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Detox Diets: Do They Work? 

The concept of detox diets may be a myth, but there are ways to help your body optimise the elimination of toxins. Here are seven ways.

A woman drinking a bottle of lemon and cucumber infused water

Many claims have been made about the effectiveness of detox diets and most, if not all of them, are false. The truth is, the human body is already equipped with ways of detoxification, namely through the liver, intestine, kidneys, sweat glands, lungs, lymph and saliva. You don’t need a detox diet or tea to stimulate the release of toxins from your body; detoxing is a process that happens naturally. 

The concept behind detox diets may be a myth, but there are ways to help your body optimise the elimination.

The Toxins in Us 

From pollution to food additives, environmental toxins are all around us. However, there are other toxic materials in our bodies too. These are endogenous toxins, which are created inside the body. They are by-products of the metabolic process and are produced by the breakdown of sugar, fat and protein. An overaccumulation of it can lead to organ dysfunctions and chronic illnesses. For example, the overproduction of glucose can result in diabetes and its complications, including heart disease.

There are also exogenous toxins such as heavy metal poisoning, which occur due to food consumption or the use of certain medications. 

How Traditional Chinese Medicine Views Toxins

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) classifies toxins as external (Wind, Heat, Cold, pollution) and internal (Stagnation, Blood Stasis, accumulation of phlegm and a build-up of Heat). 

The Liver is in charge of removing toxins from your body, producing bile and performing essential metabolic functions. It also regulates qi, (vital energy), and stores blood, which circulates qi around the body and supports the functioning of your organs, limbs and tissues. If it isn’t in tip-top condition, it can cause serious health problems.

Some signs of poor liver health include a pale complexion, acne, eye problems such as bloodshot eyes or blurry vision, muscular weakness and insomnia. The Liver also helps regulate emotions, so if you’re experiencing unexplained irritability and anger it might indicate a problem with the Liver.

Methods to Remove Toxins the Right Way 

The safest way to remove toxins from your body is by keeping the organs that naturally detoxify your body, in tip-top condition. 

1. Eat Clean

A partial view of a woman's hands pulling fruits and vegetables out of a knitted bag.
Instead of a detox diet, why not try eating more fruits and vegetables?

A balanced diet is necessary to maintain health. Complete your diet plan with fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits, vegetables and grains that are known to have detoxification properties include bitter gourd, sweet potato leaves, white radish, tomato, mushroom, onion, garlic, kelp, celery, brown rice, millet, oat, barley, sweet potato, red bean, mung bean, apple and lemon. Remember to limit your intake of processed, oily, deep-fried, cold, raw and fatty foods containing high levels of salt or sugar. 

Eating clean is also about having good eating habits. Avoid overeating; it’s better to consume several small meals a day instead of one large one. 

2. Keep Hydrated

A woman in workout clothing, sitting outdoors on a mat while drinking a bottle of water.
Ditch a detox diet and try drinking more water and exercising.

Wash down your meals by drinking enough water. A cup of warm water in the morning can help flush out toxins. Try drinking six to eight cups of water daily. Insufficient fluids can cause issues such as constipation and dehydration.

3. Empty Your Bowels Daily 

Toxins can leave your body through bowel movements, so it’s important to be regular. People with constipation might find the use of laxatives appealing, but those can do more harm than good. Instead, try supplements for digestion problems made with natural ingredients. 

4. Herbal Remedies 

Besides supplements from natural ingredients, several herbs are thought to have the ability to eliminate toxins. TCM believes that some herbs can fight the external and internal pathogens that poison you by acting on the detoxification organs, especially the Liver. These herbs include ginger (jiang, 姜), saffron flower (zhang hong hua, 藏红花), turmeric (jiang huang, 姜黄), dandelion root (pu gong ying, 蒲公英) and Chinese barley (yi yi ren, 薏苡仁). 

5. Exercise  

Working out is a sure way to keep your organs operating well. It also makes you sweat. Perspiration is one of the eight detoxification methods in TCM (the others being purgation, harmonisation, warming, heat-clearing, regurgitation, elimination and nourishment).

6. TCM Remedies 

TCM focuses on treatments that can stimulate the detoxification organs and clear pathogens from the body. These treatments are: 

  1. Acupressure or acupuncture: To stimulate the Liver for detoxification.
  2. Cupping: To alleviate Blood Stagnation, rejuvenate circulation and remove Coldness and Dampness.
  3. Scraping (gua sha): To release the body from Blood Stasis and promote metabolic cell repair. 

7. Keep Calm and Sleep 

From TCM’s perspective, emotional imbalances can act as both the symptoms and causes of physical ailments. For instance, anger, depression and stress can disrupt the workings of the Liver. That’s why TCM recommends having a positive mindset and avoiding stressful situations to prevent the Liver from completing its detoxification process.

Emotional balance can also help you get a good night’s sleep, which has a positive impact on detoxification. In TCM, your body detoxifies toxins according to the meridian clock. The Liver meridian happens to fulfil its duty from 1am to 3am, while you’re asleep. TCM suggests going to bed early so the Liver can work optimally to dispose of toxins. Furthermore, high-quality sleep is crucial to strengthen immunity. 

A detox diet may be questionable, but clean and healthy eating habits are more reliable in removing toxins from your body. Complement a balanced diet with enough water, exercise, regular bowel movements, sufficient sleep and, when necessary, holistic treatments and your body will thank you.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Do You Need a Detox?”, which first appeared on Health123 website.


  1. Medcrave. 2016. Endogenous Toxins as Disease Initiating Events: Future Targets of Drug Discovery Research [online]. Available at: <https://medcraveonline.com/JAPLR/endogenous-toxinsnbspas-disease-initiating-events-future-targets-of-drug-discovery-research.html> [Accessed 3 June 2022]
  2. Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon, On the Importance of Perspiration in Chinese Medical Diagnosis and Therapy, [online] Available at: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/perspire.htm [Accessed 7 July 2022]
  3. Researchgate, December 2020, Sweating as a Preventive Care and Treatment Strategy in Traditional Persian Medicine GMJ, [online], Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/347909807_Sweating_as_a_Preventive_Care_and_Treatment_Strategy_in_Traditional_Persian_Medicine_GMJ [Accessed 7 July 2022]

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