Is a 'Healthy Cleanse' Actually a Thing? Dietitians Weigh In
New Year's brings all kinds of extreme diets and "healthy cleanse" regimens to the forefront of the media. However, experts still agree that the extreme detox measures encouraged by cleanse-centric diets purporting themselves as "healthy" are potentially dangerous.
For instance, earlier this year, something called the ParaGuard cleanse was making its rounds on TikTok. This involves ingesting the parasiticide in an effort to "deworm the body," even though doing so may lead to health complications as a result of flushing out the good bacteria in your gut.
The truth is, these diet cleanses do not offer any additional health benefits, and may actually cause more harm than good. According to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, there is very little evidence to support the efficacy of many "healthy cleanse" detox programs.
"A cleanse promises to help remove toxins from the body. These products are marketed to consumers hoping to remove toxic buildup, but the problem is that there is zero FDA regulation of products," explains Bonnie Newlin, MS, RD, RDN, CLT, plant-based nutrition expert, and CEO of Crave Nutrition. "These products have no clinical evidence supporting their efficacy. In fact, since they are not regulated, they may actually be causing harm to the liver."
Do cleanses work?
Cleanses typically recommend following a liquid-only fasting diet for a set period of time. There are many different types of cleanse programs, but the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health outlines several of the most popular cleanses, such as:
- Drinking only juices or similar beverages
- Eating only certain foods
- Using dietary supplements or other commercial products
- Using herbs
- Using enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy
If you are going on a fasting cleanse for weight loss, you might be just as well off trying to make changes with your diet first. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that fasting did not offer any additional weight loss benefit compared to other calorie-equivalent eating patterns. Furthermore, extreme dieting can place you at an increased risk for developing disordered eating tendencies with food.
The dangers of cleansing
Extreme detox protocols may also cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, gastrointestinal distress, as well as kidney and heart concerns—just to name a few of the harmful side effects.
Many cleanse programs are also not regulated or approved by the FDA. Both the FDA and the FTC have released statements and taken legal action against a number of cleanse products for containing harmful ingredients or making false claims about the treatment of serious conditions.
Taking advantage of your natural detox organ
Coincidentally, we have a built-in cleansing system to help us remove harmful chemicals or molecules and ensure that toxins do not build up in our bodies. Our liver is the detox powerhouse of the body that works around the clock to ensure our system is detoxified.
"The liver naturally works as the body's filtration system by cleaning the blood, getting rid of old cells, and metabolizing nutrients," Newlin tells Eat This, Not That! "The liver destroys harmful substances breaking them down into particles the body can either use or pass along as waste. Bile production in the liver plays a big role with this breakdown process creating a natural cleanse as the blood passes through the liver."
Certainly, there are ways we can support this powerful organ and assist in the detox process naturally—no cleanse needed! The liver works best when it has a steady stream of energy from food, plenty of water to flush out toxins, and regular exercise.
Proven ways to support your liver and natural detoxification pathways instead
- Exercise regularly: Sweat those toxins out naturally with regular exercise to lighten the load on the liver.
- Hydrate properly: Help flush out any toxins that the liver has processed by drinking plenty of water.
- Eat a variety of plant-based foods including cruciferous vegetables: Keep digestion moving with high-fiber foods that promote healthy removal of toxins and other compounds that we can excrete.