Ayurveda, also known as Ayurvedic medicine, is one of the world’s oldest schools of traditional healing. Its name means “the science of life” (
Tracing back to India over 3,000 years ago, Ayurvedic medicine is said to promote “whole-body” healing — in contrast to Western medicine, which tends to separate physical, mental, and spiritual health (
Many followers of Ayurveda not only follow a traditional diet but also engage in regular detoxes that are believed to rid the body and mind of toxins, ultimately preventing illnesses. However, many health experts are skeptical of this detox’s purported benefits (
As such, you may wonder whether you should try an Ayurvedic detox.
This article provides a comprehensive review of the Ayurvedic detox, including its benefits, downsides, and side effects.
The Ayurvedic detox is based heavily on long-established precepts of Ayurvedic medicine.
Ayurveda divides the world into five elements — Vayu (air), Prithvi (earth), Teja (fire), Aakash (space), and Jala (water) (
Various combinations of each element are believed to form three humors, also known as doshas, which are responsible for different physiological functions in your body. The three doshas are vata, kapha, and pitta (
To ensure proper health, you’re meant to maintain balance between the three doshas, as well as the five elements. If imbalances exist, disease is said to occur (
An imbalance of waste products — mutra (urine), purisha (feces), and sweda (sweat) — is also believed to cause illnesses, such as diarrhea, constipation, asthma, arthritis, skin issues, and urinary tract infections (
Detoxes are meant to be a routine part of restoring balance to your health.
Keep in mind that each person has their own unique balance of doshas, based on genetics and personality traits, which are linked to various health outcomes. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you determine your dosha and related treatment options.
Some Ayurvedic sources recommend detoxing at the start of each season to rid your body of toxins, or Ama, that may have accumulated during the previous season from food, stress, and other factors.
Ayurvedic doctrine holds that illness is caused by imbalanced bodily humors, or doshas, which can be remedied in part through regular detoxes.
Since people have different doshas, not all Ayurvedic detoxes look the same — though all are said to cleanse your body of impurities and toxins. In addition to a bodily detox, you’re encouraged to make broader dietary and lifestyle changes to achieve a balanced dosha.
An Ayurvedic detox may last 3–45 days, depending on the practices involved.
Bodily detox (Purvakarma and Panchakarma)
A preliminary phase known as Purvakarma is meant to send toxins to your bowels and the surface of your skin to be excreted.
Usually, this involves oil massage, steaming, and Shirodhara — a relaxation practice involving warm oil being placed on the forehead to promote mental clarity (
- Virechan: cleansing using powders, pastes, or heated medicinal plants
- Vaman: forced vomiting or purging through herbal medicinal treatment
- Basti: massage, as well as enemas using warm oils
- Rakta moksha: detoxification of the blood, also known as bloodletting
- Nasya: nasal clearance using herbal remedies, oils, and fumes
Depending on your dosha, you may receive one or more treatments. Proponents claim that the goal of Panchakarma is not only to remove toxins but also reestablish one’s mind-body unity.
Most people on an Ayurvedic detox are also prescribed herbal remedies, supplements, and teas to cleanse the body and bowels. These may come in the form of herbal cleanses, detox products, enemas, and bowel stimulants.
Finally, you may be told to take supplements for specific conditions and aspects of health, such as congestion, immune health, bowel regularity, and sleep.
Although each dosha requires a different diet, you’re supposed to avoid any foods that are believed to cause toxin buildup in your body. These include alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, red meat, and processed foods (
|Foods to eat
|Foods to avoid
|• sweet, energizing, cold foods
• bitter foods
• sweet fruit
• non-starchy vegetables
• basmati or white rice
• some spices (e.g., cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, cilantro, mint)
|• spicy, acidic, hot foods
• sour foods
• red meats (limit other animal products)
• dried fruit
|• spicy and acidic foods
• most fruits (e.g., apples, cherries, mangos, peaches, raisins, pears)
• most vegetables (especially cruciferous or “bitter” vegetables)
• basmati rice
• low fat dairy
• all spices
|• heavy, fatty foods
• fats and oils (e.g., ghee, butter, vegetable oils)
• white beans
• black lentils
|• “warm,” “moist,” and easily digested foods
• sweet fruits (e.g., berries, bananas, apples, figs, coconut, grapefruit, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pineapple, etc.)
• soft, easily digested vegetables (e.g., asparagus, sweet potato, leafy greens)
• brown rice
• most lean meats and eggs
• dairy (buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, ghee, whole milk)
• most spices
|• dried and bitter fruits
• raw vegetables
• beans, lentils
• limit chili pepper and other hot spices
Water should be your primary beverage during the detox. Ginger tea is also encouraged for its stomach-soothing properties. In many cases, you’re meant to drink a detox tea before bed to cleanse your bowels (
It’s also recommended to eat at the same time each day, limit distractions while eating, enjoy pleasant conversations with others, and eat until you’re satisfied but not full (
In some cases, a “mono-diet” may be recommended. Usually, this involves eating a dish known as kitchari — rice, mung beans, and spices — for all meals of the day for a set period to rebalance your dosha.
Regular massage is encouraged during and after an Ayurvedic detox to move impurities in your body toward your digestive system.
Abhyanga, a form of massage that uses warm, herb-infused oil, is believed to prevent premature aging, drain your lymphatic system, and improve hair and skin health.
