Dangers of Cleansing Diets and Detox Diets

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What is Cleansing?

Cleansing diets, also known as “detox diets” are weight loss programs which are supposed to work by removing toxins from the body (Zeratsky, 2010). They are based on the ancient (and unscientific) theory that undigested meat and other foods cause mucus buildup in the colon, which produces toxins that cause weight gain (WebMD, 2008).

Cleansing diets involve a period of fasting, after which the dieter follows a strict regimen of specially-formulated fruit and vegetable juices. Some cleansing diets also use laxatives, enemas, or both to “flush out” the colon (Zeratsky, 2010). Though such diets have become popular, with celebrities such as Gweneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie proclaiming their benefits, medical professionals have concerns about the dangers of cleansing diets.

Safety of Cleansing Products

The possible dangers of cleansing diets start with the products that are used. There are many products available, some designed to be taken orally others rectally. Products include enemas, laxatives, strong herbal teas, enzymes, powders, and anti-parasite capsules. These products are designed to force the colon to expel its contents (WebMD, 2008).

Though most are labeled “natural”, “natural” doesn’t always mean “safe”. In the United States, the government does not regulate “natural” colon-cleansing products, therefore, their potency, purity, and overall wholesomeness cannot be guaranteed (WebMD, 2008).

Even if these products don’t happen to contain anything dangerous, there is concern because they induce diarrhea, they also increase risk of dangerous dehydration (Picco, 2009)or upset the natural balance of colon bacteria, thus disrupting normal bowel function (WebMD, 2008).

More General Dangers of Cleansing Diets

In addition to the problems of specific cleansing products, there are longer-term dangers of cleansing diets. One involves the fact that they do something that doesn’t need to be done. Dr Nasir Moloo, a gastroenterologist, reminds us that the body has its own detox system: the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin (Moors, 2007).

Also, frequent enemas, when not performed by a trained professional with the right equipment, seem to create enema dependence (which means a person loses his or her ability to expel waste in the normal manner) (ABC News, 2010).

Finally, because they involve fasting, cleansing diets do not provide adequate nutrition, which can cause vitamin deficiencies, blood-sugar imbalances, and breakdown of muscle tissue. Therefore, individuals desiring to lose weight are better off following scientifically-sound methods, such as eating healthy foods and engaging in moderate exercise.


ABC News Health. (2010). I_s Detox Diet a Cover for Fad Diets?_ ABC News: Retrieved 9 May, 2010 from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/dangers-detox-diets/story?id=8847215&page=1

Moors, S. (2007). Experts Warn of Detox Diet Dangers. MSNBC: Retrieved 8 May, 2009 from https://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18595886/

Picco, M. (2009). Colon Cleansing: Is it Harmful or Helpful? Mayo Clinic: Retrieved 8 May, 2010 from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/colon-cleansing/AN00065.

WebMD Staff. (2009). Natural Colon Cleansing: Is it Necessary? WebMD: Retrieved 8 May, 2009 from https://www.webmd.com/balance/natural-colon-cleansing-is-it-necessary

Zertasky, K. (2010). Detox Diets: Do They Work? Mayo Clinic: Retrieved 8 May, 2010 from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/detox-diets/AN01334