Cleanse vs. Detox


Can a Detox or Cleanse really be Beneficial?

With all of the buzz around “cleanses” and “detox,” it’s hard to know the right direction and whether you need to incorporate one of these diet options into your regiment. Our bodies need nutrient dense foods to survive and thrive (it takes a lot just to be wonderful you!). A well-balanced diet that includes the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients is what makes us nutritionally complete. When we aren’t feeling “complete,” there can be many enticing factors on starting a cleanse or detox so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. You may notice that your co-worker is beginning a detox to shed a few pounds for the upcoming wedding she’s attending or a family member who wants to rid themselves of “toxins.” You may be wondering what are the side effects and is this safe for me?


Detox diets are plans that suggest that by eliminating many foods that contain toxins and contaminants (preservatives, pesticides and many foods deemed unnecessary to survive) our bodies will result in a detoxifying effect. Alcohol, sweets and your morning cup of joe are even off limits. While a nutrient dense detox can provide benefits to an individual, it’s usually more likely due to the individual eliciting a healthy eating response vs. a true detoxification of the body. Anytime someone makes a change from a less than healthy way of eating to a more nutritionally sound diet, our bodies begin to scream “success.”  While eliminating these foods and partaking in a detox diet can be harmless, it’s often disputed by doctors and dieticians that (unless a nutrient deficiency occurs), there is little factual evidence to support collecting results.  Before you engage in any detox, you should weigh the risks and potential side effects. Many scientists agree that there is no clinical evidence that suggests such diets are effective.  It’s always a good idea to seek medical guidance prior to starting any diet, especially before and during a cleanse.


If you decide you are ready for a detox, there are claimed positive benefits that can include eliminating digestive problems, bloating, and even skin outbreaks. When a successful detox takes place, people come out feeling more energized.  These positive side effects usually occur when an individual includes plenty of nutrient dense foods (think unprocessed, no sugar, no trans fats, along with ridding caffeine and alcohol).


How a Detox can be Harmful

Unfortunately there are extreme detox options available to people which promise a “quick fix.” This often dangerously low caloric intake often results in “starvation camp” style results where folks shed weight too quickly (often muscle and fat tissue).  Simply put, you aren’t ingesting enough calories to live and be you and burning more than you are taking in.  Rapid weight loss is a result and often does not last once the detox concludes and you return to your normal dietary habits. The well-known “Master Cleanse” is a popular concoction of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne mixed with water for a week and a half. The super restrictive diet causes extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, irritability, headaches, and bowel distress. This long detox can cause unnecessary damage to the body and dangerously lowers electrolytes that regulates the bodies water, decreased muscle function and causes low blood sugar.  Nutritionist Jane Clark blames diet for neglecting to provide the essential nutrients one needs (protein, vitamins and minerals).  As a result of these deficiencies, along with the restrictive calories mentioned above, optimum function drops well below normal levels and causes severe symptoms that are potentially harmful long term.


Lemon, Cayenne Pepper, and Chia

Although the Master Cleanse as a whole provides a lot of evidence that indicate it’s lack of safety and overall results, there are benefits to lemon, cayenne pepper and chia seeds that are worth mentioning. Lemon acts as a natural detoxifier as Vitamin C turns toxins into digestible material. In addition, lemons have antioxidants and electrolytes including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Cayenne pepper stimulates the circulatory system and most-importantly, increases body temperature to kick-start your metabolism. The fiber content in chia seeds – 5 grams per tablespoon – swells when soaked in water, causing a full feeling that may also support weight loss, healthy blood sugar levels, and may reduce inflammation. It’s important to seek out nutrient dense foods as a means of natural detoxification via micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).


So when is a cleanse safe?

Really, the answer is never. Perhaps a detox? It depends. Our bodies are complex organisms made up of too many cells to list on paper. Among the 11 organ systems, our body already contains the proper filtering and efficient cleansing system (thank you liver, kidneys, and digestive system).  Our quite versatile detoxification system is pretty sophisticated. That being said, there are folks who argue these systems can be overwhelmed and overloaded by today’s highly processed American diet and therefore needs a jumpstart via a detox or cleanse. Dietician Keri Glassman has said those following a cleanse or detox diet are “guaranteed” to gain weight after stopping.  Our bodies don’t need to implement a cleanse to kick-start normal function but can much more easily switch to healthier and naturally detoxing macro and micronutrients. Rather than enlist of the functions of a specific detox, once can recharge and rejuvenate their bodies by simply ridding their diets of processed foods and replacing them with whole, nutrient dense options.