Massage can be performed at home or by a licensed professional. Self-massage is recommended at least once per day.
Yoga, tai chi, and other gentle movement practices are encouraged as well.
Meditation and mindfulness
Daily meditation and mindfulness practices are key components of Ayurvedic detox.
By using various breathing techniques, meditation can help you disconnect from daily distractions, decrease anxiety, lower your stress levels, and increase creativity and self-awareness. Meditation can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over 1 hour (
Practicing mindfulness allows you to be in the present moment, fully aware of every movement and task. You’re encouraged to practice mindfulness while you eat, exercise, and perform other daily tasks.
The traditional Ayurvedic detox involves herbs, supplements, purges, enemas, bloodletting, and a dietary regimen, as well as stress-relieving lifestyle practices like meditation and massage.
Proponents claim that the Ayurvedic detox helps cleanse your body of contaminants and promote overall health. While scientific studies cast doubt on the effectiveness of detoxes, certain components of the Ayurvedic detox may have other benefits.
Though weight loss isn’t the goal of the Ayurvedic detox, people looking to lose weight may find several aspects of the detox helpful.
Whenever you switch from a diet of highly processed foods to one of minimally processed, whole foods, you’ll likely eat fewer calories. That’s because these foods are high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, which keep you full for longer (
That said, most of the short-term weight loss you experience may come from enemas, bowel stimulants, and detox formulas. These products are laxatives designed to eliminate waste quickly, leading to a temporary reduction in water weight.
Not only do laxatives run the risk of dehydration, but taking them regularly may also put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies, as your body does not have enough time to absorb vitamins and minerals (
Therefore, it’s best to focus on mindful eating paired with a wholesome diet — and steer clear of taking laxatives for weight loss.
There’s very little scientific research on the Ayurvedic detox, making it difficult to know if it provides any long-term benefits.
However, the Ayurvedic lifestyle promotes numerous healthy habits. A diet of whole foods with limited alcohol and processed foods has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer (
What’s more, daily meditation and mindfulness practices are associated with lower rates of stress and anxiety, as well as better quality of life. Plus, disconnecting from technology and daily stressors can help you connect with yourself and your thoughts (
The Ayurvedic detox may aid weight loss, but detox teas and laxatives can be dangerous and should be avoided. Most of the regimen’s scientifically backed benefits involve mindfulness and meditation — not the detox itself.
Despite some of the positive aspects of Ayurveda, its detox has numerous downsides and may threaten your health.
Lack of evidence
Although many people report feeling better after doing an Ayurvedic detox, very little evidence supports its effectiveness.
Proponents of Ayurveda claim that illness is formed from imbalances in your body that must be detoxified. Yet, your body has its own natural detoxification system consisting of your lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, and skin (
If your body accumulates actual toxins, you would need to seek immediate medical attention — not do a detox. Furthermore, the current evidence suggests that detox products don’t enhance your body’s ability to flush toxins (
Severe health risks and lack of safety
Several components of the traditional Ayurvedic detox may jeopardize your health.
Self-induced vomiting and regularly using enemas, laxatives, and detox products are unsafe practices that may put you at risk of dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and — in severe cases — kidney failure and heart complications (
Additionally, many supplements recommended during an Ayurvedic detox haven’t been shown to improve your body’s ability to eliminate toxins and are thus prescribed unnecessarily, putting your liver at risk of damage (
In fact, the overuse of Ayurvedic supplements is tied to higher rates of liver injury and failure due to high doses, heavy metal content, improper combinations of ingredients, and interactions with other drugs, supplements, or nutrients (
Therefore, you should always speak to your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplements.
No scientific evidence supports using the Ayurvedic detox to treat or cure disease. Practices like self-induced vomiting, routine laxative use, and supplementing with Ayurvedic herbs are cause for concern and should be avoided.
Although the Ayurvedic diet includes many healthy foods and eating practices, such as mindful eating and increased vegetable and legume intake, the detox itself poses many health risks.
Any detox that encourages self-induced vomiting or laxative use puts you at risk of severe dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, and disordered eating tendencies.
Moreover, the detox promotes the use of herbs and supplements that are not backed by scientific evidence and may increase your risk of liver damage.
Keep in mind that the detox’s central tenant isn’t based in sound science — it doesn’t eliminate toxins from your body because your body already has a detoxification system. Any advantages seen from this detox likely come from eating a healthier diet.
As such, the risks of the Ayurvedic detox outweigh its benefits. It’s best to avoid it.
You shouldn’t try the Ayurvedic detox because it promotes harmful behaviors that can lead to severe dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, and even organ failure. If you’re interested in Eastern practices, the Ayurvedic diet is a better bet.
The Ayurvedic detox is a traditional component of Ayurveda, an ancient healing practice from India.
Although Ayurvedic practices like meditation, mindful eating, and massage may benefit both your physical and mental health, the detox itself is dangerous and highly discouraged.
Detoxes not only lack scientific backing but also may lead to dangerous side effects like heart complications, liver damage, eating disorders, nutrient deficiencies, and kidney failure.
You should always consult your healthcare provider before taking any Ayurvedic supplements.
If you’re interested in Ayurveda, you’re better off incorporating its dietary and lifestyle practices into your routine — while stringently avoiding any detoxes.