Detox Diets for Weight Loss & Chronic Disease Symptom Relief

Detoxification has become a popular option for ways to lose weight, and more importantly start a plans to improve overall health. This study examines how a carefully designed meal replacement, low-calorie detox plan appears to be a viable option for both weight loss and reducing chronic symptoms.

Detox: Hollywood food fad or medically credible?

Recently, detoxification (detox) diets have achieved notoriety in the popular press due to celebrity endorsements and marketing that suggest quick and easy weight loss. Although researchers have done studies to evaluate the weight-loss outcomes of popular diet programs such as Weight Watchers, Atkins, and others, they have performed no outcomes studies to support the weight-loss results that detox diets claim. This study intended to evaluate the changes in weight and medical-symptoms scores in participants who adhered to a 4-week, meal replacement–enhanced, low-calorie detox diet.

Meal replacement–enhanced, low-calorie detox diet

Conventional, structured weight-loss strategies usually involve limiting total calories or a major macronutrient, such as protein, fat, or carbohydrates, to achieve weight-loss success. Meal replacement programs are also effective for weight loss and compare favorably with conventional structured diets. Most recently, detoxification (detox) diets have begun to gain a great deal of attention as a novel approach to losing weight. The primary outcome that individuals hope to achieve is eventually to feel better. Studies have indicated that these programs can be effective for improving symptoms. The current research team, however, was unable to find a study on detox diets to substantiate their weight-loss claims. In this study, the primary objectives were to examine the effects of a meal replacement–enhanced, low-calorie detox diet supplying from 800 kcal to 1200 kcal per day on symptoms scores and weight loss to clarify the amount of success to be expected from these measures for individuals following this version of a detox diet.

Study Participants

For this retrospective chart review, the research team selected 31 individuals from patients that the first author saw consecutively in his private practice. While the selected participants did not suffer from any serious illnesses, they did suffer from chronic health complaints such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, flatulence and bloating, muscle and joint aches, and/or difficulty losing weight. The research team asked each participant whether he or she would like to address his or her health-care problems by following a meal replacement–enhanced detox diet for 4 weeks, and each participant expressed interest in following the program.

Metabolic Screening Questionnaire

At the first visit and again after about a month, the research team examined each participant to obtain height, weight, and other physical measures. Additionally, on the first visit, each participant completed a Detox Questionnaire to assess his or her medical symptoms from the previous week. Bland designed his questionnaire to be a succinct form of the Cornell Medical Index, concentrating on symptoms that might be related to toxicity.13 The questionnaire considers a score of 0 to 14 to represent low toxicity, a score between 15 and 49 moderate toxicity, and a score of >50 high toxicity.

Meal replacement formula

The meal replacement was a combination of 2 scoops of Daily Detox Powder, 2 tbsp of lecithin, and 1 tbsp of Daily Fiber that the participants added to 8 oz of pure water. Metagenics manufactured the Daily Detox Powder and Daily Fiber, and Douglas Laboratories manufactured the lecithin for Daily Nutritionals. Participants could mix the shake by hand, mix it in a container, or blend it with ice cubes. The detox powder consisted of rice-based protein powder, and the Daily Fiber consisted of a nongluten fiber from rice bran, apple pectin, and plantain (see complete study for Table 5).

Detox Diet

As part of the program, each participant was asked to include the following foods in their detox plan:

Daily: water; steamed, grilled or vegetables; olive oil, lemon juice, spices, green tea, 4-6 oz daily of chicken, turkey, fish and shellfish, organic eggs.
Only in morning: grapefruit, berries, kiwi, apples, papaya, melon, pears
Avoid: bananas, grapes, oranges, tomato, potato, eggplant, dairy, soy, peppers, raw fish, grains, corn, soft drinks, alcohol, coffee.

The research team instructed participants to have (1) a shake for breakfast (see next slide for specific brands), (2) an approved fruit for a snack between breakfast and lunch, (3) a shake and approved vegetables for lunch, (4) vegetables as a snack between lunch and dinner, and (5) 4 to 6 oz of acceptable protein with vegetables for dinner (Table 6). The research team did not require participants to monitor consumed calories strictly, allowing participants flexibility in making healthful choices within the guidelines of the program.

Weight loss, BMI & detox

Participants lost an average of about 9 lbs from pre-to-post (see complete study for Table 8). Twenty-nine participants lost weight and two gained over the approximately 4-week period. The number of lbs lost correlated only very minimally with the percentage change in overall detox score (r = 0.199) and with the pre-to-post difference (obtained by subtraction) in the detox questionnaire scores (r = –0.290), and neither relationship was statistically significant. The change in BMI (post minus pre) also correlated minimally with these detox outcomes, r = –0.283 and r = 0.216, respectively.
Thus, while participants’ scores declined significantly on toxicity as measured by all 15 detox scales and by the overall total detox scale for medical symptoms and while participants showed a statistically significant weight loss, the research team found no relationship between the amount of weight lost and the amount of change in toxicity.

Symptom Reduction

From the initial visit to the follow-up visit 3 to 5 weeks later, all 15 symptoms had statistically significant levels of improvement, and the overall total of the detox symptoms scores declined an average of 66.3% across participants. These results compare favorably with symptoms scores in other detox studies using the same questionnaire, which showed improvement of 47% at 1 week and 52% at 10 weeks. The research team postulates that these changes come from improvements in phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways as the result of consuming nutrient-dense foods as previously suggested by Bland. Another possible explanation for improvement is that participants eliminated inflammatory substances—allergenic foods or toxic elements—from their diets and thereby decreased systemic inflammation, allowing for more effective detoxification.


The results confirm the hypothesis that a low-calorie, meal replacement-enhanced detox diet does help individuals lose a significant amount of weight and improves symptom scores. The trial also shows no relationship between the amount of weight loss and detoxification scores, which meant is may serve well as a detox program for individuals who do not want to lose weight. The researchers suggest a larger controlled trial to determine gender differences and determine placebo affects.