Do detoxes really work?

Jennifer Garner juice

The answer might surprise you

We have no doubt that at one point or another during your lifetime, you’ve considered undergoing a detox. Whether your recent European holiday diet of carbs, carbs and more carbs has left you feeling perpetually full and bloated, or you’re simply feeling a little rundown and sluggish for no apparent reason, we all have moments where we feel the need to reset our system. And for most of us, our go-to is a detox. The idea of ridding our body of built-up toxins certainly sounds appealing, but do detoxes actually work? We spoke to Kate Spina, a nutritionist at The Well in Bondi, for her expert opinion.

What a detox involves

Typically, “a detox involves a fasting period followed by a strict diet where certain foods or whole food groups are eliminated. Sugar, wheat, caffeine, dairy, meat and alcohol are commonly avoided, and certain supplements, tonics or teas may be recommended during this regimen,” explains Spina.

Do detox diets work?

While the idea that a detox will flush out toxins in the body sounds appealing, Spina notes it simply isn’t true. Detox teas, juice diets or any number of other cleanses aren’t necessary because your body is already equipped with a highly-functioning organ that works overtime to maintain your overall health: your liver.

How the body detoxes naturally

Spina explains that while several major organs are involved in this process, the main line of defence is your liver. “When you eat, inhale or produce a harmful substance, it passes into your bloodstream and circulates through the liver. The liver filters out larger toxins and breaks down smaller toxins before expelling them via the bowel or kidneys. The kidneys also filter out other harmful substances from the blood. Your lungs expel carbon dioxide and other waste gases from your body with each exhalation.” Basically, your body is already doing a fabulous job of continually ridding itself of waste products and toxins, so external ‘detoxes’ are unnecessary.

What you should do instead of a detox

While Spina concedes detoxes can refresh someone’s mindset to help them make better dietary choices, she warns that many “detox proponents cite easy weight loss as a benefit, but this weight is often regained once the cleanse is over”. Rather than undergoing a juice cleanse or other detox, she recommends “enjoying a diet that supports your body’s natural detoxification processes. Avoid excess amounts of alcohol, caffeine and saturated fat and choose a diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish. Drink enough water for your needs each day and exercise to encourage healthy blood flow.”    

The damage detoxes cause

When asked whether detoxes can cause damage, Spina sums it up in one word – “yes”. She explains that in addition to the temporary side effects like poor concentration, headaches, fatigue, blood sugar spikes and hunger, there can be longer-lasting repercussions. “A juice cleanse is low in protein, calories, fibre, prebiotics, probiotics and essential fats. These deficiencies could cause some muscle wastage, a sluggish bowel, poor gut health and limited fat-soluble vitamin absorption. Ironically, the very nutrients (vitamins, minerals and protein) required to support optimal liver function and natural detoxification are lacking in a juice cleanse,” says Spina.

Looking for more ways to boost your overall health and fitness? Then check out the six exercises that will tone your butt and discover seven gadgets that will take your workout to the next level.

Do you have any detox horror stories? Share them with us in the comments below.

Main image credit: Getty

Kate has worked for BEAUTYcrew since early 2016, first as a contributor, before being named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine.