Detox cleanse: Benefits, types, how it works

Detox cleanses have surged in popularity recently, riding the waves of health trends and celebrity endorsements. 

Social media platforms have vibrant images of fruit smoothies and raw food platters, all tagged with buzzwords like ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox.’ 

As the world grows more health-conscious, many are attracted to detox cleanses’ simplicity and perceived purity, envisioning them as a magic wand for health and wellness.

However, it’s crucial to approach this topic with a balanced perspective, as detox cleanses have also sparked controversy and debate among health professionals and scientists. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive look at detox cleanses, exploring their historical background, the science behind them, their benefits and potential risks, and much more.

What is a detox cleanse? 

‘Detox cleanse,’ often called a ‘detox,’ is a method purported to eliminate toxins from the body. It typically involves a period of fasting followed by a strict diet of fruit, vegetables, fruit juices, water, and occasionally herbs and supplements [1]. 

The central claim is that this process helps stimulate the body’s natural detoxification processes, giving it a ‘reset’ and promoting overall health.

This concept of body detoxification isn’t new; it’s been part of human civilizations for thousands of years. 

Various cultures worldwide have used cleansing techniques to promote health and prevent diseases. 

Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans practiced detoxification, including fasting, herbal concoctions, and baths in hot springs. 

Traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also emphasize cleansing practices, balancing the body’s energies and enhancing its self-healing capacity.

The modern concept of detox cleanses, however, has undergone significant changes. Detox cleanses, as we understand them today, emerged in the latter part of the 20th century, reflecting growing concerns about environmental pollution and its impact on health. 

The idea was that just as we need to cleanse the environment, we need to cleanse our bodies of toxins accumulated from processed foods, pollution, and lifestyle habits.

Over time, this concept has evolved into a multi-faceted industry offering various types of cleanses – from juice fasts to herbal detox kits and everything in between. 

How does detoxification work?
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How does detoxification work?

Detox cleanses are based on the premise that our body’s natural detoxification system is insufficient or becomes overwhelmed due to our modern lifestyle and exposure to environmental toxins. They claim to support and enhance the body’s detoxification process [2].

The theory is that eliminating certain food groups and toxins from our diet and consuming specific foods and drinks can stimulate the body’s natural detoxification processes. 

This is thought to lead to improved energy, clearer skin, better digestion, weight loss, and disease prevention. 

While these claims are common, they are not universally accepted or substantiated by scientific evidence.

What are the different types of detox cleanses?

Detox cleanses come in various forms, each with its unique approach to cleansing the body. These methods often focus on diet, but some also include lifestyle changes or herbal supplements.

Food-based cleanses

These detox cleanses eliminate processed foods and emphasize whole, natural foods.

1. Juice cleanse

Juicing detox cleanses are also known as juice fasting. It involves consuming only fruit and vegetable juices for a set period, typically from a few days to a few weeks. The aim is to flush out toxins while providing the body with abundant vitamins and minerals.

2. Smoothie cleanse

Like juice cleanses, this type uses more fiber. Smoothie cleanses involve replacing meals with nutrient-dense smoothies. These can include green smoothies made with leafy greens, fruits, and sometimes protein sources like nut butter or protein powder.

3. Soup cleanse

Soup cleanses are another food-based detox method where one consumes only vegetable soups for a set period. The idea is to provide a light, easily digestible meal that’s low in calories but high in nutrients.

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Herbal and supplement cleanses

These cleanse involve taking specific herbs and supplements to support the body’s detoxification process. These might include milk thistle for liver health, psyllium husk for fiber, or various ‘detox tea’ blends.

Fasting-based cleanses

These cleanses involve periods of fasting to give the digestive system a break and encourage detoxification.

1. Water fasting

This type of cleansing is a more extreme form where you consume only water for a set period, ranging from 24 hours to several days. It’s often used as a spiritual or healing practice but can carry significant risks if improperly supervised.

2. Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. While not a detox cleanse traditionally, it’s often grouped with them due to its supposed benefits for metabolic health and longevity.

Lifestyle cleanse

These detox methods go beyond diet to consider other aspects of lifestyle.

1. Digital detox

A digital detox involves taking a break from electronic devices like smartphones, computers, and televisions. While it doesn’t cleanse the body physically, it’s thought to have mental health benefits by reducing stress and promoting better sleep.

2. Exercise and sweat cleanses

Some detox plans emphasize activities like hot yoga or sauna use to promote sweating, which they claim can help remove toxins from the body.

What are the typical ingredients used in detox diets?

Detox diets often focus on natural, unprocessed ingredients, emphasizing those believed to support the body’s detoxification processes.

Fruits and vegetables

Many detox diets prioritize fruits and vegetables due to their high nutrient content and antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress. These include leafy greens, berries, beets, and citrus fruits. 

