Detox Made Safe and Simple


With the holiday season right around the corner, there is no better time than the present to fortify our diet and cement healthy eating.  Ironically, while healthy eating is our birthright, for many of us it seems like taking the plunge into eating a whole foods-based diet is the equivalent to traveling to some distant land.  But it doesn’t have to be such a scary or foreign experience.

In my work as a functional medicine doctor, my priority is to guide each patient through a safe, simple, realistic, and pleasurable transition into healthy eating. Because whole foods-based diets remove all the sugary, fatty, chemical-laden, artificial stuff from the diet, they sometimes get called a detox or a cleanse.

Why is detoxification important?

When our bodies become toxic it means that our natural method of ushering out metabolic waste from normal human metabolism, environmental pollution, and what has become known as the Standard American Diet (or SAD) has exceeded the threshold for what the body’s innate detoxification system can tolerate.  With this toxic load, every system in the human body can become affected.  From our head to our toes and everything in between, toxicity makes us sick!

How do you know if you are toxic and need to properly cleanse?

Usually a constellation of complaints help to determine whether or not you are toxic and to what extent you need to cleanse.  Some examples of what might indicate a toxic system are:

  • constipation
  • persistent headaches, muscle aches, and muscle fatigue
  • inclusion of large amounts of swordfish, tuna, shark, etc. into diet
  • mercury fillings and dental amalgams
  • food allergies
  • stubborn weight loss
  • hormonal imbalances and consistent use of hormone replacement such as “the pill” or progesterone cream
  • consistent use of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • skin abnormalities such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
  • a lifetime of consuming the SAD diet

To find out if you are toxic, take a look at The UltraSimple Diet.

How long should you stay on a cleanse? 

Typical cleanses that harness our body’s natural processes for filtering and removing waste tend to be gentle and can therefore  be tolerated for longer periods of time than more extreme protocols.  A safe cleanse is one which doesn’t make you starve yourself or take fancy pills, potions, or expensive drinks.

Safety means allowing the body to do what it wants to do naturally, with a little assistance from some guided healthy eating, appropriate supplements, and relevant lifestyle modifications.  I usually have my patients do a cleanse for 7 days to 6 weeks, or even longer, depending on their particular needs.  Work with a trained medical provider to help determine what length of time is right for you.

How to prepare for a cleanse?

Like we would plan for any big trip to a new destination, we need to prepare, plan, and set out some main goals for our journey.  And by the way, as in all travels, it’s always a good idea to leave some room for the serendipitous excursions to occur.  When handled properly, they can be the best part of a trip!  So how can we plan for a safe and simple detoxification protocol?

  1. Take some basic measurements before you begin to track your progress as you go through your program.  For example, if weight loss is your goal, measure your waist, hips, and record your weight.  If, migraines are an issue, determine the duration, intensity and frequency.  Keep a journal; this will help you in more ways than one!
  2. Make lists!  Organize your pantry, toss out the junk, gather recipes, sketch out weekly menus, make shopping lists for healthy foods you will be eating and formulate a cooking schedule to ensure you allot time to prepare food for the week.
  3. Use journaling as a way to “cleanse” your inner world and relieve yourself of mental and emotional stress.
  4. Gather any supplements you need to take that have been advised for you by your medical provider.
  5. Think about the kind of exercise that will best complement your end goal and plan for it in your schedule.
  6. Detoxification requires you to slow down.  Make sure you fit time for deep relaxation into your plan.
  7. Often, unsavory side effects appear in the initial phase of a cleanse.  Two side effects to look for and keep track of in your journal are:
  • Constipation.  Move those bowels!  Drink plenty of purified water.  Try warm water with lemon first thing in the morning.  Often, taking 300 mg of magnesium citrate is helpful or try an Epsom salt bath.
  • Food allergies or sensitivities.  These can be obvious or obscure.  But chances are, as your body lets go of toxic waste, it will be easier to recognize a hidden reaction to gluten, dairy, soy or any of the other common food allergies.

Common symptoms the first few days of withdrawal from a toxic lifestyle and the SAD (Standard American Diet)

The following symptoms are very common at the beginning of the program and should dissipate within the first few days. Don’t worry, these symptoms are indicative that your body is eliminating toxins and are a good sign!

