It seems everyone's on a detox for the new year, and don't we all need one? Our bodies are full of toxic chemicals. It would be great if we could just purify ourselves with a few smoothies, right?
Tough luck. Detoxes are bullshit.
It's easy to get drawn into the marketing of detoxes or cleanses (the two are basically interchangeable these days, both terms are used by those who shill them); they're everywhere, so doesn't that make them scientific? Some of them claim to help you lose weight, some say they treat diseases, and some just…make you less toxic? Align your chi with your wallpaper? Organize your closet and tell your BFF that yes, her passive-aggressive Facebook status messages about her ex have been lame since about two minutes past the age of 15?
But they don't work. Why? The answers lie in science, and according to the way our bodies work, detoxes could actually cause you harm. Here's why you should suppress the urge to try out that next miracle cleanse.
Green juice will not purify you.
Who doesn't want to think that a delightful mixture of kale, twigs, tree sap, unicorn tears, and whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is raving about this week can make you pretty? It's glitter in a bottle. Right? Wrong. For one, most green juices are just sugar water. Suja Juice's Green Supreme has 42 grams of sugar, no iron or B vitamins, and minimal protein. At $6.99 to $8.99 per bottle, you're getting...juice. Similarly, BlueprintCleanse, Juice From The Raw, and JUS by Julie are not magic keys to weight loss and well-being. All have similar price points, are cold-pressed, organic, and sell at astronomically high prices with vague promises of making you less gross.
These juice cleanses generally claim to give you more energy, make your skin glow, and help you lose weight by ridding your system of heavy metals, pesticides, and other nefarious yet unnamed toxins…how exactly does apple juice or kale accomplish this, even if it is "cold pressured" or organic? Why couldn't you do this in (much cheaper and more nutritious) salad form? Could any of these websites point me to the mechanism of action or do they just do this via waving their magic wand of organic-iness?
Let me point out: In order to be detoxed, you first have to be, well, "toxed." And you're probably not. If you actually had a build-up of heavy metals or pesticides in your body, you'd be crazy sick. There are specific symptoms to having both of these "toxins" inside of you. In fact, different metals and pesticides have specific symptoms, like muscle spasms and breathing difficulties. Bottom line? Breakouts and feeling a little rundown aren't symptoms of any of them, and you need REAL MEDICINE—dimercaprol chelation and atropine, respectively—for treatment. Not juice.
And why else shouldn't you do a juice cleanse? Suja's three-day program drains you of $162, and that's pretty standard. For that much, I expect perkier boobs, fuller hair, and Republicans and Democrats to act like grown-ups. Instead, you're just getting juice. The only real thing these programs cleanse is the money right out of your wallet.
Cleansing your butt won't work either.
Some people like to detox through their mouths. Others prefer to do it though their butts. But let me be abundantly clear: You do not need to shove a hose up your ass or otherwise shit your brains out to detox. Why? Your liver and kidneys do a great job of detoxing your body every day.
What about "colon cleanse" pills that claim to enhance the health of your colon? For example, Jillian Michaels has her branding on one such product, which claims it will "clear away harmful toxins," and "support colon and digestive system."
If you're an unsuspecting seeker of health, why wouldn't this make sense? There's obviously some sort of foul toxic nonsense waiting to be cleansed…there…right?
No. If you think you need a pill because these organs are not functioning properly, you don't need to head to a spa or GNC. You need a physician. Symptoms of your digestive organs not working right include your skin turning yellow from jaundice or blood in your stool. Hint: These maladies are not treatable at a day spa or with an over-the-counter supplement (if they happen to you, see a doctor immediately). In fact, most supplements are pretty much bullshit.
More ridiculously, colon hydrotherapy—aka a colon cleanse or a colonic—is a service offered at some spas, during which some 60 liters of water are piped into your bowels and the "toxins" are "plumbed" straight out of you. That sounds nice and cleansing, doesn't it?
Nope. You're simply plumbing gallons of water far into your intestines. Removing toxins? You're just forcibly giving yourself diarrhea. There's no toxin or waste build-up the water is removing. This is just fecal matter that would have been expelled naturally by your body anyway (perhaps a few hours later), but with added potential complications—like intestinal parasites, bowel perforation, and heart failure. In fact, this article from The Journal of Family Practice reported the following adverse effects due to colon cleansing:
Case reports also have noted back and pelvic abscesses after colonic hydrotherapy, fatal aeroportia (gas accumulation in the mesenteric veins) with air emboli, rectal perforations, perineal gangrene, acute water intoxication, coffee enema-associated colitis and septicemia, and deaths due to amebiasis.
