Our bodies are steeped in toxins and chemicals on a daily basis, and these substances may have an impact on the body that modern science has yet to fully comprehend.
It’s understandable, then, that the most searched-for diet fads online are juice cleanses which promise to rid us of these harmful substances. But do these cleanses really help to detoxify our bodies? And are they safe?
A Variety of Programs
One factor that makes evaluating cleanses tricky is the a vast and ever-growing range of cleanses to chose from. These programs range from mild, short-term fasts to extremely restrictive and aggressive diets. Some even utilize enemas or laxatives and other supplements to further “purge the body of toxins.”
There is a common thread running through these programs, however. Generally speaking, cleanses consist of an initial “cleansing phase” that lasts two or three days and requires you to only ingest liquids. Depending on the diet, certain foods are slowly reintroduced. Sugars, prepackaged foods, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are typically done away with indefinitely. The “maintenance phase” of these diets — the part you are expected to follow continuously — usually focuses on raw vegetables, fluids and high-fiber foods. Some diets are completely vegetarian.
Research and Evidence
There is no solid evidence to support the claim that toxins collect inside of our bodies, according to the American Council on Exercise. Even if these toxins did build up, toxicologist A. Jay Gandolfi and many of his colleagues are confident that the body’s natural system of flushing them out remains the best option.
Speaking to the L.A. Times, Gandolfi and Linda Birnbaum, director of the experimental toxicology division of the Environmental Protection Agency, explained why detox diets probably don’t remove toxins at all.
First, they say, most pollutants are fat-soluble. This means that high volumes of liquid consumption would do nothing to remove them (although this approach would remove water-soluble chemicals, such as arsenic). Because most toxins are fat-soluble they are stored in the fat, rather then collecting in the digestive tract. Interestingly, this means that the most effective way to speed up the body’s natural detoxification process is by losing weight. Birnbaum told the LA Times that slender people are able to eliminate toxins more quickly than overweight individuals.
In addition, there is nothing to support the claims that raw fruits and vegetables are any more effective at detoxifying than their cooked counterparts. Raw foods have a higher fiber content, but high fiber consumption will not help to remove chemicals throughout the gastrointestinal system. It is possible, however, that high amounts of dietary fiber could help to remove certain chemicals from the liver.
The real danger of these diets comes from their highly restrictive nature, especially if they use laxatives or colonics. These programs can leave you at an extreme caloric and nutritional deficit, especially if you live an active and physically demanding lifestyle. Among the many dangerous effects of depriving your body of needed nutrients like protein are a slowed metabolism and loss of muscle mass.
Should You Follow A Cleanse?
Some benefits do exist from these cleanses, but it seems that they are not directly due to detoxification. The decreased bloating and slimmer appearance are just a result of eating much less than your body is used to. Similarly, the improved complexion that followers of these programs enjoy is likely due to their greatly increased hydration.
This doesn’t mean that all cleanses are completely useless or dangerous. A short program lasting only one to three days, without any laxatives or similar products, can be a good way to audit your regular diet. Use the time to step back and examine your eating habits, clearing out any harmful foods and drinking lots of water. You should be left with a healthy, balanced diet that consists mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Ultimately, this type of cleanse can help you to root out unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle — but it will not actually remove any toxins from your system.
Have you tried a cleanse? Please share your experience with us in the comments!