Do diet detox products work?

Can herbal pills and fruit-based liquids really remove toxins, or is it all just marketing spin?
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While fad diets are nothing new, there are concerns about the growing popularity of  "Detox" diets, juice diets and and highly restrictive eating regimes. 

Last year CHOICE examined 10 detox products available on pharmacy shelves to find out whether they really act as an "internal broom", or whether all of the sweeping claims are merely unfounded marketing spin.

Our investigation covered a range of products - from mainstream supplement brand Blackmores, which claims its Kickstart Detoxification will help cleanse, purify and detoxify your organs, to a 48-hour detox drink promoted via scantily clad models, and even a Brauer homeopathic product sold with a natural fibre body exfoliator, which it claims promotes holistic body cleansing.

With a wide range of detox products available at your local pharmacy, celebrity eating plan pages popping up on your social media feeds and many books on the topic published this year alone, there’s no doubt the business is a lucrative one. This year, Australians are predicted to spend $827.1m on diet products and weight loss services.

For more information about nutrition, see Diet and Exercise.

Two wrongs...

There is little evidence detox diets actually remove toxins, according to accredited practising dietitian Melanie McGrice. She says this is a job your kidneys and liver do by themselves every day.

As a dietitian, McGrice regularly sees patients who come to her “hoping to find a remedy” after a particularly poor period of eating or drinking. The problem is, the punishment of a strict “detox” diet doesn’t really make up for the binge.

“People have this idea of a detox diet as a way of dealing with their guilt about having a diet that previously contained sugars, fats and or alcohol, but two wrongs don’t make a right,” McGrice says. “It may alleviate your guilt but it is actually doing more harm than good.”

Can you really 'clean' your liver?

Most detox products spruik some kind of cleansing benefit for the liver or kidneys. In some cases, products encourage severe restrictions of key food groups, such as meat and dairy. Worryingly, others recommend eliminating food altogether. Accredited practising dietitian Kate Di Prima rejects the idea that you need a detox product to achieve a healthy liver. She says liver cleansing doesn’t actually have to be a complicated process at all – all you need to do is avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine and saturated fats.

Under examination

  • Bioglan Intense Cleanse, $19.99
  • Blackmores Kickstart Detox, $18.49
  • Totally Natural Quick Cleanse
  • Detox Program, $49.95
  • 4321 10 Day Body Boot Camp, $39.99
  • 48hr Rapid Detox, $29.99
  • Brauer 10 Day Detox, $54.99
  • 4321 Slim Evolution, $26.99
  • Skinny Mini 5 Day Detox and
  • Weight Loss Program, $29.95
  • QuickTrim Fast Cleanse 48hr
  • Super Diet Detox, $34.99
  • Lemon Detox, $89.95

Our investigation

To personalise our investigation, CHOICE assigned the diet detox products to volunteers who agreed to trial the product and provide feedback. 

Volunteers were instructed to follow the eating plan outlined in the product instructions and where this was not available, they were given a healthy eating plan similar to the one listed in this article

Although some of our volunteers said they felt better at the conclusion of the trial, they all put this down to the healthy eating plan and elimination of added sugars and processed foods. None said they would be willing to pay for the products out of their own money. Here's a sample of what some of our volunteers had to say:

Quick Trim Fast Cleanse

How did you feel at the end of the detox?

I felt pretty bad - slightly bloated, a bit headachey, probably as a result of the very limited diet this 'detox' prescribed.

I have no idea what the ingredients in my detox drink were meant to do (I have been on other detoxes before that did make me feel different / possibly even better) but this one didn't do that.

Would you buy the product or recommend it?

I was quite shocked that a bottle of lemon flavoured liquid could cost as much as it did when it didn't seem to do anything. Would I pay for it? No way. It blows my mind that this product is being advertised so heavily on radio and thanks to the visit by Kim Kardashian it has had so much publicity that I'm sure it will sell millions of units despite not working.

Lemon Detox

How did you feel at the end of the detox?

It felt good to watch what you eat, but it didn't make me feel any better. I think I could achieve the same feeling of wellbeing and healthiness by just following a healthy eating plan.

Would you buy the product or recommend it?

Definitely not - I would be very disappointed if I paid for the product as I could have bought the ingredients from the supermarket for a fraction of the cost. And as a result of the laxatives, I had to be near a bathroom for most of the day.

Blackmores Kickstart Detox

How did you feel at the end of the detox?

During the detox I had headaches, felt sluggish and had very low every levels. The headache didn't ease until day 6! I ate very healthy and felt less bloated than usual (probably because I cut out carbs), but it wasn't worth it for the tiredness and nauseousness I experienced.

Would you buy the product or recommend it?

No. It made me realised that you don't need to take a pill to feel better, you just need to plan mentally and give yourself a set period of time to eat healthy and make sure you stick to it.

Brauer 10 Day Detox

How did you feel at the end of the detox?

I didn't notice any obvious results or improved wellbeing from taking the detox, except that I consciously drank more water as the detox liquid had to be consumed with 2L of water each day. The only positive effect may have been related to the fact that I was consciously monitoring my food intake throughout the day and had the "feeling" that I was doing a good thing for my body - it's greatest effect for me was as a motivational tool more than any other outcome.

Would you buy the product or recommend it?

For no other feeling other than the satisfaction of having 'tried' to detox, the product is not good value. I think that keeping a food diary, maintaining a set healthy eating plan and exercising would bring the same, if not much more, benefit than the detox product.



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