Do annual cleanses & detox regimens work?

Happy New Year everyone! We’re back at it with a commonly misunderstood topic - DETOXification. Cleansing diets and detox regimens have taken on many forms ranging from fasting and restrictive juice diets, to commercial products touting intestinal cleansing and a host of other health benefits. While the marketing around these regimens make them seem necessary and even life-changing, there is no high-quality evidence supporting cleanses or detoxes of any kind (1).

I don’t recommend annual cleanses because of the lack of support in the literature, and because of the fad-diet, quick-fix attitude they promote. Lifestyle changes must be made and adhered to long-term in order to have any lasting effects on health. Sticking to a juice cleanse in January may make you feel like you’re making good health choices, and may even help you lose weight, but extreme practices like this are not sustainable. They unfortunately lead to quick weight regain with little to no health benefits. In fact, extreme regimens are associated with safety issues including high oxalate intake (increased kidney stone risk), nutrient deficiencies, diarrhea, constipation, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, headaches, nausea, blood sugar dysregulation, and mood swings to name a few. Extreme diets also promote disordered eating both during and after the ‘cleansing’ period in susceptible individuals. And many ‘detox’ supplements are unregulated, meaning they may not contain what they say they do, or worse, they may contain harmful ingredients that pose serious risks to your health (1).

There are some positive takeaways from cleansing culture that I like to apply to making slow, intentional lifestyle changes over time; these include 1. the desire to make change and take action, 2. the notion that food can be powerful medicine, and 3. our bodies function more efficiently with the appropriate support. Our lungs, liver, and kidneys work hard to detoxify our various body systems. What we can do to maintain the health of these organs is fairly simple. Maintaining a healthy weight through eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, and low in processed sugars and trans/sat fat is critical to organ health. Regular exercise also helps with weight maintenance, body composition, boosts mood, and motivates better food choices. People often embark on cleanses to feel renewed; getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night and taking time for restful and enjoyable activities is a great way to kick off the New Year and help support other goals.

I understand that most people want to make radical changes this time of year, but depriving your body of nutrients and putting your gastrointestinal system on overdrive is inherently counterproductive. Cleanses can take a lot of time, energy, discipline, and may be financially taxing. If efforts were refocused on improving the foundations of health i.e. diet, exercise, sleep, relationships; reducing smoking, alcohol, and emotionally draining activities, we’d be better off. I know these changes are easier said than done, and so working with health care professionals to meet your goals is also fundamental to success. I also want to add here that fasting has spiritual and religious significance for some individuals, and I am in no way doubting its benefits if done safely in certain settings. Please speak to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes since some supplements, diets, and exercise regimens are not suited for all.

Author: Emily Howard, ND, BSc

1. "detoxes" and "cleanses": What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Published 2019. Accessed January 4, 2023.

© Copyright 2025 Dr. Emily Howard. All Rights Reserved.