Nutrition Mythbusting: Are Cleanses A Scam?

August 25, 2021

Article written by Joe Nissim

This is going to be the year where I drink less, eat better, get rid of the jelly rolls, and make more money. First things first, detox. I need to get this crap oput of my system. The week between Christmas and New Years is usually one long party of alcohol, food, and family.

Pop into Whole Foods and head straight to the Whole Body section, with a variety of “detox” kits.  When you flip the box around, they all appear to have some really healthy stuff in them:

  1. Dandelion root
  2. Spirulina
  3. Chlorella
  4. Kale extract
  5. Fiber cleanse formula
  6. Herb cleanse formula
  7. I mean, it’s natural, stuff from the earth. It has to be good for me. Right?

Wrong! Medicine Meets Marketing

The word “detox” is short for detoxification.  In the setting of real medicine, this is typically reserved for a procedure that removes high levels of drugs, alcohol, or heavy metals from someone’s body.  High levels of drugs, alcohol, or heavy metals have the ability to be extremely harmful or even fatal.

On the flip side, the term has evolved and we now see nutrition industry marketing teams borrowing medical terminology to treat a condition known as a “hangover. ”Real detoxification treatments are medical procedures that are not casually selected from a menu of dandelion root or acai berries or pulled off the shelf in the pharmacy.

Real detoxification is provided in hospitals when there are life-threatening circumstances. But the box and Dr. Oz say it gets rid of all the “toxins”


There is a reason that we believe that drinking a combination of maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon will cleanse us.  Since the beginning of time, humans have been religious and/or spiritual.  Regardless of that religion or spirituality, there is a belief that some sort of sin exists, and that we need to purify ourselves.

I grew up in a strict Christian household.  When I refused to be baptized because I didn’t understand the point of getting dunked in a bathtub full of water in front of people my parents were trying to impress, my Mom was not happy.

According to my Mom, I needed to “purify myself so God could give me new life.”  My response was, “I like my life, Mom, I don’t need a new one.”  This also did not make her happy. But I digress.

As society became less religious and biology became more prevalent, humans became more fearful of “autointoxication”, or poisoning themselves. For a span of 100 years, this was believed to be the root of disease in science.

By the 1900’s, science continued to advance and autointoxication was dismissed. Today’s version of autointoxication argues that some combination of food additives, gluten, salt, meat, fluoride, prescription drugs, smog, vaccine ingredients, GMOs, and perhaps last night’s bottle of wine are causing a buildup of “toxins” in the body. Wait, what is a “toxin?”


According to Google, Webster, Wikipedia, and the Oxford dictionary, a “toxin” is a: “poisonous substance, especially a protein, that is produced by living cells or organisms and is capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues but is often also capable of inducing neutralizing antibodies or antitoxins.” Ok. I’m not a scientist, so let me look up some examples of what that might include:

  1. botulinum toxin A (from bacteriaClostridium botulinum)
  2. tetanus toxin A (from bacteria – Clostridium tetani)
  3. diphtheria toxin (from bacteria – Corynebacterium diphtheriae)
  4. dioxin (manufactured)
  5. muscarine (from mushrooms – Amanita muscaria)
  6. bufotoxin (from the common toad – genus Bufo)
  7. sarin (manufactured).

Huh. Nowhere on here do I see bagels, rose, tacos, or Jameson.  Toxins are typically something that, when ingested, can cause disease or death.  This is very different than the nutrition industry definition of “bad stuff in the air, food, and water.

”Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing the fact that things like GMO’s and food additives exist. What I am saying is that a cleanse will not remove those things from your body.  This has to be done in your day today.

Where it all went wrong


“CleanseSMART is a 2 part, 30 day, advanced herbal cleansing program. It is formulated to stimulate the detoxification process of the body’s 7 channels of elimination: the liver, lungs, colon, kidneys, blood, skin, and lymphatic system. In today’s toxic world, cleansing and detoxification is a necessity. Toxins enter our body daily through the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Over time, these toxins build up and slowly start to affect our health in a negative way.” This is where it went wrong. Above, I copy and pasted a description of a 30 day cleanse.  Let’s note a few things:

  1. It’s vague
  2. Never names specific toxins
  3. Sounds logical and possible
  4. Does this mean if I’m healthy, there are not toxins in my body?
  5. Are there good toxins?

