What are the pros and cons of detoxing?
Not all detox diets are harmful. Research provides evidence of health benefits when fasting is done right. “Intermittent fasting [up to 24 hours one or two times weekly] can help with weight loss, decrease inflammation, and reduce blood pressure. However, this should be done for a short period of time and under the supervision of a medical professional,” says Apovian.
“Many detox diets recommend removing processed foods, sugar, and alcohol and increasing intake of fruits and vegetables and lean meats,” says Florida-based registered dietitian nutritionist, Gisela Bouvier owner of B Nutrition and Wellness, LLC. This type of detox diet reflects the fundamental elements of a healthy eating pattern outlined in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Detox diets can also increase the individual’s resolve to improve eating habits. “It can psychologically jumpstart you back to better eating and living. Detox diets are usually of short duration and won’t harm most healthy people,” says Ayoob.
There is more risk than benefits associated with most detox diets. “Muscle loss, malnourishment, compromised metabolism, dehydration, low blood sugar, nausea, and more, depending on which detox method is selected,” says Apovian. People with pre-existing medical conditions are at increased risk. “Many people turn to detox diets to self-treat a medical problem that needs professional attention. Detox diets then lengthen the amount of time that problem goes untreated,” says Apovian.
Detox diets can also set the stage for a cycle of yo-yo dieting and disordered eating. According to Wong, who works with individuals who have a history of dysregulated eating and chronic dieting, severe restriction of food often results in both physical and mental deprivation. “It is well documented that deprivation of food leads to dysregulated eating such as over-eating and in many cases binge eating,” says Wong.
Bottom line: Most detox diets are similar to other fad diets in the market—filled with unsubstantiated claims with more health risk than benefit. There is scientific evidence on the health benefits of intermittent fasting for up to 24 hours one or two times weekly. “However, most detoxes do not qualify as a healthy intermittent fast,” says Apovian.
To learn how to make sustainable, healthy, lifestyle changes, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Click here to find a nutrition professional near you.