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August 16, 2019 2 min read

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Some people may turn to a cleanse to “reset” their bodies so that they feel better, or to mark the beginning of a health journey. But do you really need to “cleanse” to be healthier? Do the cleanse risks outweigh the benefits? Should you try a cleanse?

What Is a Cleanse?

A cleanse, sometimes referred to as a detox, is promoted as a method to remove toxins from the body or lose weight. Purveyors of cleanses often claim that their products or programs remove toxins that “clog” cells, reset metabolism and restore your body to homeostasis.

The most common types of cleanses include juice and smoothie cleanses, liver detoxes, restrictive diets that eliminate certain foods or food groups (like Whole 30 or Beachbody Ultimate Reset) and colon cleanses. Cleanses may last for only a few days or up to a month, depending on the type of cleanse chosen. Some cleanses may require additional herbal supplements, laxatives, or other methods meant to detoxify the body.

Risks of Cleanses

Current research does not strongly support the effectiveness of cleanses for removing toxins from the body or restoring health. In reality, cleanses may be harmful to your health.

For individuals with diabetes, following a cleanse program may affect blood sugar because many cleanses are low in protein and calories. Some herbal supplements may cause hypoglycemia, and juice and/or smoothie cleanses can spike blood sugar. 

Green juice/smoothie cleanses can cause kidney injury or kidney stones due to concentrated intake of oxalates found in leafy greens and fruits. This not only affects people with existing kidney conditions, but may cause kidney damage in people with previously healthy kidneys.

Frequent colon cleanses can lead to a variety of negative conditions: dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, a disruption in the gut’s microbiota or bowel perforation. These conditions can cause serious health problems.

In the case of restrictive elimination diets, they run the risk of cutting out important nutrients from the diet, or promote restrictive behavior that can trigger disordered eating.

So What to Do Instead? 

Your body has a very effective natural detoxification system that works hard to get toxins and waste out of your system. A healthy liver processes drugs, nutrients and waste from cells and regularly cleanses the blood. Your kidneys filter water, electrolytes and liquid waste. The digestive system (specifically the large intestine) removes solid waste, and other wastes are removed by the lungs and skin.

To support your body’s natural cleansing functions, try making sustainable lifestyle changes to reduce your toxin intake. There is no need to buy special cleanses, powders or pills. Decrease alcohol intake, increase physical activity, drink lots of water and follow a healthy diet. Having a varied diet full of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy grains and plenty of hydration help your body function at its best and detoxify naturally.

Overall, the health benefits of cleanses may be overstated and can actually be harmful. Support your body’s natural detoxification abilities with a healthy lifestyle instead.

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