Fasting as Detox: Debunked

Day 24, Feast Day #13

One of the most common claims made about the benefits of fasting (whether it be dry fasting, water fasting, juice fasting, etc.) is that the process releases "toxins" stored in your body so your body can dispose of them. This process is usually called "detox" by the marketers of various detox systems including: food, drinks, supplements, herbs, cookbooks, saunas, foot pads (that turn color when exposed to any type of moisture), various spa products, enemas (even ones involving coffee), and more. Most of these detox systems make claims not evaluated by any safety or health regulatory institution.

There is a lot of dubious information about health in the media and on the internet in general, not just about fasting as a form of detox. Most of these unsubstantiated claims are based on pseudoscience and are meant to either get you to spend your money, join something (and then probably spend your money on something), or scare you (and use your fear to get you to spend your money on something, sometimes instead of something else you spent your money on previously). 

Lucky for marketers, humans can be incredibly gullible when it comes to accepting bad or false health science. A well-known example is when there was widespread panic in the US in 2011 about apple juice because TV personality and celebrity Dr. Oz (who apparently does not practice the scientific method) claimed apple juice contained unsafe levels of arsenic. This was based on misleading data he had a lab run for him (total arsenic which includes harmless organic arsenic instead of only harmful inorganic arsenic). The FDA and many other scientists and doctors called him out for his misleading and false claims. Yet, there are still people that cite Dr. Oz in their belief that apple juice could kill them because it is a cocktail of poison containing dangerous levels of pesticides from China. Perhaps some of these people are the same ones doing coffee enemas for health.
These are some claims I have run into about fasting as a form of detox:

"Fasting also allows for the body's enzyme system to focus on detoxifying and breaking down toxins in the body quickly and efficiently without the job of heavy food digestion. During fasts, toxins are being circulated in the body in order for our organs to de-arm them." - Chicago Tribune (Health)

"And this is what the body will do during a fast. It will take advantage of that time and energy to do some housecleaning. The overloaded, overworked system, unable to properly handle all the toxins, has been storing any excesses in the tissues where they can be dealt with later. This is one of the great health benefits of fasting in that it offers this opportunity to play "catch up". - All About Fasting

"Juice fasting provides many of the benefits of water fasting without most of these problems. A gentle, controlled juice fast doesn’t create a healing crisis, releasing toxins into the bloodstream more slowly and at a rate your body can handle more comfortably" - Raw Food Life

What on Earth are these claims based off of? What credible research shows a correlation between fasting and detoxification of the human body? Well the short answer to these questions is that there is currently no scientific basis for these claims

The only account I have even seen referenced (on the unreliable WebMD) about anyone measuring a decline in body toxins through fasting turns out to be an incorrect reference about Jack Goldstein used by the psychological researcher Chris Strychacz. I looked at the text of Jack Goldstein's book Triumph Over Disease by Fasting And Natural Diet, and there is no mention of him accurately measuring his toxic output in tongue scrapings (or anything else) and certainly no mention of him reducing DDT in his body (or other toxins) from his body while fasting. Goldstein does mention a foul-smelling coating on his tongue and bad breath during his fast. I am 100% positive this is caused by acetones created during ketosis. Goldstein was scraping his tongue to get the nasty, smelly coating off. He wasn't measuring anything. He chalks everything up to his body leaching out toxins, which there is no proof of.

Your kidneys and liver are your body's 24/7 detox system. Take care of those organs if you want to filter out your body's toxins, Fasting could theoretically help some people with reducing risk factors of liver disease and kidney disease if fasting indeed reduces insulin sensitivity (which has been seen in mice). It can also help people maintain a healthy weight, since being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes. Diabetes can really mess up your kidney and liver. Liver disease and diabetes led to my grandfather being on dialysis when his kidneys gave out,

My opinion is that if fasting makes you feel better and you are able to safely do it, then good for you. However, until proven otherwise, I wouldn't get your hopes up about fasting being the key to "detox." There is nothing wrong with enjoying a fruit and veggie smoothie just because they are yummy and have lots of good nutrients, however.


  1. Is it possible that "toxins" are stored in your fat cells, and upon metabolizing the fat, they are taken care of in one's liver and kidney. Another thing is fasting promotes cell repair, and in the process eliminate waste. Here is an article I dug up on the "toxin" issue, but it doesn't mention fasting, there are links to published papers: http://www.crankyfitness.com/2008/09/toxic-fat-reality-or-money-milking-myth.html

    I am generally a skeptic too, but too much fat could be considered "toxic" to your health. In addition, by fasting, you aren't imbibing as many toxins (e.g. alcohol, excess sodium, etc.)

    BTW, I started ADF on April 4th, just ahead of you. I feel pretty good, but have quite the journey ahead of me.

  2. I am pretty sure the current amount of fat on me may be toxic, haha. How has ADF been working out for you?

  3. I did a 9 day detox but it was more of a kickstart to ADF and to force me to stick to a program and stop putting it off till "tomorrow".

    However, as Hobo Botanist says, fasting or "detoxing" at least reduces the amount of rubbish going into your body and encourages intake of healthy food. Which can only be good.