Can you clean your body with a detox kit or juice cleanse?
The medical expert and dietitian we spoke to said no.
With claims such as “supports healthy liver and bowel function”, “fight back and clean out those toxins” and “helps manage sugar cravings”, these products sound like the perfect quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle or pick-me-up.
But do they work? We ask a medical expert and dietitian and also put our bodies on the line trialling four detox kits and one juice cleanse.
What is a detox kit?
Detox is used to describe the treatment given to people with addictions. But it’s also a buzzword in over-the-counter products you can buy from pharmacies, health food stores or online.
Detox products cite environmental toxins we’re exposed to – including alcohol, cigarette smoke, caffeine and refined foods – and how this places an extra burden on the body’s natural detoxification systems, leading to symptoms such as digestive discomfort and bloating.
A typical regime will have you taking herbal supplements and eliminating “toxins” such as caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars. Most plans also recommend drinking plenty of water and following their nutrition advice. Then, at the end of the plan (anywhere from two to 10 days for the kits we trialled), you should be “cleansed”.
Detox trial results
We trialled four detox kits and one juice cleanse. Here’s what our detox guinea pigs had to say.
Paul - Good Health Body Cleanse Total Body Detox
Price: $45 for seven days
What is it? The detox involves taking 21 capsules per day (two different products). No food or drink restrictions.
Paul says: Compared to my colleagues, I think I got the easiest detox regime. Although the instructions advised not to have too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol, it didn’t ban these substances. It was also easy to follow – although downing 21 pills each day made me feel like a rattling toolbox!
The frequency of “bowel” on the packaging and instructions made me anxious I could be in for some unpleasant side effects. Which I was! Much to my wife’s displeasure, there was a dramatic increase in flatulence for a couple of days, but things settled down later in the week and I didn’t notice any changes. When it came to energy levels and mood, I didn’t feel any different.
Would you do it again? No. I was sceptical that just taking supplements would be transformative or make much difference. Improving your diet and doing more physical activity is better than putting your faith in some magic pills.
Jodie – Optislim Coconut & Lemon 48hr Detox Cleansing Program
Price: $21 for two days
What is it? A liquid product containing lemon juice, coconut MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), coconut oil, papaya, pineapple and aloe vera mixed with water and taken four times per day between meals. For best results, it recommends only consuming fruits, vegetables, clear soups and unsweetened jelly, limiting grains and proteins, and eliminating sugars, and fried and processed foods.
Jodie says: The instructions were easy to follow, and the regime wasn’t a hassle. My energy levels in the morning were good, but I got tired later in the day. I was also hungry and a little irritable. On the positive side I slept well, and it made me realise how much I love refined carbs, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that going forward.
Would you do it again? Maybe – it was only two days and relatively cheap.
Abby – Health House The Ultimate Cleanse Spring Clean and Detox
Price: $99 for ten days
What is it? The detox involves taking 40 capsules per day (four different products) – 20 with breakfast and 20 with dinner. There’s a required preparation phase (three to seven days) reducing caffeine, alcohol and foods including bread, red meat and pork, pasta, nuts and beans. During the detox, there’s a list of foods that can be eaten freely and foods to avoid (including potatoes, sweetcorn, and dairy products).
Abby says: It was a hassle taking 40 pills per day and having restricted food options, especially if I was running late. At the start of my detox, I had low energy levels and was hungry – I would have loved some chickpeas or rice to dull the hunger pangs. My bowel movements were also unusual, but I had no headaches, stomach upsets or upset sleep. From day three, I had a clearer head and was less anxious than usual.
At the end of the cleanse, I didn’t feel better or worse. But it made me aware of what I usually eat and the improvements I could make to my diet – eating less sweets and processed foods.
Would you do it again? Maybe. I enjoyed the diet reset. But I’m not sure the supplements were beneficial, so I’d probably just eat more healthily.
Emily – Caruso’s Quick Cleanse Internal Cleansing Detox Program
Price: $60 for seven days
What is it? The detox involves taking seven supplements per day (four different products) at specific times (pre and post meals). The plan includes a list of allowed and restricted foods and recommends drinking a glass of warm water and lemon juice in the morning, followed (20 minutes later) by 200ml of fruit or vegetable juice.
Emily says: The checklist table provided was helpful for me to remember the strict order I had to take the pills. The eating plan was a hassle, though – it was essentially vegan (which the rest of the family rebelled against), and I had to do a lot of food prep. The nutrition advice was also weird – I was allowed citrus (but no oranges) and sea salt (but no table salt). The recommendation to drink vegetable or fruit juice daily also goes against recommended nutrition advice.
I felt mainly fine on the detox but was quite gassy and my bowel motions were loose and urgent. I also needed to pee more often. My energy levels and sleep patterns were the same. I confess to cheating – cake for Mother’s Day (which was also my son’s birthday) and a painkiller for a migraine.
Would you do it again? No. I wasn’t convinced of any benefit for the $60 price tag. I also wanted the restricted products (caffeine, cake, alcohol) more than usual because I wasn’t allowed them – despite the CraveLess supplement! I’m a doctor, so I was also concerned that the supplements could interact with medications. The instructions did state if you’re on medication you should consult your doctor before starting the cleanse. But if a patient presented me with the long list of ingredients in the supplements, I’d have no idea if they’d react – I suspect I wouldn’t be alone!
