Are cleansing programs safe?

Your body is designed to detoxify itself by getting rid of wastes through urine, feces, and sweat. Cleansing programs include “detox” (detoxification) diets, dietary supplements, enemas, and combinations of these. Some of these diets emphasize eating lots of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water, but many lack certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (such as protein). Some are dangerously low in calories.

Many cleansing programs also promote detox supplements that have a laxative effect. Long-term use of laxative products can cause changes in the structure of your large intestine that might have serious health effects. Laxatives also can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which impair performance. And some detox supplements and enemas contain substances that can cause allergic reactions.

Finally, since many detox enemas are self-administered, there’s also risk of tearing the inside of your rectum, which can lead to serious infection.