  • bad breath
  • constipation
  • achy, flu-like feeling
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • hunger
  • irritability
  • itchy skin
  • nausea
  • offensive body odor
  • sleep difficulties (too much or too little)

These symptoms can occur for a number of reasons. First, eliminating food allergies and un-junking the diet causes reactions similar to withdrawal from other addictive substances like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, or heroin. Note: We are often most addicted to the foods we are allergic to! Getting off those allergens can cause a brief, flu-like achy syndrome that may last one to three days. Second, toxins in our digestive tract may make us feel ill if we don’t eliminate them. The best way to get relief from these symptoms is to follow the recommendations below.

How to avoid withdrawal symptoms

Initially, those who consume the most caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, and those who have the most food allergies, will have the most difficulty. Symptoms usually disappear after three to four days. It is best to slowly reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, white flour, and over-the-counter medications (except as directed by your physician) a week or two before you start your program.

  1. Drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered water daily.  Stay away from plastic bottles; glass bottles are okay.
  2. To prevent headaches, make sure your bowels are clean.
  3. Fatigue is normal during a cleanse so allow more time for rest and sleep. To boost energy, exercise for 30 minutes a day.  Walking outside in fresh air is best.  Roll up those sleeves and let the sun hit you with some vitamin D!
  4. Take 1,000 mg buffered vitamin C with breakfast and dinner.  Take 300 mg magnesium citrate at dinner.
  5. Don’t wait until you are starving to eat!  Balance your blood sugar by eating protein-based meals and snacks every three to four hours.  Excellent sources of protein are baked or broiled fish, lean poultry, and legumes such as edamame or black beans.
  6. Heat is a great resource while cleansing as it helps draw out toxins from within.  Try a sauna or a warm bath with Epsom salts for 20 minutes a few times per week.
  7. While safe, these types of cleanses can still be stressful on the body and mind so remember to relax.  Actively engaging your parasympathetic nervous system helps restore your energy which your body needs to replenish itself.  Meditation, deep breathing, or any calming activity is good.
  8. Eliminate all refined sugars, flours, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten, or addictive substances.  By allowing certain triggers to stay in the diet the body stays on the vicious cycle of cravings and addictive behavior.  Reset your biology to eliminate all triggers.
  9. Keep a journal and track your symptoms.  You should feel better in three to seven days.  If you do not feel well at this point, please exercise caution and check in with your doctor.
  10. Tune in to your body and listen to the cues it provides.  A cleanse is a great journey to learn more about understanding how to operate your very own owner’s manual!

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD


48 Responses to Detox Made Safe and Simple

  1. Ellen November 18, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Do you recommend any good detoxes?

  2. Carlo Salerno November 18, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    While I am sure your detox guidelines will produce the desired effect that is stated in your article, like most diets, cures, medical solutions, etc., it requires a complete lifestyle change for 7 days to 6 weeks. Be Real!

    Like most diet suggestions and recommendations, if the cure is more resistant than the alternative, most readers will not try the regiment unless the problems is close to major medical prognosis.

    Thanks for this information, but I will try to increase my fiber intake, exercise, drink more water, and hope that will suffice. I have take Metamucil on occasion but the one, and only detoxification method I tried, lasted about as long as my attempts at dieting. The solution, Dear Doctor, with detox, as well as any other goals, lies between the two ears.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Theresa Malatesta November 18, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    I have been on the Dr. Hyman’s blood sugar solution diet for around 5 months – I am a diabetic – I am 69 years old – my A 1 C was 9,3 when I started – I went to the doctor last week and my A 1 C is now 5.9 – I am still on oral blood sugar medication, but after aboiut 2 weeks on the diet I had to stop taking my high blood pressure medication. My pressure is perfect now, BUT, my cholesterol has gone up since on the diet – it is not very high but it is climbing – I will not take cholesterol medication – can you suggest anything – the diet is working in every other way – I have lost 45 lbs. and feeling very good – My doctor is VERY pleased with the results otherwise

  4. Julie Deisenroth November 18, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    I am unable to connect to Dr OZ to get the shopping list he showed on the show. Do you have a link??

    • Mary November 18, 2012 at 9:07 am #

      I found the Dr. Oz 3-day detox shopping list by doing a Google search such as the following:

      Dr Oz 3 day detox

      His website will come up, and you can search from his home page.

    • Sk November 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

      Go to doctor Oz’s website and look under recipes it should b there.

  5. Sherry Boatright November 18, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Are you still recommending The Detox Box method? I have not seen mention of that in your work over the last few years.

