Jessie the Dietitian: Does My Body Need a Detox?

Sep 13 / CATEGORY: Nutrition

Spring is nearly here and with that comes a plethora of marketing pitches encouraging spring cleaning, organizing and simplifying one’s life. With Marie Kondo in your ear asking if that item truly “sparks joy”, sales ads and social media ‘influencers’ will encourage you to make it a self-care spring clean of your body and your t-shirt drawer.

“Try my miracle 3-day cleansing program,” “Drop 10 pounds in 10 days while detoxing,” “Remove built-up toxic sludge in the body.”

The pitches vary, but the premise remains the same: Your body is a dirty wasteland that must be scrubbed, scoured, and rendered spotless so that you can bounce with energy, shed pounds, and be healthy.

Remove what? From where?

There is an underlying assumption that our bodies go through the world collecting ‘toxins’, allergens, and waste products that adhere to our gastrointestinal walls along with hidden, pocketed feces forming an industrial-level sludge that must be removed. A cleanse or detox offers a seemingly harmless solution to inoculate toxins, right the body, improve digestion, and make you an irresistible, flawless superstar.

Beware! Most detox programs have a financial catch: Buy a specific supplement (pill, powder, tea, food-like substance), drink with copious amounts of water or juice, eat or drink from a very limited list of high-priced foods (if any food at all is allowed), and perhaps a few colon hydrotherapy sessions as a final flush.

Am I really three detox days away from Superstar Status?

Despite the prevalence of Instagram and YouTube ‘influencers’ promising life-changing results and mass market bottles of pills on the shelves, there is no scientific evidence that proves any specific ingredients found in detoxes that actually work. This does not mean a detox program wouldn’t make you feel better, especially if it includes plentiful fruits, vegetables, and fiber. But before you invest in a detox regimen, let’s consider the body’s natural detox mechanisms.

Cleaning aids

Liver & kidneys – These two organs and others work as a complex team orchestrating a full blood filter and cleaning many times per day removing waste products. Waste products are released through our urine and feces. Thus far, there is no research to suggest that a detox can help these organs do a better job.

These organs are also equipped with self-cleaning mechanisms that are highly efficient. If either of these organs stop working effectively, you need a doctor more than you need a detox.  In fact, some ingredients found in detox programs can actually cause harm to the liver.

Intestines – This is a generic term that describes the storage and flow areas from food intake (mouth) to food excretion (anus). Many detoxes rely on ingredients that are known laxatives that propose to “clean” away built up poop. If you are currently constipated, having regular bowel movements could definitely make you feel better. However use of laxatives can lead to cramping, diarrhea, dehydration and, if overused, long-term dependency resulting in reduced intestinal perfusion with nerve and muscle damage.

Choosing a 3-day or more detox will likely leave your body a little lighter as well as your wallet. Tea-toxing, for instance, often has diuretic or laxative properties leaving one mildly dehydrated and with an empty colon. Long-terms usage of the Master Cleanse will lead to muscle breakdown as the body catabolizes muscle for protein usage. Juice cleanses are not mystical detoxification agents that facilitate fat burning or cellular rejuvenation.

The Verdict

Is your body ‘begging’ for a detox after a particularly indulgent weekend or holiday break? Definitely detox with a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Add plenty of fresh water, lots of sleep, and regular exercise as well. Don’t confuse persuasive celebrity ‘influencers’ for actual science; testimonials and other ‘wellness experts’ are not a substitute for scientific evidence. Our body’s processes for detoxification occur vitally 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – not just for a few days or week.

-Jessie Furman, MS, RDN, LD/N

Jessie is a Registered Dietitian and the Coordinator of Nutrition at the Department of Recreational Sports where she does individual nutrition counseling for the UF community. To read more about nutrition counseling services, click here.