Detox Cleanses Do More Harm Than Good, Says Registered Dietitian

Written by Claire Hannum
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, M.S., RDN

June 27, 2023

Social media and celebrities have made detox cleanses seem like a tempting option to drop a few pounds quickly. But at the end of the day, detoxes are just another dangerous crash diet that can set you up for failure (and more fluff around the midsection).

In this blog, we’ll dive into exactly why detox cleanses don’t work, their dangerous side effects, and what you can do to keep your body healthy without deceptive cleanses.

Why Detox Cleanses Don’t Work

You don’t have to look far on the internet to stumble upon the countless brands offering a 3-day detox cleanse or quick-fix juicing plan. These cleanses make claims that they’ll help your body remove “toxins” (something your body already does on its own) and lose weight fast.

But here's the catch, these detoxes and cleanses lack scientific proof—and the studies that do exist are severely flawed. They either have flawed methods, no human trials, or extremely small sample sizes (1, 2).

Sounds suspicious right? I thought so too—and so did registered dietitian and health coach, Emily Zorn

“The human body doesn’t need to be detoxed through a tea, diet, or juice cleanse. The body already has a perfectly good detoxing system that has been used for thousands of years…the liver and kidneys. Detoxes do nothing but rid the body of essential nutrients,” she explains.

An overnight solution to attaining perfect health sounds great. But the sad truth is that cleanses aren’t a healthy or sustainable option. Zorn goes on to say that “detoxes often result in initial weight loss due to dehydration and lack of calorie intake. However, as soon as a person starts eating normally after a detox, the weight more often than not comes back on. This is what makes detoxes so unsustainable.” 

5 Critical Dangers of Detox Cleanses

Detox teas, juice cleanses, water cleanses, or whatever you want to call them don’t have lasting results. And they all come with a wide range of negative side effects.

1. Depletion of Nutrients & Energy

If you only drink juice or water for several days, you’re depriving yourself of essential nutrients your body needs to function properly. You’ll feel tired, weak, and have some serious brain fog.

Juice cleanses may seem healthier than water cleanses because they technically involve fruits and vegetables, but they’re not as nutrient-packed as they appear. Juicing strips fruits and veggies of their natural fiber content. AKA the thing that makes you feel full while also maintaining the health of your heart, gut,and helping to manage blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, as well as prevent certain types of cancer (3). 

“If you go on a juice cleanse, you’re depriving your body of required nutrients,” says Lee. “Moreover, you are also opening up the risk of a blood sugar spike and dehydration. Some of these diet plans will make you go without calories for too long and that can make you feel weak while also messing with your metabolism.”

2. Encourages Too Little (or Too Much) Hydration

“Cleanses and detoxes often involve laxatives which can cause extreme dehydration,” explains Zorn. These cleanses have irresponsible guidelines, and suggest using far more laxatives than your body can handle, which can make you sick and dehydrate you very quickly. 

On the other hand, there are programs that promote drinking an excess of water to lose weight. These water cleanses can cause you to become too hydrated (a very real and dangerous thing). Yes, your body needs water, but as with anything the dose makes the poison, and you generally want to stick with drinking half your bodyweight in ounces per day (4). 

Drinking too much water without eating properly can lead to an imbalance in electrolytes and hyponatremia, a condition in which there’s not enough sodium in your blood (5). It causes symptoms like nausea, digestive problems, confusion, weakness, and headaches, and in rare cases, can lead to a life-threatening condition called water intoxication (6).

3. Sabotages Long-Term Weight Loss

You might experience some weight loss from a cleanse, but those newly shed pounds aren't from the fat you were aiming to lose. This rapid weight loss is usually attributed to losing carb stores, fluids, and even your muscle mass (which you definitely don’t want to lose, and can contribute to re-gaining weight even faster) (7).

“Juice cleanses in particular often lead to rapid weight loss, but this weight comes right back on as soon as you start eating normally again. This rapid loss and gain of weight can have negative effects on metabolism by slowing it down,” says Zorn (8, 9). Put simply, detoxes can make it harder to lose weight in the future.

4. Agitates Pre-Existing Health Conditions

Short as a fast may seem, it’s still definitely long enough to do damage to certain pre-existing health conditions… 

  • Laxatives over a long period of time can disrupt your normal digestion (which can lead you to become reliant on them in order to have normal bowel movements).
  • Detox teas can elevate your heart rate and blood pressure along with feelings of anxiousness and jitteriness (since they typically contain high levels of caffeine and other aggressive stimulants). This can put you at an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and seizures.
  • Water fasts, in particular, can cause an increase in health risks for people with gout, diabetes, and osteoporosis (10, 11, 12). Water fasts increase the amount of uric acid in your blood, which leads to a flare-up of gout. They can also trigger calcium release from bones, causing bone loss and a tendency to fracture. The biggest danger of fasting if you have diabetes is hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar), which can result in fainting, a coma, or even death.

5. Affects Stress & Mental Health

Detoxes give new meaning to the term “hangry”...

Fasting or severely cutting calories can increase the stress hormone cortisol (13, 14). High cortisol levels can cause weakness, fatigue, a bad mood, struggles concentrating, headaches, and high blood pressure (15). In fact, it can even cause weight gain, which can defeat the point of a cleanse in the first place!

The back and forth weight loss and weight gain can also have a profound negative effect on your mental health. It promotes an unhealthy relationship with your body and food. Studies have even linked detoxes to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia (16, 17).

Your Body Detoxes Naturally

Your body doesn’t need juice or tea to help cleanse itself: it already has its own systems for that! “On a general basis, cleanses and detoxes are not needed as this is what our liver and kidneys are for,” explains registered dietitian Samantha Berkowitz. “This is their main function, and if they are not working as they should, individuals will need hospital care, not juices or home products.” 

Cleanse advertisements that tell you your body is full of unprocessed toxins aren’t telling you the whole truth. Your kidneys filter your blood and remove toxins from your urine, while your liver processes nutrients and helps your kidneys function more easily. Your colon also helps remove waste and toxins. Every time you go to the restroom, sweat, or even exhale, your body is releasing toxins all on its own (18, 19, 20, 21).

A Healthier Alternative to Detoxes

You don’t need a detox or cleanse to help you achieve your health or weight-loss goals. “Detoxes don’t actually result in detoxing your body, they don’t provide lasting weight loss, and they’re expensive and challenging to do,” says Emily Zorn. 

Instead, look at the food you are eating. Prioritize eating protein and healthy fats, while limiting added sugars, ultra-processed carbs, and  vegetable oils. Getting regular exercise and a good night’s sleep will also go a long way in healing your body.

If you aren’t sure where to start, try our free 30-Day NativeBody Reset. It’s a doctor-designed approach that guides you step-by-step in how to reconnect with yourself and how you were designed to eat, move, and live. You’ll get a downloadable meal plan, full shopping list, and transformational knowledge about what to eat for optimal health.

Claire Hannum
Article by

Claire Hannum

Claire Hannum is a New York City-based writer, editor, wellness seeker, and reiki practitioner. Her writing has appeared in Self, Health, Prevention, and over a dozen other publications.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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