Turns out you're already equipped with everything you need. They're called your liver and kidneys.
Together, these two toxin-bashing organs act as a superefficient system for filtering out the vast majority of the harmful substances we eat and drink.
In other words, you never need to detox. Not for New Year's Day. Not after too much Thanksgiving turkey. Not even because you spent most of last year subsisting on greasy takeout from the C-rated "restaurant" next door.
Here's how it works: While our kidneys filter our blood and remove any waste from our diet, our liver processes medications and detoxifies any chemicals we ingest. Together, these organs make our bodies natural cleansing powerhouses.
"Unless there's a blockage in one of these organs that do it day and night, there's absolutely no need to help the body get rid of toxins," family physician Ranit Mishori of the Georgetown University School of Medicine told NPR. Mishori has spent years reviewing the medical literature on cleanses.
If detoxing is bogus, where did the idea come from?
The original detox diet, called the Master Cleanse, was thought up in the 1940s by Stanley Burroughs as a "natural" way to treat stomach ulcers. The method was never substantiated by any research.
He published a book describing it, called "The Master Cleanser." The cleanse consists of a daily regimen of six to 12 glasses of water mixed with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup, plus a laxative at bedtime. Yum.
Cleanse proponents like Peter Glickman, who helped resurrect the cleanse in 2004 with a book called "Lose Weight, Have More Energy and Be Happier in 10 Days: Take Charge of Your Health with the Master Cleanse," say dieters begin to feel "euphoric" and "serene" after about a week of not eating.
We could think of better words to describe the sensations of incipient starvation.
OK, so that detox is out. What about a juice cleanse?
Other less-extreme alternatives to Burroughs' and Glickman's self-deprivation plans exist, like swapping a few meals a day for a $12 prepackaged bottle of green liquid, or juicing up a few bags of fresh produce at home each day.
Unlike the Master Cleanse, a juice diet won't totally starve your body, but it will drain your wallet, and the benefits are dubious at best.
For starters, you have to practically buy out your grocery store's produce department for just a few days of juicing. Take the list of ingredients for this three-day juice cleanse from the "Dr. Oz Show": four carrots, four apples (type not specified), two golden delicious apples, two 1-inch pieces of ginger, three cucumbers, six celery stalks, 14 kale leaves, half a lemon, one lime, four plum tomatoes, two red bell peppers, one-fourth of a small red onion, two cups of parsley, one large sweet potato, two large red beets, one orange, eight Swiss chard leaves, and six clementines.
This list is for one day on the three-day cleanse. (That's $40 at our local grocery store, multiplied by three days = $120.)
Or you can buy the premade version — Suja offers a bottle of its cold-pressed " rel="noFollow"Green Supreme" kale, apple, and lemon juice for $8 a pop. (Three days of three bottles of Suja each day = $72.)
Juicing removes some of the healthiest parts of fresh produce
When you juice fresh fruits and veggies, you remove all of their fiber, the key ingredient that keeps you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal. What you keep is the natural sugar in the produce — a bottle of "Green Supreme," for example, has more sugar than a can of Coke.
The immediate effects of a high-sugar, low-protein, low-fiber diet are felt almost immediately: You're constantly hungry because there's no fiber to fill you up. Meanwhile, the sugar you're consuming is temporarily raising your blood sugar, but with no protein to stabilize it, you're on a roller-coaster ride of high and low energy.
The long-term effects are more severe. A lack of protein, when prolonged for even a few days, can cause you to lose muscle rather than fat, because protein is what your muscles feed on for energy.
But there's another reason juicing isn't the best idea for some people that goes beyond depleting your body of muscle, and it has to do with behavior.
Cleanse advocates describe their plans as quick fixes that clean up the mess of processed carbs, sugar, and booze we throw in our bodies each day. In reality, though, this type of eating pretty closely mimics the dangerous binge-and-purge style of eating recognized globally as indicative of an eating disorder.
For people who are prone to disordered eating, juice cleanses could serve as a gateway to bigger problems.
At one eating disorder treatment clinic in New York City, at least half the patients reported having tried a juice cleanse, Marie Claire reports.
"Maybe a patient tried it and became obsessed, or maybe the eating disorder was already there and the juicing became part of it," the clinic's director of nutrition services, Debbie Westerling, told the magazine.
Eating nothing but juice for several days can also cause eating problems from the past to resurface, Megan Holt, a registered dietitian, wrote about cleansing in a post on her clinic's website.
"I tend to discourage fasting because it can reactivate disordered eating behaviors, whether that's restriction or feeling out of control with food or feeling disconnected from hunger and fullness cues when one does start to eat again," she wrote.
In other words, you can't simply drink your way to health — even with hundreds of dollars' worth of freshly liquefied produce.