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What Detox Products Don’t Tell You

Do you ever wonder why Whole Foods has enormous displays for detox products and cleanses every January? They’re bright, colorful, and claim to give you everything you want in a box.

Pretty skin.

Weight loss.

No more bloating.

Stop your constipation/diarrhea

And the vague, “flush out toxins”

All you have to do is take these pills, this powder, and this shake for 5 days and voila, all is fixed.

You might not know this, but early in my career I consulted for health food stores, specifically in the supplements department. In that time, I sat through meeting after meeting with supplement company reps who were promoting the latest cleanse and superfruit (And boy did I get tired to hearing about the superfruits…).

Ironically, these meetings were quite similar to pharmaceutical reps that I encountered in hospitals and healthcare facilities. They presented cherry-picked data (if any data at all) about how this ingredient helps your body excrete toxins and how that ingredient does something else magical.

But, despite these claims, customers that did these detoxes would come back a week later looking, well, the same.

Same skin.

Same weight.

Same bloating.

Same constipation/diarrhea.

And, well, who really knows if they “flushed out toxins” or not.

They were back, more frustrated than ever, looking for the next product that would fix their problems.

Truth: These boxed cleanses and detoxes often fail to give you the results you want and the supplement companies don’t want you to find this out.

Here’s what detox products don’t tell you:

1. Pixie dust effect.

The active ingredients in detox products are often not found in high enough quantities to give you results, which I lovingly dub the “pixie dust effect.”

Supplement companies can put in enough ingredients to advertise that they have 30 detoxifying herbs so when you compare it to its neighbor that has a measly 8 herbs, you think the latter is not worth it.

Often these lengthy ingredient lists include herbs that have little research behind their ability to detoxify and are in teensy quantities. I mean 50mg of an herb is not even a tenth of a TicTac.

Even worse is when one ingredient counteracts the therapeutic benefit of another. This is so common that I usually walk through the supplement aisles rolling my eyes.

2. Pills don’t replace daily habits.

No amount of supplements can make up for a bad diet, poor sleep schedule, stressful job, and daily exposure to chemicals and pollution. So unless you are doing a major lifestyle overhaul, the extra 6 pills you’re popping aren’t doing you much good. Enough said.

3. Shakes are (often) unhealthy meal replacements.

It’s tempting to choose a shake over a meal. They are convenient and eliminate the paralyzing question of “What should I eat for lunch that’s healthy?!”

Unfortunately, these shakes are usually packed with highly processed protein powders, which strain your liver (not what you want to do when you’re trying to cleanse) and – unless they taste horrible – are extremely high in sugar or artificial sweeteners.

You’re better off with a green salad, some grilled wild Alaskan salmon, and a homemade vinaigrette for lunch. And don’t forget to eat breakfast!

4. Diarrhea does not mean you’re detoxing.

These cleanses are often packed with laxatives that give you the illusion of cleansing, but really don’t do much in terms of eliminating toxins. Don’t get me wrong, some toxins are eliminated through the bowels, but taking high dose laxative herbs doesn’t clean out your intestines the same way as a well-formed daily bowel movement (excuse the poop talk, it’s a normal thing in my profession :).

Diarrhea either means there were laxative herbs that irritated and inflamed your colon (triggering it to expel its contents immediately) OR there were high amounts of minerals that signaled your body to pull water into your colon (called osmotic laxatives).

Guess what diarrhea does? It dehydrates you!

And dehydration impairs your body’s ability to filter and excrete toxins.  If you don’t know the names of all the herbal laxatives to avoid, just skip these products completely.

5. It’s too much too fast.

If you’ve managed to buy a decent cleansing product, but you’ve never attempted a detox before, it might be too much for your body. What detox products don’t tell you is that your body has built in systems to detoxify including the liver, kidneys and intestines. These products don’t and can’t bypass these systems.

Truly detoxifying herbs simply speed up these processes or make them more efficient. If you are not taking in the right balance of nutrients to support your body, you’ll likely be freeing up stored toxins, but they might not be getting fully excreted. In other words, those newly released toxins will get stored in another part of your body. This often explains the undesirable side effects like headaches, feeling light-headed, breakouts, and rashes. These side effects are especially common when the detox involves fasting (aka not eating), because guess what? Good food gives your body the nutrients it needs to support your detoxification pathways.

By now I hope you’ve backed away from the elaborate “cleanse” and detox product display and given it a second thought.

I certainly plan on doing my own version of a detox for the new year, but I’m approaching it from a different perspective. I will be eating food (and delicious food at that!) to support my body, I will be taking certain supplements that I know are safe (and NOT laxatives), and I will be making some changes to my schedule and exercise routine to support the process.

Now that you know the truth about detox products, I’d like to hear from you in the comments section. What dirty little secret about detox products were you most surprised to find out?

Until next week,


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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.


Leave a comment
  1. Great article, and great information. You are so right, people get caught up with a quick fix, and forget daily habits are the most important.

  2. Thanks, I never understood how an herb would detox anyway unless like you breifly mentioned it supported your liver or something

  3. Do you have any recommendations to make your own protein shake from fresh foods.

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