Does your body really need a cleanse? Yes. “We’re exposed to hundreds of thousands of toxins on a daily basis that come from internal sources like infections, as well as synthetic materials like BPA in plastics,” says Susan Payrovi, M.D., a specialist in integrative medicine at Stanford University.
But is your body so inundated with toxins, especially after the holiday haze, that it needs help cleaning house? Not exactly. While many companies claim their detox products offer the latest and greatest ways to flush out your system, you’re about to learn the secret of an all-powerful tool that does it best. It’s called (wait for it) your liver.
“Evolutionarily we’re lucky, because the liver has millions of enzymes and processes to help us detoxify,” says Christopher Hoyte, M.D., medical director of the toxicology clinic at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, “and it works overtime, all the time, to keep us healthy.”
That said, some doubt that the liver can handle this task all on its own. Some companies claim that detoxing will boost the efficiency of the organ. The research isn’t encouraging, but Men’s Health staffers tested a bevy of products and diets to see if any lived up to their promises. Here’s what we learned.
What It Is: Eating nothing but pulverized plants for the better part of a week is supposed to help your body rid itself of toxins, absorb nutrients, and provide mental clarity.
Who Tried It: Raymond Ho, Deputy Art Director
“I had persistent headaches and poor concentration. I never felt hungry, but that ‘just woke up’ feeling never went away,” he says.
What Science Says: In a 2015 trial published in Nutrition Research, women on a multiday 400-calorie lemon water detox lost weight. (Right?) But each pound lost isn’t just fat. “When you follow a low-calorie diet, even if it contains protein, 25 to 30 per cent of each pound lost comes from muscle,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an expert in body composition training. Gulp.
The Take Away: Fruits and vegetables help combat diseases from cancer to heart disease, but the health effects of slurping them down as your only food source are less known. Get your fiber from real food.
What It Is: Those herb-filled capsules often contain large doses of fiber. The common promise: The herbs support detoxification and eliminate toxins (yes, via poop) from your body.
Who Tried It: Jennifer Messimer, Research Chief
“Other than exercising my gag reflex every morning, I didn’t feel more energized or notice any ‘elimination’ changes,” she says.
What Science Says: One common supplement in the detox family is milk thistle. Compounds in this herb may increase antioxidant activity and reduce liver inflammation in animals. Human studies, however, have failed to confirm that effect. Milk thistle itself is safe, but other ingredients in the supplements may interfere with your medications.
The Take Away: Maintaining a healthy, well-rounded diet is enough to support your liver. What’s more, a 2017 study in the journal Nutrients found that obese people who ate a calorie-restricted high-fruit diet had improved markers of liver function.
What It Is: This type of program is often low in calories and carbs and high in restrictions. The one we tried—Dr. Hyman’s 10-Day Detox—promised to quash food cravings.
Who Tried It: Tyler Daswick, Assistant Editor
“My body didn’t feel any cleaner than it did before. I wasn’t any more alert, efficient, or energetic. In fact, I felt woozy and exhausted,” he says.
What Science Says: There’s some evidence that restricting certain food types, such as carbs, can curb cravings for those foods, but to say you can make lifelong changes isn’t realistic. Opting for whole foods over processed ones is part of healthy eating, but overly restricting yourself is not, says nutrition therapist Karin Kratina, Ph.D., R.D.
The Take Away: “Some people end up being more interested in the very foods they’re telling themselves they can't have,” Kratina warns. And don’t cut out fruit unless you're directed to do so by a doctor. It contains fiber and other disease-fighting nutrients.
What It Is: Intermittent fasting involves set times when your eating is restricted and others when you eat as normal—or even more than you would typically. We chose one day of fasting followed by at least two days of normal eating. Claims: a more youthful appearance, more energy, and fewer aches, pains, and health troubles.
Who Tried It: Brian Boye, Executive Fashion Director
“I was concerned about going without food for 24 hours, but my energy level was unchanged. In the first two weeks, I lost 5 pounds,” he says.
What Science Says: True, intermittent fasting can promote short-term weight loss, but it hasn’t been proven to be any more effective than simply cutting back on extra calories each day. Another concern: If you’re lifting often and trying to stick to a muscle-building diet, fasting can make protein intake even more of a challenge, Schoenfeld says.
The Take Away: Fasting will inevitably lead to weight loss, but so will cutting back on candy and cookies. Here’s the thing: Training yourself not to eat may also help you differentiate between real hunger and emotional hunger. Plus, fasting is a workout for your willpower.