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Detoxification therapy (cleansing)


Related terms

Related Terms
  • Ayurveda, bowel cleansing, chelation therapy, colon, colon cleanse, colon hydrotherapy, colon therapy, colonic irrigation, colonics, constipation, detox baths, EDTA therapy, enema, fasting, food allergies, gastrointestinal tract detoxification, heavy metal cleanse, herbal detoxification, herbs, high colonics, hormonal and skin care programs, hydrotherapy, intestinal cleanse, intestinal therapy, juice fasting, juice therapy, juicing, liver cleanse, lymph drainage, macrobiotic diet, nutrition, parasite cleanse, probiotics, rotation diet, skin care, skin cleanse, specific carbohydrate diet, supplements, toxic minerals, toxins, vitamins, water fasting, weight loss, wellness.
  • Not included in this review: Alcoholism and drug abuse detoxification.

  • Detoxification is a broad term that encompasses many different ways of cleansing the body's internal systems and organs. Major methods include chelation therapy (EDTA therapy), colonic irrigation, nutritional supplementation, several varieties of herbal medicine, dietary therapy, fasting, juicing, probiotics, hydrotherapy, sauna and exercise.
  • Four main types of toxins are addressed through detoxification: heavy metals, chemical toxins, microbial compounds, and byproducts from protein metabolism. Advocates believe detoxification cleanses the body, clears the skin, enhances the senses, helps weight loss, improves fertility, improves flexibility, increases vitamin and mineral absorption, purifies, reduces blood fat levels, reduces symptoms of toxicity, rejuvenates, rests organs, and slows aging.
  • Organs that perform detoxification functions for the body include the skin, liver, intestines and kidneys. Many methods of detoxification focus on strengthening or supporting the natural processes of these organs.
  • For many methods of detoxification there is little or no evidence from clinical trials to enable recommendations for or against their use. See individual monographs on this site for reviews of the available evidence.

  • The various modalities of detoxification are thought to support the body's natural systems of detoxification or augment them. These systems and their related detoxification functions include the skin (perspiration), the liver (filtration of blood, secretion of bile and enzymes), the intestines (mucosal detoxification, excretion of feces), and the kidneys (excretion of urine).
  • Supplementation is intended to provide vital nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that support and stimulate the body's own detoxification mechanisms. One of the chief targets of nutritional supplements for detoxification is the liver.
  • Herbal approaches use "detoxifying herbs" to support the body's detoxification systems, bind with toxins to aid in their excretion, or aid the breakdown of toxins. Traditions of herbal medicine differ in their beliefs of how herbs aid detoxification. Western approaches use herbs for their biochemical properties, while Eastern approaches think in terms of the energetic qualities of the herbs.
  • Foods and diet: A cleansing diet is believed to relieve the burden on the body's detoxification systems by not introducing new toxins to be processed, and by allowing the body's natural mechanisms to work more efficiently on clearing accumulated toxins. Specific foods such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oranges, tangerines, and caraway and dill seeds are believed to aid the liver in its role of detoxification.
  • Fasting: In fasting the body utilizes non-essential tissue (e.g., fat, digestive enzymes, muscle fibers, and glycolytic enzymes) for fuel. In naturopathic medicine fasting is regarded as a rapid method of eliminating wastes and enhancing the healing processes of the body. Fasting is thought to aid the release of fat-soluble toxins from the body.
  • Hydrotherapy: Hot water is believed to stimulate blood circulation and thereby stimulate filtration through the liver. It also works by excretion of toxins through perspiration.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are thought to aid the detoxification functions of the colon by preserving the intestinal lining's protective barrier and inhibiting harmful bacteria that produce toxins in the colon.
  • Sauna: Like hydrotherapy, heat is believed to stimulate blood circulation and thereby stimulate filtration through the liver. It also works by excretion through perspiration.
  • Colonic irrigation: The basis for colonic irrigation (flushing the colon with water, sometimes accompanied by herbs) is the belief that toxins accumulate in the lining of the intestinal tract and penetrate into the bloodstream from there. Colonic irrigation is believed to directly flush these toxins out.
  • Chelation therapy: Chelation therapy is believed to draw heavy metals out of the cells and tissues for filtration by the liver and kidneys and excretion from the body.
  • Exercise: Exercise is considered to aid detoxification by virtue of the increased pumping of blood and lymph through the body's various filtration systems, as well as release of toxins through perspiration.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)

Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Abscesses, acne, aging, alcoholism, allergies, alteration of blood pH balance, Alzheimer's disease, angina pectoris (chest pain), anorexia, antioxidant (free radical scavenging), anxiety, appendicitis, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), back pain, bacterial infections, bad breath, boils, bronchitis, cancer, cataracts, circulatory disorders, cirrhosis (liver disease), colds, colitis, colon cancer prevention, constipation, cough, cystic fibrosis, cystic ulcers, depression, diabetes, diverticulosis (intestinal disorder), dizziness, drug addiction, eczema, emphysema, fatigue, fertility, fever, fibrocystic breast disease, food additive, food allergies, fungal infections, gallstones, gastritis, gout (foot inflammation), granuloma annulare (chronic skin condition), headaches, heart disease, heavy metal/lead toxicity, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, high blood pressure, hives, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), hypertension (high blood pressure), immune deficiency, improving mobility, indigestion, insomnia, intestinal disorders, joint pain, kidney disease, kidney stones, leaky gut syndrome, menstrual problems, mental illness, migraine headaches, mood changes, mucositis, multiple sclerosis, neck stiffness, nervousness, nicotine withdrawal, nutrient (absorption), obesity, pancreatitis, parasitic infections, Parkinson's disease, peptic ulcers, pneumonia, prolapse, prostate disease, runny nose, senility, sensory stimulation (enhancement), sinus congestion, sinusitis, skin conditions, skin rashes, sleep, sore throat, stress, stroke, tension headaches, toxin/alcohol elimination from the body, ulcers, uterine fibroids, vaginitis, varicose veins, vascular disorders, viral infections, weight loss, well being, wheezing, yeast infection.


Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • The safety of the various approaches to detoxification varies depending on the methods being used and the health status of the individual.
  • Possible risks of detoxification regimes by all people regardless of their health status include dehydration or depletion of essential nutrients. Professional guidance is recommended for anyone seeking a serious detoxification program.
  • Unsupervised detoxification should not be attempted by people who have an acute or serious medical condition without medical consultation.
  • Caution is advised in those taking prescription medications, as blood levels of drugs may be reduced by detoxification. This is especially a concern when herbs are being used as part of a detoxification regime. Consult with your healthcare professional first.
  • An effective detoxification regime may result in temporary side effects such as headaches and other aches and pains, fatigue, skin eruptions, emotional irritability, gas, tight muscles, yawning, temporary stopping of menstruation, and temporary constipation or diarrhea, as toxins are released from the body.
  • See the Natural Standard monographs on individual methods of detoxification for details about safety and precautions.

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

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Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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