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff March 5, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      Hi Sherry,

      Yes, we still offer the Detox Box yet we have upgraded the info in that product to be available in more current programs too. Depending on your health goals we could point you in the direction of the program most suitable for your needs.For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  6. debora paretti November 18, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Awesome article!! Thank you!! I suffered from fibromyalgia and cfs and all kinds of other digestive symptoms. I did the cleanse, sauna, and some of the vitamins listed above and I healed completely. I was sick and addicted to sugar. Now I’m free from it. I started a business to help people with similar problems. I call it” living healthy ever after”. Dr. Mark has been such a great resource for me and I love having him as our instructor at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, thank you Dr. Mark for your amazing work. God bless you!!

  7. PMGrant November 18, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    After being diagnosed with lupus about six months ago, I have been following the diet you suggest, getting regular massage, practicing yoga, got extensive allergy testing (and eliminated all allergy foods–there were quite a few of them), have eliminated dairy (after doing some personal eating tests to see how it was affecting me–adversely, turns out) as well as taking medication. I feel much better than before (given, of course, the ups and downs of the disease).

    My question for you–I have moved away from white flour, but given my love of cooking, still use both unbleached white flour and whole wheat white flour. Some recipes that I love just won’t work with the heaviness of all whole wheat flour. Are unbleached white and whole wheat white flour “unprocessed” as you suggest or should I try and eliminate them as well? I’ve been tested and do not have a gluten allergy.

    Also, during the very few times I crave a sweet, I use truvia or stivia for sweetening baked goods. Could you comment on these in place of refined white sugar. And one more–my brother told me brown sugar is just colored, refined white sugar. Is this true? I’ve found varying answers online.

    Thank you for your help!

  8. Michelle Vipond November 18, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I am very interested in doing a detox cleanse, but after reading the article, I have no idea how to do one and this information is not explained in the article. Can you please tell me how to do a cleanse?

    Thank you,
    Michelle Vipond

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff March 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      Hi Michelle,

      Each person has individual symptoms which warrant different forms of a “cleanse.” Our nutrition coaching team could help match your goals with one of Dr Hyman’s whole-foods based programs.

      For starters, please visit for some great info!

      For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  9. Donna Leever November 18, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Dr Hyman,

    Do you know about Dr Coca’s pulse test for detecting food sensitivities? It could be a useful tool for detox.

    Best regards,

  10. Connie post November 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Thank god for you Dr. Hyman!

  11. Cedar Wilde November 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    How appropriate that the acronym for the Standard American Diet is “SAD”. It applies to our Australian diet too. The standard Australian Diet is very similar to the American one.

  12. Cecile Tose November 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    I would like to do a cleanse, but I have been taking Ativan for over 38 years now and don’t know if I can go off it after all this time. Is it OK to do cleanses while taking Ativan?

  13. David Dressler, BA, RMT November 19, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    Dr. Hyman, you said one sign of toxicity might be excess use of “progesterone” cream: “hormonal imbalances and consistent use of hormone replacement such as ‘the pill’ or progesterone cream….” Don’t you mean progestin, not progesterone, which is the bio-identical form of progesterone, can cause hormone imbalances and toxicity? Or are you saying that bio-identical hormones can cause toxicity due to imbalance too? As you know, bio-identical progesterone is often used to correct hormone imbalances and is usually not withdrawn. Two issues seem to be involved in your statement: hormone balance and toxicity. If pharmaceutical hormones are used and, say, balance is achieved, can there still be toxicity simply by the very fact synthetic hormones are used? In contrast, if bio-identical hormones are used and balance is attained, is there an issue of toxicity? Or, is it the imbalance, not so much the composition of the hormones, that is what is toxic, or both imbalance and composition?

  14. Betty November 20, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Would you please explain what you mean by consistent use of hormone replacement, such as progesterone cream? I thought progesterone cream was a good thing for women to use.

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff March 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

      Hi Betty,

      The type, duration and dose of hormone use are important factors in how healthy and effective hormone replacement is. Anyone using hormones to aid her health should do so under the care of a qualified practitioner.

      For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  15. Tracy Kubena November 20, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    I was understanding that Dr. Hyman and Dr. Oz was endorsing a 3 day detox, which I have the shopping list for and was going to start after Thanksgiving. This is talking about a 7 day to 6 week detox….Is it safe to stay on a detox for up to 6 weeks, I’m a little confused?