Certain foods are often singled out for their supposed detoxification properties:

  • Lemons: Believed to stimulate the liver’s detoxifying enzymes and provide a good dose of immune-boosting Vitamin C.
  • Ginger and turmeric: Both are prized for their anti-inflammatory properties and potential to support liver health.
  • Garlic and onions: Known for their sulfur-containing compounds, which are believed to support liver enzymes.


Fiber plays a critical role in detox diets. It helps regulate digestion and is essential for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. 

It can bind to toxins in the digestive tract, aiding in their elimination from the body. Foods high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, are thus often emphasized in detox diets.


Water is crucial in every detox diet. It aids digestion, supports kidney function, and helps maintain healthy skin, among other things. 

Drinking plenty of water can assist in flushing out toxins through sweat and urine.

Herbal teas are also commonly included in detox diets, providing hydration and often containing herbs to support detoxification.

Despite these common ingredients, it’s essential to note that the effectiveness of these foods in ‘detoxing’ the body beyond what your liver and kidneys do naturally is still a topic of scientific debate. 

What are the benefits of a detox cleanse?

While the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of detox cleanses remains mixed, proponents often report several potential benefits.

1. Helps in losing weight

Detox cleanses often significantly reduce calorie intake, which can result in quick weight loss. However, this is often water weight or muscle mass and can return once the cleanse ends and normal eating resumes.

2. Increases energy

By cutting out processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol, some people report feeling more energized during and after a cleanse.

3. Improves digestion

Cleanses high in fiber can potentially support gut health and digestion, as fiber aids in regular bowel movements.

4. Reduces inflammation

Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods can reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease and certain cancers.

5. Enhances mental focus and clarity

Some people report clearer thinking and increased focus during a cleanse, potentially due to removing processed foods and sugar from the diet.

However, while proponents of detox frequently report these benefits of cleanses, many can also be achieved by maintaining a balanced, healthy diet in the long term. 

Furthermore, the body’s natural detoxification systems can remove toxins without needing a cleanse.

While there are potential benefits, it’s also crucial to consider the risks associated with detox cleanses.

What are the side effects of detoxing?

While detox cleanses offer temporary benefits, they have risks and potential side effects. Understanding these risks is key to making an informed decision about whether to undertake a cleanse.

1. May cause nutrient deficiencies

Many detox cleanses involve eliminating whole food groups, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies if done for extended periods. This could weaken the immune system and negatively impact overall health.

2. May lead to dehydration

While cleanses often emphasize the importance of hydration, those involving a lot of sweating or severe caloric restriction can paradoxically lead to dehydration [3].

3. May trigger disordered eating patterns

Detox cleanses can promote an unhealthy relationship with food, as they often involve severe dietary restrictions and can lead to a cycle of bingeing and fasting.

4. May decrease metabolic rate and muscle mass

The weight loss from a detox cleanse is often from water or muscle mass rather than fat. Losing muscle can lower your metabolic rate and make weight management more difficult in the future.

5. May cause digestive issues

Detox cleanses, especially those high in fiber, can cause digestive discomfort, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

6. May experience detox symptoms

During the cleanse, people often experience detox symptoms like headaches, fatigue, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, or skin breakouts [4]. These are typically temporary but can be uncomfortable.

7. May pose serious health risks in certain populations

For certain individuals, including those with chronic diseases, pregnant or breastfeeding women, elderly individuals, or those with a history of disordered eating, detox cleanses can pose serious health risks and should not be attempted without medical supervision.

Given these potential risks and side effects, it’s crucial to approach detox cautiously cleanses. 

If you decide to undertake a cleanse, it’s best to do so under the supervision of a healthcare professional. 

And remember, a balanced, nutritious diet can support your body’s natural detoxification processes and promote long-term health without needing a cleanse.

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What’s the controversy surrounding detox cleanses?

Detox cleanses have become a point of contention within the health and wellness industry. While they continue to gain popularity among certain circles, critics highlight several areas of concern.

Lack of scientific evidence

One of the main criticisms against detox cleanses is the lack of robust scientific evidence to support their claims [5]. 

While individual components of detox diets, like consuming more fruits and vegetables or drinking plenty of water, are undeniably beneficial, the idea that specific regimens can ‘detox’ the body beyond what it does naturally is less supported.

Misunderstanding of ‘toxins’

The term ‘toxins’ is often used loosely in the context of detox cleanses, leading to confusion and misinformation. 

While it’s true that we’re exposed to various potentially harmful substances, from pollutants in the air to additives in processed foods, the body’s natural detoxification system is incredibly efficient at dealing with these. 

Critics argue that the idea of ‘flushing out toxins’ through a cleanse oversimplifies and misrepresents the complexity of the body’s detoxification processes.

The role of the diet industry

Some critics argue that the detox cleanse trend is largely driven by marketing and profit rather than science. 

Detox cleanses have become lucrative, from selling special detox products to books and diet plans. This commercialization often overshadows the lack of solid scientific backing.

