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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Cleanses and Detoxes

Have you ever found yourself wondering “what exactly is a cleanse” or “what does it mean to detox?” You may be surprised to find out that there isn’t really a simple answer to these questions. The answer tends to vary across the cleanse and detox industry and even among healthcare professionals, too. If you ask most doctors or other medical professionals, a toxin is a substance such as drugs or alcohol, that can have an adverse impact on your health. Detoxification is the process by which individuals attempt to break their dependence on these harmful substances. In the context of the detox and cleanse industry, while toxins can also be harmful or addictive substances, they tend to either be ill-defined or to refer specifically to things such as synthetic chemicals, pollutants, heavy metals, or even processed foods. The industry offers cleansing diets and products that purport to purge these toxins.

These detoxing cleanses often include anything from the use of dietary supplements to propriety regimens focused on diet and exercise. For instance, Dr. Oz’s 48-hour weekend cleanse includes a diet centered around quinoa, vegetables, and fruit smoothies. However, some cleanses are a little more challenging and can require you to subsist only on liquid foods such as vegetable purées and juices such as lemon or cayenne pepper juice. Some cleanses even call for the complete abstinence from food. While most of these cleanses claim to address the presence of harmful toxins, many tend to differ in either how they claim to work or in regards to the specific health benefits associated with the process of detoxing. For instance, the benefits claimed by the detox and cleanse industry range from general health-related outcomes such as, the removal of toxins, or increased vitality, all the way to more specific claims regarding liver and kidney function, improvements in memory, increased IQ, etc.

Despite the expansive and continually growing industry of products and regimens aimed at detoxification, there are relatively few clinical trials in the scientific literature that examine the effectiveness or the safety of cleanses and detoxes. A 2014 systematic review of the scientific literature evaluating cleanses and detoxes concluded that there just weren’t enough well-conducted studies to draw any firm conclusions about either the effectiveness or safety of these products and interventions. There is not sufficient evidence at the moment to suggest that these cleanses work or that they are safe. And considering how vast the detox and cleanse industry is, many probably do not work, even if clinical trials in the future find that some do.

If you do decide to try a cleanse or a detox product for yourself, here are a few quick tips to steer you towards something that will be safe and hopefully have some sort of health-related benefit.

  • Stick with diet-based cleanses that allow you to eat food! While you are likely to experience weight loss while trying a fast-based cleanse, there are several serious risks associate with abstaining from eating foods.
  • Cleanses and detoxes that encourage you to eat meals that include fruits and vegetables are likely to be good for you, even if they don’t necessarily “detox” you from anything. Most of us could probably stand to eat more fruits and vegetables!
  • Cleanses and detoxes that include some kind of safe exercise regimen are also likely to be good for you, even if they don’t necessarily “cleanse” you from “toxins.”
  • Don’t spend too much money on detox products or too much time on cleansing regimens unless you’re sure they will provide some kind of health benefit. If you’re looking at a cleanse that doesn’t include evidence-based methods of improving your health such as exercise or eating a balanced diet, then you might not want to take a chance on it.
  • And finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a detox product or a cleanse program claims to cure all your minor ills or to address a serious medical condition, it’s probably safe to assume it won’t work. Until there is more definitive science-based evidence about the effectiveness of cleanses, it’s likely a good idea to take the claims of cleanse and detox marketers with a healthy grain of salt!

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