"Detox" drinks and diets: Do body "cleanses" actually work?

Published Sep 18, 2021 • By Claudia Lima

In recent years, "detox" or "liver cleansing" drinks have garnered a lot of buzz amongst the medical community and general public. These drinks are promoted as natural solutions to boost energy, eliminate toxins, and cleanse the liver.

But what does "detox" mean exactly? Does our liver need to be "cleansed"? Do detox drinks and cleanses really work?

We answer these questions and more in our article!

What does the term "detox" mean?

What is a "detox" exactly? Well, this word actually has no scientific meaning, it has just been adopted popularly and commercially to refer to the efforts we make to help the liver and the rest of the body to "cleanse", to purify itself, to get rid of "toxins"

But what are these "toxins" they talk about? These are toxic substances, often pathogens (causing an infection or illness), present in excess and which must be eliminated. These are not to be confused with the toxins found in other living organisms such as bacteria, plants, fungi and animals, which are poisons. 

Detox gives the body a boost, especially the liver, whose role is to remove the toxicity and harmful effects of a substance. 

Detox drinks are advertised as a natural remedy that allows the liver to "cleanse" itself and gives the body a kick-start, and even if there is no scientific basis for them, they are thought to provide many benefits to our health. 

You can find countless types of detox products in shops and supermarkets, in pharmacies and online. You can also make them yourself by using the wide variety of recipes and juice extractors easily found on the market.

For a liquid detox, you can drink detox waters and juices, antioxidant teas, soups and smoothies. These detox liquids are made up of fruits and vegetables to take full advantage of their vitamins and nutrients. The most common foods combined in these detox concoctions are lemon, orange, carrot, cucumber, celery, ginger, spinach, cabbage, fennel ... which are often completed with aromatic herbs such as mint, parsley... So, you can see, the options are limitless! 

Detox diets or detox "cleanses" are two terms used to define a change of diet over a defined period of time (typically 3 days to one week maximum), during which one consumes a healthy diet full fruits and vegetables, which are additive-free and have cleansing and purifying properties.

But this isn't only limited to food choice, a typical detox diet may involve a fasting phase followed by a strict consumption of fruits, vegetables, fruit juices and water. This can be a monotrophic diet, i.e., eating only one type of food (e.g., an apple, grape, or carrot), for a defined period of time. Sometimes nutritional supplements such as collagen, zinc, and selenium, vitamins C and E are added. The detox diet also includes regular exercise and the elimination of alcohol and tobacco

I lack energy, I have poor digestion, my overall health is disrupted: Could a detox help?

In a healthy individual, the liver plays a key role, it is our best detox ally. Sometimes, our bad habits, our lifestyle or simply our activities encourage the build-up of toxins, so why not detoxify by doing a cleansing diet? 

There are many reasons why an individual may want to temporarily change their diet: the after-effects of the holidays with rich food and alcohol, a feeling of bloating, digestive discomfort, less radiant skin, disturbed sleep... 

A detox diet does should not last forever, but it can be repeated several times a year, depending on one's feelings and needs.

In people with health problems, the body's ability to filter toxins on its own tends to be diminished, due to age, sex, general health, genetics and medical treatment. For example, for an individual living with liver disease, the liver is unable to carry out normal detoxification processes, which means that harmful substances such as ammonia accumulate in the blood. A special diet is recommended for these people, this time on a long-term basis. 

How does detox work? Where do these toxins go?

Your goal was to temporarily focus on your diet to detoxify your body. Depending on your motivations and the methods you choose, the expected results differ (flat stomach, superhero energy, overall well-being), as do the benefits. 

Many people experience benefits just because they have stopped eating processed, rich, preservative-laden foods. Combine this with detox drinks, a number of health benefits are gained:  

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased concentration
  • Increased energy
  • Weight loss
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood

The toxins that we aim to eliminate, those accumulated due to dietary and environmental factors, cannot be precisely targeted by detox diets. There is no evidence that they have any impact.  

Our body's organs have the ability and function to cleanse themselves, thanks to the liver, which counteracts the harmful effects of toxins, through perspiration, urine and stool. 

What precautions should you take? Are there any side effects of detoxing?

The detox trend encourages a restrictive diet, which can engender worrisome behaviors and encourage eating disorders. A detox diet is not a magic wand to cleanse the liver. Moreover, certain diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies

Before starting a detox diet, whatever its length, it is recommended to seek advice from a medical professional.

Here are some steps to take:

  • Check the composition of ready-made detox drinks and meals, as high levels of certain nutrients in your body can have potential negative consequences.
  • Check for the presence of substances that may cause drug interactions by decreasing or increasing their effectiveness.
  • Monitor your calorie intake, don't subject your body to drastic restrictions.

As with withdrawal symptoms, liver cleansing can cause fatigue, headaches, nausea, diarrhea and mood swings. And of course, the feeling of hunger... 

So, should you or should you not do a detox diet?

You don't feel the need to "cleanse" your liver, you already have a healthy lifestyle: a balanced diet, regular physical activity, sufficient sleep and good hydration. Great, keep it up! It's a winning strategy for your long-term health. However, maintaining this lifestyle requires a lot of effort, which is why the detox solution can seem like a tempting shortcut

There is a plethora of detox regimens out there and each person everyone is free follow the diet they choose, when they choose. However, it is important to be aware of the skepticism doctors have about their effectiveness

Although they can be recommended by nutritionists and naturopaths, for scientists detox is merely an additional means of doing business through marketing and sales, which is surfing the wave of health and well-being, a "juicy" market. The results showing its effectiveness are vaguely formulated. To date, no scientific study has proven the effectiveness of detox drinks and diets

As you now know, despite being exposed to toxins, the body, and especially the liver, is capable of eliminating them most of the time without help. Nevertheless, you can strengthen your organ health in an easier way, for example by adding certain foods to your diet, such as berries, tea, beetroot juice, fatty fish, ginger, licorice root and many others. 

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Take care! 

avatar Claudia Lima

Author: Claudia Lima, Health Writer

Claudia is a content creator at Carenity, specializing in health writing.

Claudia holds a master's degree in Entrepreneurship and an Executive MBA in Sales and Marketing Management. She is specialized in... >> Learn more


on 9/23/21

I am currently on a "detox" from sugar and a lot of salt. Changing my diet in hopes of gaining more energy, lose some unwanted belly fat, and for my overall health and wellbeing. So I am really reading these articles for insight. -Pammie

on 9/26/21

I was recently diagnosed with Sjorgren's. What is the best diet? Should I eliminate any foods?

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