Unsustainable and unhealthy approach to health

Critics also point out that detox cleanses promote a quick-fix mentality to health and wellness. 

Health is about sustained habits and long-term lifestyle changes rather than short-term, often extreme, interventions. 

There are also concerns that detox cleanses could promote unhealthy and disordered eating patterns.

How to choose the right type of detox cleanse?

Deciding to embark on a detox cleanse requires careful consideration and research. The following steps can help guide you in selecting the right cleanse for your needs:

1. Assess your health status

Before beginning any detox cleanse, you should consider your current state of health. If you have chronic health conditions or are taking prescribed medication, consult your healthcare provider first. Certain diseases or medications might make a detox cleanse risky or inadvisable.

2. Define your goals

Consider your reasons for wanting to undertake a cleanse. Are you hoping to lose weight? Kickstart a healthier eating pattern? Boost your energy? Understanding your goals can help you select a cleanse that aligns with these aims.

3. Do your research

Not all detox cleanses are created equal. Some are overly restrictive and could harm your health, while others are more balanced and may offer a broader range of nutrients. 

Take the time to research different types of cleanses, their requirements, and potential benefits and risks.

4. Consider the duration

The duration of detox cleanses can vary greatly, from one day to several weeks. Longer cleanses, like nutrient deficiencies or unhealthy weight loss, may pose greater risks. Starting with a shorter duration might be wise if you’re new to cleansing.

Listen to your body
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5. Listen to your body

Your body will give you signals if something isn’t right. If you start a cleanse and begin to feel unwell or overly tired, it might not be the right cleanse for you. Remember, the goal of a cleanse should be to enhance your health, not harm it.

6. Seek professional advice

A healthcare professional, nutritionist, or dietitian can provide valuable guidance when choosing a detox cleanse. They can assess your health status, consider your goals, and recommend a cleanse that suits your needs while minimizing potential risks.

How to transition back to a regular diet after a detox cleanse?

Transitioning back to a regular diet after a detox cleanse requires careful planning to avoid upsetting the digestive system and to maintain any benefits you might have gained. 

Here are some steps to help you ease back into your regular eating habits:

1. Reintroduce food gradually

Abruptly reintroducing a wide variety of foods, particularly those that are processed or high in fat and sugar, can cause digestive upset.

Begin by gradually reintroducing simple, easily digestible foods such as steamed vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

2. Keep hydrated

Hydration is key during and after a detox cleanse. Continue to drink plenty of water, herbal teas, or other hydrating fluids as you transition back to a regular diet.

3. Monitor your body’s response

Pay close attention to how your body responds as you reintroduce foods. If a particular food causes bloating, gas, discomfort, or other digestive issues, you may want to reduce or avoid it temporarily.

4. Continue eating nutrient-dense foods

Try to maintain some healthy eating habits from your cleanse. Continue to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.

5. Return to physical activities gradually

Suppose you reduce your level of physical activity during the cleanse, particularly in the case of a strict or low-calorie cleanse. In that case, you should gradually return to your regular exercise routine.

6. Reflect on your experience

Take some time to reflect on your cleanse experience. Did you notice any benefits? Were there any challenges? Use this insight to inform your future dietary choices and health habits.

A detox cleanse is not a magic solution for long-term health. It’s most beneficial when viewed as a potential reset or starting point for a consistent, balanced approach to diet and lifestyle.

In closing

Detox cleanse diets have become a prevalent trend in health and wellness, promising benefits like weight loss, improved energy, and detoxification. 

However, you should approach these cleanses with a balanced perspective. While they can serve as a reset point for healthier eating habits or temporarily relieve poor dietary choices, they aren’t a permanent solution for weight management or overall health.

Consult with your healthcare provider when considering a detox cleanse, especially if you have underlying health conditions. If you try a detox cleanse, choose one that is nutritionally balanced, isn’t overly restrictive, and matches your health goals.

The journey toward health is not about quick fixes but sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes.


What are 5 signs your body is in need of a detox?

Experiencing chronic fatigue, persistent skin problems like acne or dull complexion, frequent headaches or migraines, digestive issues like bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and unexpected weight gain can indicate that your body could detox. 

How many times should you detox?

The frequency of detoxing varies greatly depending on the type of detox, individual health status, and personal goals. Many health experts suggest a gentle, food-based detox once or twice a year. As always, consult with a healthcare professional before starting any detox regimen to ensure it’s safe and suitable for you.

Is it good to detox every day?

Doing an extreme detox cleanse daily isn’t advisable as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other health complications. 

What is the best detox cleanse for weight loss?

When it comes to weight loss, there isn’t a single “best” detox cleanse. While some detox cleanses may lead to temporary weight loss, they aren’t a long-term solution. For sustainable weight loss, focus on consistent, healthy lifestyle habits like maintaining a balanced, calorie-controlled diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep rather than quick fixes like detox cleanses.

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