The 3 Flaws

There are 3 fundamental flaws with the idea that the body is full of toxins and a “detox” will cleanse those toxins.

#1 – Why wouldn’t you simply eat better?

If we are ingesting harmful toxins, why wouldn’t the fundamental focus be on what you eat every single day? As I have said in previous articles, the only things that create results are what we do consistently. Let’s look at this in another way:

  1. Are you likely to be a better runner if you run for 1 hour, five times per week, or if you run 1 time per week for 5 hours?
  2. Are you likely to lift heavier weight if you lift 5x per week for 1 hour, than if you lift 1 day per week for 5 hours? (I would love to see someone lift 5 hours in a row).
  3. Are you likely to get more work done if you go to the office five days per week for 4 hours, than working one day for 20 hours?

The answer is clearly to be more consistent.

When it comes to exercise or work, this intuitively makes sense. But when it comes to what we put into our body, this often hits a button where logic gets pushed aside and emotion takes over.

Cleanses are just like a band-aid.  They only cover up a boo-boo.  Underneath the band-aid, we have to treat the wound.  You can not cleanse out months and months of bad decisions in 7 days.  Our bodies do not work that way.  Instead, build good habits.  I know this is boring, but there is no substitute for great habits.

#2 – A detox is not a substitute for control

We all have them.  A bad week, bad month, a bad year.  We go out on a bender.  Maybe multiple benders.  This can be with food, alcohol, or drugs.

As you know from the way you feel the next morning, eating or drinking in excess is  harmful to our bodies.  Drinking “detox” tea the next morning to reverse what we did last night will not work and is masking the bigger issue: control.

Every now and then, I go overboard drinking. One drink leads to another and before you know it, I am waking up on my coffee table in my underwear. I get it. Doing this repeatedly does not mean I need a detox, it means I need to learn how to control myself.

The same goes for food. The issue here is not the quality of food or drinks, it’s the quantity.  If I have 10 shots of Majorska vodka or 10 shots of Grey Goose, I am still going to feel like shit in the morning.  We need to stop masking the issue. 

Control is about your relationship with food or alcohol.  The answer to changing or improving this relationship is not a detox, the answer is that you have to face the issue and make a change.

When clients come into our Nutribuild program, the first thing we tell them is “even if you don’t lose/gain as much weight as you want to, our number one goal is to improve your relationship with food.”Why?

Because in order to make real lasting, change, you have to change your relationship with foods.  Diets and detoxes function on the same logic, they are masking the real issue. 

There is no detox, diet, or protein powder that will help you feel better over longer periods of time unless you address your relationship with food first. Period.

#3 – Cleanses are one size fits all

Like diets, how are cleanses all the same no matter your body, age, size, gender, etc?  You are telling me that a 250lb man and a 125lb woman can use the same exact cleanse and get the same result? Come on guys, this is not even logical. This is insulting to my intelligence.

Bringing it Home

I am all for medical advancement. I am all for finding ways to be healthier, more fit, and more active.  But using shortcuts never works. At some point, you will have to face the bigger issue: No medical advancement or food technology can change your relationship with food or alcohol. Only you can.

The idea of a cleanse makes sense on paper, yet there is not one clinical study or trial showing that it actually works. There is no documentation on what “toxins” it is removing. There is no proof that the “toxins” it is removing actually exist.

On the flip side, is there is no documentation showing that it hurts either.  Is having some acai berries for 7 days going to hurt you? Probably not. Will you likely be starving and leaking out of your butt because of the laxative in it? Yes.

The most important takeaway is this.  You can in no way shape or form change your relationship with food until you decide to face it.  No cleanse, no diet, no detox will change that.  You will be around food that is nutritious, you will be around food that is not nutritious. 

You will be at parties where there is booze and finger foods. You will be at weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  If you cannot control yourself, there is nothing your cleanse, detox, or protein powder can do about it.

About the Author

Nissim, Joe About the Author Pic

Joe Nissim is the founder and CEO of Strengthlete.  After leaving a lucrative career on Wall St, Joe spent three years creating and developing the Strengthlete Nutribuild system and flagship products Repair and Complete. If you’re interested in leaving dieting behind for good, join Joe at www.strengthlete.comSources:The Detox Scam: How to spot it, and how to avoid it

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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