examples of such diets, in a follow up article I will talk about whether detox diets work and if there are dangers associated with them.
- Detox diets have been around in natural alternative medicine circles for decades.
- Alternative medical practitioners claim that our exposure to environmental toxins, by products of our metabolism and intake of toxins like alcohol and smoking, leave us with the need to detoxify our bodies of these things.
- Practitioners focus on enhancing the functioning of our liver and GI tract to help flush the toxins, involving such methods as: taking herbs to enhance our liver functioning, hydrotherapy, vitamin/mineral supplementation and colonic enema.
- One of the more well known detox diets, the master cleanse, has participants replace all meals with a drink made out of purified water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and tree syrup for a period of 10 days while also drinking salt water with a mild laxative herbal tea to stimulate bowel movements.
- Ernst, E. (2012). Alternative detox. British medical bulletin, 101(1)
- Klein, A. V., & Kiat, H. (2015). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics, 28(6), 675-686.
- Blake E, Chaitow L, Newman Turner R. Naturopathic physical medicine. In: Chaitow L (ed.). Naturopathic Physical Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston, 2008.