James – Artisan Juice Protein Reset Cleanse
Price: $131 for two days
What is it? The juice cleanse includes four plant-based smoothies, three cold-pressed juices, and one booster shot per day, to be consumed in a particular order. Unlimited herbal teas and water are allowed. The detox recommends avoiding all solid food; however, if hungry, vegetables and limited fruit are allowed. The recommended preparation before the cleanse was one or more days with no meat, eggs, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars or caffeine.
James says: The juice cleanse was very easy to follow and the smoothies were delicious, but that’s where the good news ends. My energy levels were massively reduced; I was starving and had headaches both days. On day two, I experienced flu-like symptoms. I was glad it only lasted two days as it wasn’t enough calories for someone my size. The one positive was I realised how much coffee I drink, and I’ll definitely be cutting back.
Would you do it again? No way – it’s too expensive.
For a full rundown on what it’s like doing a detox, check out Abby, Emily and James’s detox diaries.
Do detox kits work?
We looked for scientific evidence to support detox regimes, but research was thin on the ground and dated.
A 2014 review of past studies published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found very little clinical evidence to support detox regimes. The research was largely flawed with small sample sizes. A 2017 review published in Current Gastroenterology Reports found detox and juicing diets led to weight loss over short periods. But this was likely due to participants eating less while on the diet and weight was regained once the detox period was over. That didn’t surprise the experts we spoke to about whether detoxing works.
Rob Walker, professor of medicine and renal specialist at Dunedin School of Medicine, says the short answer is we don’t have to cleanse or detoxify.
“Our bodies are well equipped with self-cleansing mechanisms and detoxification occurs on a continual basis in the body,” he says.
Professor Walker says the gut absorbs nutrients from normal digestion and these nutrients are transported to the liver via the bloodstream, where further metabolism occurs. Both the gut and the liver break down unwanted and potentially damaging compounds, which the kidneys eliminate.
“There’s also no evidence that your liver needs cleansing. The best advice is to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine and highly-processed foods. With detox kits, it’s also important to consider that some herbal supplements can interact with medications.”
Registered dietitian Helen Gibbs agrees. “The body, including the kidneys, liver and skin, are all detoxing organs. You’re better off spending the money on fruit and vegetables than these expensive detox kits.”
There’s also the potential that detoxing diets can reinforce unhealthy eating habits and give the wrong signals about what constitutes a healthy diet.
“Some people think a ‘detox’ is a way to fix bad eating or drinking habits. But following a restricted eating plan for a short time can make it hard to know what we should eat regularly.”
Ms Gibbs says there’s also no evidence you can pop a pill to reduce sugar cravings.
“Instead, think about what makes you want to eat certain things. Are you really hungry or just thirsty? Do you eat sugary foods when you’re stressed? Once you know what triggers your cravings, you can make a plan to deal with them.”
Most kits come with lifestyle recommendations such as drinking enough water, quitting smoking and increasing your physical activity, as well as healthy eating advice. However, some of the nutrition advice isn’t supported by evidence or has no logical rationale.
The Health House and Caruso’s products recommend restricting key food groups like dairy and some protein sources. Ms Gibbs says restricting key food groups could mean there aren’t enough nutrients in your diet if the foods aren’t replaced by a suitable alternative.
Health House permits fruit and vegetables except bananas, potatoes and sweetcorn. Caruso’s allows all citrus fruits except oranges. It also permits sea salt but not table salt.
“These recommendations are nonsense. There’s no evidence that cutting out specific fruit and vegetables is beneficial. Salt is sodium chloride. Eating too much salt – whether it’s rock, sea or table salt – can lead to a rise in our blood pressure. Hypertension or high blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke,” says Ms Gibbs.
What about juice cleanses?
Juice cleanse programmes are touted as another way to “detox” by replacing solid food with fruit and vegetable juices (some companies include plant milk smoothies). Cleanses can last up to seven days depending on the company.
Helen Gibbs said juice cleanses are an expensive way to get your daily dose of fruits and vegetables. And it’s better to eat whole fruits and vegetables because they have more benefits than juices. “When you juice, you remove the fibre and break the plant cell walls, which releases the sugar. Juicing is like giving your body pre-digested fruits and vegetables, and the sugar in the juices affects your body in a similar way to sugar in soft drinks.”
Her other concern is that for the hefty price tag, you won’t be getting an optimal diet. Most juice cleanses, particularly those without smoothies, lack protein and are low in kilojoules.
An average adult should consume 8,700 kilojoules per day but, even with the addition of the higher-kilojoule plant milk drinks in the cleanse we trialled, it only contained just over 5,500kJ. It’s a similar story for protein. Men need approximately 64g and women 46g per day, but the trial cleanse only contained 26.4g per day.
Would you like extras with your detox?
Companies don’t waste the opportunity to market other products they sell. The Good Health kit recommends additional Good Health supplements (nine in total), Health House and Caruso’s both recommend taking one of their probiotics after the cleanse.
Some companies also suggest repeating the cleanse every few months. Artisan Juice Company recommends drinking at least one bottle of its juices each day to “maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle.”
With regular detoxing and buying these extras, the cost of your detox can quickly add up.
Who shouldn’t detox?
Even if you’re convinced of the benefits, detox diets or juice cleanses aren’t for everyone. Children, teenagers and pregnant or breastfeeding women shouldn’t do a detox programme. They have specific needs for growth and good health that detox kits may not provide.
People should carefully consider whether they should do a detox diet around their children. Helen Gibbs says children learn how to eat by watching what adults do, not just by what we say. “It’s important to focus on eating healthy every day instead of following a trendy fad diet.”
If you have specific dietary requirements, a chronic illness, or are on any medication, get medical advice before starting a detox programme.