A few rules of advice: If it says on a supplement bottle "these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA," what you're about to take is probably just as much of a line of shit as what it claims to pipe out of you. And when you're choosing a spa treatment, stick to a pedicure.
Master your alkalinity? Not so much.
So you've cleansed toxins out of your system with juice and plumbing, but perhaps that wasn't enough. It's time to specialize! Let's look at two very different cleanses, from the cleanse that started it all, the Master Cleanse, and the trendy new Alkaline Cleanse. They both promise to...detox you. Somehow.
The Master Cleanse alleges to "purify the glands and cells" and "relieve pressure and irritation in the nerves." And of course, it will make you lose weight by revving your metabolism and detoxing you. Originally propositioned by a naturopath who thought that all disease was caused by toxic build-up that could be only be healed via detoxing, it's remained popular for decades. It's common to mix the vile concoction of lemon water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper at home, but it's become such a well-known cleanse that some brands offers a pre-bottled version of it (for $6.99, naturally).
If the Master Cleanse is not enough to balance your body, the newest specialty cleanse that's making the rounds in celebrity circles is the Alkaline Cleanse, promising to fix all your health issues by eating "alkaline-promoting foods." The foods for the diet include a lot of very-low-calorie green vegetables, herbal teas, and "alkaline water." It claims to heal a variety of health ailments and, of course, detox you. Different versions of alkaline diets have shown up in recent years, but people latched onto this one after Dr. Robert O. Young of pH Miracle Living made claims that balancing your body's pH could heal a host of ailments, including cancer.
However, there are some, ahem, issues with these cleanses. First of all, it's a misconception that the Master Cleanse can "jumpstart your metabolism." Weight loss doesn't equal a higher metabolism. Though people may lose weight on these cleanses, it's because they're ultra-low calorie diets. And that dizzy, high-like feeling you might experience on the Master Cleanse—well, that's the feeling of starvation. One of the Master Cleanse how-to websites lists potential side effects, including dizziness, nausea, feeling cold, and passing gallstones. They allege that these are all from toxins leaving the body. Nope. These are all symptoms of severe calorie restriction, not "detoxing," not even organic detoxing with lemon and cayenne pepper.
As for the Alkaline Cleanse, it sounds so nebulous that it's easy to sell. Remember Dr. Robert O. Young, the pH Miracle guy that started this fad? First, don't listen to anybody who sells "miracles." The guy got his degrees at a diploma mill and has been charged with fraud for his health claims, according to QuackWatch.org. He's claimed to have healed everything with his pH solution, but the only thing he's healed is an ailing bank account. So why doesn't alkalizing work? Because pH is exactly the opposite of a miracle. The pH scale is a measure of concentration of hydrogen ions, nothing more, nothing less. The low end of the scale is highly acidic, and the high end is basic (aka alkaline). One of the acceptable foods on the cleanse is a lemon, a food with about the same pH as hydrochloric acid. This is a trend with the foods on the list; a large quantity of them are acidic. If anybody could explain to me with some blood tests how a diet with this many acidic foods alkalizes your body, I'd love to hear the explanation. But until then, they could try to find any science on how changing your pH would be healthy. Your body's pH is incredibly tightly controlled. Your blood's pH range is always around 7.35. You probably shouldn't screw with that because a diet guru suggested it. "Alkalizing" your body is simply not a thing.
Why do we buy into these things? Misconceptions seem to abound whenever you repeat a lie often enough in pop culture. And who hasn't heard one of their favorite celebrities promoting one of these? Beyoncé allegedly did the Master Cleanse and she looks…masterfully cleansed, right? Kelly Ripa is doing the Alkaline Cleanse and she looks…alkaline, right? Oh dear. But Holly Corbett at Prevention tried the Master Cleanse, including the salt water flush, and reported "killer cramps," "cat breath," and every dietitian she spoke to said it was bad news. There's probably something to that, perhaps a little more than the advice from a celebrity's trainer.
If you lose weight on these, it's not because it's mastering or alkalizing anything, it's because you're starving. Losing weight and not eating junk food might perk you up temporarily, but these cleanses are not balanced at all. Stop torturing yourself with a trendy diet with a lot of meaningless rules and have a damn salad.
So how do you detox?
How are you supposed to stay healthy when your life has you running ragged? This seems to surprise people, but the old advice of a balanced diet, regular exercise, making sure your vaccinations are up to date, and not skipping your annual physical? It's still good advice.
And please, don't spend $9, or P500, on juice. Because there's no fairy godmother, no magic wand, and you can't turn back last night's partying after the clock strikes midnight with kale. But you can cleanse your life of bullshit.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.