9 Things You Didn't Know About Detoxing

An explainer on the cleanse craze—and how to do it the healthy way.

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The detoxing trend, as championed by certain members of the wellness community, is really having a moment: celebrities swear by it, while dietitians view it with a critical eye. As researchers will be quick to tell you, the trendy juice cleanse and its "two week fast" counterparts are scientifically dubious, and some methods of "detoxing" are healthier than others.

Here, Sylvie Beljanski, owner of The Beljanski Wellness Center, describes what certain types of detoxes can entail, while award-winning nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Heather Mangieri sounds off on which ones are actually worth trying.

Study up!




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1 Detoxing Isn't Just for Overcoming Addiction
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According to Beljanski, "People often associate the term detoxification with alcohol, drug, and substance addiction, though it's also a common method for losing weight: hence, the name 'diet detox.'" Put plainly and simply, the aim of detoxification is to eliminate all the negative effects on the body from the environment: industrial chemicals, pesticides, additives in our food, secondary smoke, pollutants, and heavy metals included. 

Nowadays, she says, people adopt internal detoxification—targeting organs like the kidneys and colon—to keep their body systems in peak condition.

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2 Some Consider it a Holistic Way to Heal and Purify the Body
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Beljanski recommends detoxification as a holistic way to keep your mind and body healthy, though it's a broad term and can apply to many different types of health plans. Some benefits, she says, include targeting unexplained headaches and back pain, fighting against memory loss, strengthening your body against allergic reactions, and flushing dangerous chemicals out of your system.

Another benefit of certain types of detoxing, she says, is liver, kidney, and blood purification that wouldn't occur on a regular diet. "When the immune system gets stimulated, the hormonal system experiences a boost too, reducing the body's dependency on substances such as sugar, caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol." 

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3 The Short-Term Detox is the Most Popular, But Often the Least Successful
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Short-term detox programs can include 24-hour juice fasting, chelation therapy (a toxicology treatment for removing heavy metals from the system), colon cleansing (commonly known as colonics), skin cleansing, and intravenous injections. 

Mangieri warns against following any short-term fixes and fad diets that eliminate key nutrients from your diet, like juice fasting, without directions on how to counter-balance in other ways to meet your daily requirements. "It's never a good idea to deprive your body of protein or fiber of any nutrient for that matter," she said. 

As for colonics, doctors suggest that unless you're undergoing a medical procedure like a colonoscopy, attempting the method for the purpose of detoxing is unnecessary and can be very harmful, increasing your risk of contracting infections and leading to bowel perforations. 

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4 Creating Healthy Habits Over Time Will Produce the Best "Detoxing" Results
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The better choice, according to Mangieri, are long-term "detox" programs that focus on creating healthy habits through moderation rather than simply avoiding a food group, cutting out carbohydrates, or sweeteners, etc.  "A healthy lifestyle is born out of a collection of healthy habits, and creating a new habit takes time," she says. "If you're approaching your lifestyle change or weight loss with a program that you cannot follow for the rest of your life, you are setting yourself up for failure."  

Drinking fluids—water, vegetable and fruit juice, herbal tea—and taking vitamins or supplements can help to boost the immune system and keep your body regulated, while exercise (such as yoga and tai chi) and meditation have been proven to help regulate stress and energy levels, too. 

Alternative therapies—such as homeopathic remedies (natural medicines) and acupuncture—are also popular ways to relieve stress and tension, though the science behind homeopathy isn't super solid.

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5 People Should Consult a Doctor Before Starting an At-Home Detox Program
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Before starting at-home detox treatments, Beljanski recommends that those looking to seriously detox and improve their overall health and wellness receive a medical consultation for their detox needs first so they can truly discover the root of their symptoms and receive the best treatment regime. The below detox routines are good "starting off" points, but they will not produce long term results, she says.

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6 Epsom Bath Salts Are a Celebrity Favorite, with Little Proven Effectiveness
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For starters, many celebrities such as Heidi Klum and Gwyneth Paltrow have taken to the epsom salt bath as a way to skinny up before red carpet events. Proponents of the practice also believe that the salt draws toxins from the body by making you sweat them from your skin. These natural salts are also said to help cleanse your colon when added to water. 

While epsom salt baths can be a natural way to soothe the body and aid with muscle relaxation, there's no conclusive evidence that it actually helps you slim down or flush away toxins. 

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7 Setting Smaller Goals for Detoxing is the Best Strategy
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People hoping to curb their sugar cravings often try sugar detoxes to increase their energy levels (zero sugar crashes to blame) and lose weight, too. A detox involves cutting added sugars from your diet—killing all dessert options, sweetened beverages, and processed foods from the menu.

According to Mangieri, broad goals such as cutting sugar rarely work for long-term results and instead recommends setting smaller goals and focusing on making subtle dietary changes before moving onto the next one.

"For example," she says, "if sugar is an issue, list all of the foods that you consume that have a lot of sugar, and create a substitution for each one. If you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, choose a calorie-free substitute for that beverage. Simply saying, 'I'm not going to eat any sugar' is too vague. Small, specific goals get results." Similarly, if you're hoping to cut caffeine from your diet, consider making gradual shifts over to less-taxing substitutes like teas and infused water.

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8 Your Body Is Already Designed to Naturally Detox Itself
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The most important thing to keep in mind about healthy detoxing, says Mangieri, is that "it's not necessary to go on a special diet to 'clean' your digestive track; that is the role of our organs." She notes that our body is already designed to fight and eliminate toxins it encounters, with our "liver, skin, urinary system, and gastrointestinal tract constantly helping to cleanse our bodies" naturally.

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9 A Balanced and Healthy Diet Will Help You Detox Better Than Any Cleanse
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The best way to protect your body from toxins? "Eat a diet rich in the foods that can keep your digestive tract and organs healthy. Feed your body right so that it is prepared for battle. Fruits, vegetables, high-quality protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and probiotics all play a role in building a strong body from the inside out," says Mangieri.  

And if you're really concerned about cleansing your colon of toxins, opt for gut-health stimulating probiotics over epsom salt or lemon juice. 

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