Many of you reading this have probably encountered or even tried detoxing or cleansing the body. This is especially popular after the Christmas holidays and as many embark on New Year’s resolutions for a healthier lifestyle. The approach of choice may be influenced by the latest fad from celebrities (for example the “Tea Tox” teas used for debloating ) or quickest results (e.g. juice cleanses for weight loss).
There are so many questions revolving around this topic- What is the difference between a cleanse or detox? What is the purpose behind them? Are they safe to do and how often? Do they work?
With little evidence from published scientific studies to help address these questions, it is no wonder that society is often confused as to what approach to take. Nutrition studies in general are hard to publish as results are often inconclusive due to the many compounding factors that can influence what is being measured.
Using my academic background and information gathered from the limited pool of published data and other resources, I shall attempt to address these questions. In addition, I would like to introduce you to a program that I believe is one of the more appropriate ones on the market if you are wanting to do a detox; one that is led by health care professionals, called “the Detox Passport”.
- What is the difference between a cleanse and a detox? The purpose? Do they work?
Cleanse- a way of cleaning out the digestive track.
Detox- improving overall health of the liver and kidneys by “detoxing” the body of toxins.
A cleanse is often rich in fibre and protein while low in refined sugars whereas a detox offers a more variety of methods that involve a change to diet and lifestyle including teas, smoothies, diets, saunas etc 1 .
Thus the purpose behind a cleanse versus a detox is different, so it is important than one understand these differences in order to meet the desired goals.
They both allegedly offer a variety of benefits including an increase in energy levels and mental health. Many will argue that our gut is the centre of our universe; if something is off there then the rest of the body will feel it. Thus helping to remove toxins or cleaning out our digestive track may help re-centre our gut.
Cleanses and detoxes also offer specific needs e.g. for weight loss, a cleanse is more ideal due to high fibre allowing for increased bowel movements, as well protein intake to keep muscle mass versus a night of binge drinking, a detox can help clear the body of ethanol and its matabolites that has built up in the bloodstream.
2. Are detoxes and cleanses safe and effective? How often should they be done?
Klein et al conducted an extensive review on published detox diets and as the case with many nutrition studies, concluded that to date there is no randomized controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of detox diets in humans 2 .
What about the converse? If there is no benefit according to published data, can there be harm? Yes there can be. If individuals are not careful doing cleanses and detoxes i.e. too often, not under the guidance of a qualified professional (e.g.naturopath or nutritionist ) then it is possible to cause harm especially if one deprives the body of the necessary nutrients, become severe energy depleted or participate in extended supplementation (laxatives etc).
In my opinion, I do not believe cleanses and detoxes should be used for weight loss, which is the reason many embark on this practice. Our bodies are equipped with a detoxification system on its own- our skin, respiratory system, immune system, liver, kidneys and intestines. There may be occasions, however, where the body may need some assistance. . If one is used to eating out, consuming processed foods, drinking alcohol frequently, using products with toxins etc , then a detox may be of value. With the number of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, there can be some benefit to the body 3. Currently there are some preliminary studies which suggest that certain nutritional components (e.g. citric acid and algae) posses detoxing properties 4.
How often should one do a cleanse? Online there is a variety of suggestions but on average many in the field recommend twice a year. HOWEVER, it is best you consult with your own health care professional as your needs may be different. You may not be a candidate to participate depending on your health and lifestyle. With the right guidance, it is possible to participate in a detox program safely.
More research and funding is needed in this field so that consumers can be well informed about the potential risks as well as benefits of detox and cleanse programmes.
Detox Passport: Preventative Health
For many, the simple solution of eating healthier and minimizing products with chemicals isn’t so simple. They need guidance in how to change their lifestyle. This is the premise behind the detox passport program, created by graduates of Naturopathic Medicine (Emily and Erica)- to make preventative health accessible with herbal teas, recipe guidebook, list of toxic ingredients to avoid in skincare, other useful resources as well as an online community of health conscious individuals with guided support from the creators.
The core of this program utilizes teas that are specifically targeted to cleanse first the colon, then the liver, then the kidneys and finally the lymph and blood. Drinking tea has been a healthy promoting habit since the ancient times. There is mounting evidence that supports the health benefits of tea, including disease prevention 5. It is important to note that many companies market herbal teas as tea, but the drink in question for health benefits are made from the plant camellia sinensis.
For more studies on the benefits of tea, please refer to 5-12 of the reference section.
For more information about the detox passport, please check out the link:
Graduated of Naturopathic Medicine and creators of Detox Passport- Emily & Erica
- Klein A & Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet 2015; 28, 675-686.
- Zhao ZY, Liang L, Fan X et al., (2008) The role of modified citrus pectin as an effective chelator of lead in children hospitalized with toxic lead levels. Altern Ther Health Med 14, 34–38.
- Khan N & Mukhtar H. (2013). Tea and Health: Studies in humans. Curr Pharm Des 19 (34), 6141-6147.
- Adhami VM, Ahmad N, Mukhtar H. (2003) Molecular targets for green tea in prostate cancer prevention. J Nutr 133, 2417S–24S.
- Stangl V, Lorenz M, Stangl K. (2006). The role of tea and tea flavonoids in cardiovascular health. Mol Nutr Food Res 50, 218–28.
- Choan E, Segal R, Jonker D, et al. (2005) A prospective clinical trial of green tea for hormone refractory prostate cancer: an evaluation of the complementary/alternative therapy approach. Urol Oncol 23, 108–13.
- Sun CL, Yuan JM, Koh WP, Yu MC. (2006) Green tea, black tea and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Carcinogenesis 27, 1310–5.
- Khan N, Mukhtar H. (2008) Multitargeted therapy of cancer by green tea polyphenols. Cancer Lett 269, 269–80.
- Sueoka N, Suganuma M, Sueoka E, et al. (2001) A new function of green tea: prevention of lifestyle-related diseases. Ann N Y Acad Sci 928, 274–80.
Mukhtar H & Ahmed N. (2000). Tea polyphenols: prevention of cancer and optimizing health. Am J Clin Nutr 71, 1698S-702S.
** Disclaimer- while I have tried to provide academic references where applicable, this article was done on my own accord, and in some ways my opinion. It is not endorsed by any program. I have chosen to share Detox Passport because I believe they offer a unique concept with trained health professionals offering guidance. I was not asked to or paid to show my support for them.