Detox, short for detoxification, is the body’s natural, ongoing process of neutralizing or eliminating toxins from the body. Toxins are anything that can potentially harm body tissue, including waste products that result from normal cell activity, such as ammonia, lactic acid and homocysteine, and human-made toxins that we are exposed to in our environment, food, and water. The liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, blood and lymphatic systems work together to ensure that toxins are transformed chemically to less harmful compounds and excreted from the body.
Although detox is primarily thought of as a treatment for alcohol or drug dependence, the term is also used to refer to a program of diet, herbs, and other methods of removing environmental and dietary toxins from the body.
There are many different types of detox diets. Generally, a detox diet is a short-term diet that:
A growing body of research suggests that many of the chemicals we ingest daily through food, water, and air can become deposited in fat cells in our bodies. Toxins include pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in food, chemicals from food packaging, household cleaners, detergents, food additives, heavy metals, pollution, drugs, and cigarette smoke. A diet that lacks certain nutrients may also impair our natural ability to detoxify chemicals, which further leads to their build-up in the body.
The cumulative load, called the “body burden”, is thought to lead to illness and has been linked to hormonal imbalance, impaired immune function, nutritional deficiency, and an inefficient metabolism. Signs are thought to include indigestion, poor concentration and sluggishness, headaches, bad breath, fatigue, poor skin, and muscle pain.
People often report improved energy, clearer skin, regular bowel movements, improved digestion, and increased concentration and clarity after a detox diet.
Anyone considering a detox diet should consult a qualified health professional and/or their medical doctor first.
Pregnant or nursing women or children shouldn’t go on a detox diet. People with anemia, eating disorder, diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, terminal illness, certain genetic diseases, and other chronic conditions shouldn’t try this diet or should do so only under the supervision of their primary care provider. It is not intended for alcohol or drug detoxification.
One of the most common side effects is headache within the first few days of starting the detox diet, often due to caffeine withdrawal. For this reason, practitioners often suggest gradually decreasing the amount of caffeine prior to starting a detox diet. In addition, some people opt to take time off work to begin a detox diet or start the diet on the weekend.
Other side effects include excessive diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte loss. Constipation may occur if people consume excess fiber without also increasing their fluid intake. Other side effects can include tiredness, irritability, acne, weight loss, and hunger. Any worsening of symptoms or new symptoms that occur during a detox diet should prompt a visit to a qualified health professional.
If a detox diet is continued for a longer time, it may result in nutrient deficiencies, particularly protein (some detox diets omit animal products) and calcium.
To become more familiar with symptoms and to check if they are linked to toxicity, take the Detox Screening Quiz. After that, ask your primary care provider for a thorough assessment to ensure that any symptoms you may have are not caused by a medical condition that requires immediate treatment.