The ‘Detox Diet’ Is a Fallacy—Here’s What to Do Instead

Maybe you feel like you detoxed in January, or you need to detox after January. From your bodega’s juice aisle to TikTok, we have no shortage of products and people hawking potential ways to “cleanse” and “detox” our bodies.

Despite the prevalence of diets, products, and treatments—detox drinks sales alone are expected to approach $10 billion by 2032—the psychological appeal of these products far outweighs any scientific proof that they work. At best, these products “detox your wallet,” as Ryan Marino, MD, a medical toxicologist and an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, tells GQ, and at worst, these products can damage the organ systems that naturally detoxify your body every day.

GQ spoke to Dr. Marino to get a medical perspective on the perpetual trend of detox products and what you should know before cleansing your bank account.

What does the term “detox” even mean?

Even in the medical sense, Dr. Marino says that detox “doesn’t have a clear definition or is used loosely.” Generally speaking, there are two medical scenarios in which people detox: one, they’re getting drugs (including alcohol) out of their system and going through withdrawal. Second is treating a patient for “a true toxic exposure” that needs to be removed, such as lead, which wouldn’t necessarily be called detox, through a process like chelation.

How do these detoxes “work?”

As Dr. Marino says, they don’t. But detox products can come in the form of multi-day juice cleanses, single-serving beverages and teas, capsules, and other methods. Sometimes, these products are advised to be taken in lieu of a meal (which may just “detox” your body from receiving its usual nutrition.)

Why are detoxes so appealing?

“The concept of detoxing and doing a cleanse—or whatever it is—remains popular at all times and is always shifting,” Dr. Marino says. Some recent examples, which might already be past due for their trendiness, are flat-tummy teas and activated charcoal, which can now be found in everything from ice cream to cocktails.

Detoxes and cleanses are appealing because they offer a “magical solution” to issues like aging, being overworked, or simply existing in a stressful society.

There is a century-old idea of “autointoxication,” which detoxes and cleanses tend to echo, where everyday existence leads to a buildup of toxins in the body. Autointoxication, used as a justification for colonic irrigation, was dubbed “a triumph of ignorance over science” in a 1997 Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology editorial.

It’s a universal experience, Dr. Marino says, to want a quick fix and detox and cleanse your way to better health. But he describes these appeals as ableist, predatory, and self-blaming, as they tell people they’re doing something wrong, rather than identifying that people might be stressed or are simply aging.

Can your body detox on its own?

Dr. Marino explains that the human body is ” very well-evolved and adept at removing toxic substances from our environmental exposures and day-to-day life.” The liver and kidneys are the major detoxifiers in the body.

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