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff March 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      Hi Tracy,

      The detox Dr Hyman speaks of on Dr Oz is different than the concept discussed here. The type and duration of cleanse you require is based on individual needs. A trained professional can help you find the appropriate solution.

      For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  16. Tami November 20, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Dr. H….I appreciate your posts so much on facebook. I discovered the AdvoCare cleanse as part of a 24 day challege and have done one 10 day gentle cleanse every 90 days for the past year anbd feel and look better that I have in 15 years!! bloatcing, headaches-migranes and low energy gone…of course the whole AdvoCare program for me has been a lifestyle change. It would wonderful to get your feedback on that cleanse as part of a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Oz likes the Omegas as well as they are grade 7 highest quality. My husband and I are now in the business of AdvoCare and save $ on the products of course and help others do the same as cost is a factor to helathy lifestyles and support is amazing through the company too to coach people along.

  17. Kc November 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    The originator of The Master Cleanse advised against colonics, and said it can even be UNHEALTHY – maybe dangerous – I can’t remember his exact wording. But seeing as how I consider Dr, Hyman to be one of the most trusted voices in Health, I was wondering what his official stance on colon cleansing is? I have friends who have done it, but I always considered it to be unnecessary.

  18. R December 4, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    Great article!

  19. Brenda Boral December 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Hi Dr. Hyman,

    I did the ultrasimple diet with my husband 3 weeks ago and we loved it! but we went on vacation and with the Holidays we ate bad again. I want to start over again and I wanted to know if I can start the program again including the detox week… as I don’t want to wait 3 months to detox again…



  20. Stacey January 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    How often can you do the 3 day detox that you featured on Dr. Oz?

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff March 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

      Hi Stacey,

      You can try this several times a year! It can be a great ritual to practice with each change of season or when you need a metabolic tune-up.
      For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  21. Amanda March 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Just finished the detox box after 7 days, what supplements do you recommend continuing with daily?



    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff April 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

      Hi Amanda- congrats!

      Your needs are based on your personal goals and current health status. For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  22. Kim April 5, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    I exercise daily intensely for 30min to 1 hour often of cardio primarily. Do you suggest just the walking during the ultrasimple diet detox phase?

    • Avatar of HymanStaff
      HymanStaff April 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      Hi Kim,

      Thank you for your message and your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. Doing a less strenuous type of exercise than you normally do would be probably be better.

      Wishing You the Best of Health!

      Dr. Hyman Staff

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  24. Kim April 24, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    I did the one week prep and then one week detox and was feeling great but fell off the bandwagon with one social event triggering a breaking of all the rules for a few days. Do I start all over to get back on track – suggestions?

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  27. Carolyn May 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    What is your general suggestion if you do feel worse after a cleanse?I just completed the Dr oz 3 day and am more constipated then before and continuing to feel moody although by the end of day 3 some energy has come back. Should I continue longer or switch? Thanks

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  29. Peter @Naturains June 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    Just make sure that you do a colon cleanse for the right reasons. Don’t go thinking you can lose weight just from the cleanse. That’s just a no-go.


  30. Duy July 9, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Dear doctor.
    I have a question about drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning. Does drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning cause stomach ace?
    Hope you can help me out. I’m looking forward to your reply soon.
    Thank you for your sharing.

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff July 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

      Hello Duy,
      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum. Did you know you can work with Dr. Hyman’s nutritionists virtually? For personalized nutrition coaching where you can receive 1:1 support with Registered Dietitians, please see:
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  31. Mountainlark August 7, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    I have been on the 10-day detox diet, with today my 4th day. I haven’t ached until today and I hurt everywhere. Normal? I am following the diet mostly, staying away from the things I should although I have tweaked a couple of recipes for flavor. I was never a heavy consumer of alcohol, sugar (although it’s in everything), or processed foods and am taking Garden of Life Fiber because I didn’t want to wait for the fiber to come, which I have ordered. Is it normal for the aches and pains not to start til the 4th day? When can I expect for them to subside?

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff August 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      It is normal to experience some detox symptoms at anytime during the 10 days, and most people experience them around days 3-4. Hang in there! They will typically resolve within a day or two. Drink plenty of water, enjoy the UltraDetox baths, and get some extra sleep to support your body during this time.
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

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