5 Reasons Why I Won't Pitch You a Detox or Cleanse

Posted in Controversy

5 Reasons Why I Won't Pitch You a Detox or Cleanse

Type the words “detox” or “cleanse” into Google and a riddle of promises, claims, recipes, and programs pop up. Detoxes and cleanses present in all kinds of ways - shakes, smoothies, elixirs, herbs, supplements, enemas, electromagnet devices (don’t ask, I’m not even sure what this is), diet programs, kits, and specific foods. The claims seem endless but often have to do with ridding the body of toxins or cleaning the body of impurities, suggesting that one might become a thinner, healthier, and better human being for it. It’s as though cleansing or detoxing is the religious antidote to sin – in this case eating something bad, wrong, or shameful.

If detoxing or cleansing is so important to our health, why am I NOT on board? Here are five reasons why I won’t pitch you a detox or cleanse:

#1 The Health Halo Effect

Detoxing and cleansing are marketing buzzwords that are misleading yet are used to gain attention and appeal. Both terms have a health halo effect, which refers to over-estimating (or over-marketing) the healthfulness of an item or process. Sadly, the claims rarely live up to the hype. As a business owner and health professional, I find it incredibly controversial to participate in misleading messages. This brings us point #2.  

#2 I am a Regulated Health Professional

I am a Registered Dietitian, regulated under the Saskatchewan Dietitians Association. This means that I accept the obligation to protect clients, the public, and the profession by upholding the Code of Ethics. Part of that obligation includes: 1) placing the individual’s best interest first; 2) practicing with an evidence-based approach using the best available research and critical professional judgement; 3) accurately representing my qualifications and experience; 4) not engaging in advertising that is false, incomplete or liable to mislead the public. In other words, legally I am not allowed to misguide the population with pseudo-science. Nor can I promote health-related information that isn’t supported with evidence, or at least a solid scientific understanding of human anatomy, physiology and nutrient metabolism. I could lose my license.

#3 The Clinical Trials Say it All

Actually, clinical trials don’t say much at all when it comes to detoxing or cleansing. In fact, the evidence doesn’t exist. Okay, to be fair, I did find this one article, here, on the effects of a lemon detox on body fat reduction in overweight Korean women. Eighty-four premenopausal women were divided into 3 groups - normal control group without diet restriction (Normal-C), a placebo juice group with calorie restriction (without the lemon juice - Positive-C), and a lemon detox diet group with calorie restriction (Lemon-D). The total trial was 11 days, 7 of which participants were permitted only to consume the Positive-C or Lemon-D juice. The researchers concluded that there was a statistically significant body fat reduction in the Positive-C and Lemon-D groups and greater fat loss than the Normal-C group (naturally, because they were on a restricted calorie intake). They did find that the Lemon-D group had significantly reduced C-reactive protein levels (an inflammatory marker in the body). So, this MIGHT suggest that lemon could help with lowering inflammation in the body (but so can many other types of veggies and fruit). The researchers concluded that further study is needed to understand lemon detoxification mechanism. So this is it? Great.

The research refuting claims around detoxes or cleanses (such as these here, here, and here) hold a much stronger argument. Bottom line, there isn’t enough data for me to suggest a detox or cleanse is necessary or beneficial.

#4 Whole Food Wins Again… and Again and Again and Again

We are learning through research that regular consumption of certain foods helps the body to function optimally and supports the body’s natural detoxification systems. Some of these foods include:

  • Garlic and watercres
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
  • Antioxidants found in berries and soy
  • Turmeric
  • Rooibos tea
  • Fish oil

That being said, as stated in this review article here, a major limitation around food and nutrients as detoxifiers, is they are studied primarily in cells or animals. Thus, it remains questionable as to whether similar effects would be seen in humans at reasonable doses. The researchers also state, “Science has not fully demonstrated the individual impacts of these factors, along with all of them together. At this time, a dietary pattern favoring whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods, seem to have the best overarching scientific underpinning”. Back to the basics we go – balanced nutrition day after day after day. We cannot cleanse or detox our way to health. Simply put, we need to consistently eat more whole veggies and fruit, a weekly juice cleanse isn’t going to cut it.

#5 Diet Culture

Diet culture hides behind the terms detox and cleanse. Because “dieting” comes with a negative connotation, it’s easier to promote buzzwords with health halo effects. Detoxes or cleanses typically promote quick fix promises, skepticism in a person’s ability to nourish their own body, and restrictive eating. This may even trigger obsessions with healthy eating, a disordered eating pattern called orthorexia (read more on it here). I see the effects of diet culture every day within my clients, friends, and on social media. What we don’t often see are the individuals who cycle between restrictive and binge-eating patterns, guilt and shame around food, and further body dissatisfaction. Diet culture, including detoxing and cleansing, does nothing to improve one’s health, body image, or relationship with food. We have all seen it or experienced it. But if you need even more evidence, you’ll find it here, here, and here.

Certainly there are foods that cause inflammation when consumed in excess, but detoxing or cleansing will not “fix” this overnight. Nor does it come down to one food or nutrient that harms or benefits our bodies. There are many factors contributing to illness, disease, or even unwanted weight gain including genetics, aging, stress, poor sleep patterns, socio-economic status, access to healthcare, weight bias/stigma, and dieting. It’s complicated!

At Food to Fit, we support our clients to feel confident in their ability to nourish their body, build skills in the kitchen, maintain or re-build a healthy relationship with food, and find the balance they need for long term “success”, whatever that means to them (allowing the client to define health for themselves). Detoxing and cleansing just doesn’t fit our “food to fit YOU” motto.


Submitted by Brooke Bulloch, RD