The market is flooded with programs promising to promote health by ridding the body of toxins. Some examples include seven-day cleanse plans and weight-loss detox diets. Experts caution that little, if any, evidence supports their claims.
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Weight-Loss Cleanse Plans
Proponents of detox and cleanse diets say they're the only means to rid the body of chemicals from food, air and water, says the Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital. They believe the buildup of toxins leads to a host of diseases, so the removal of them enhances wellness in many ways.
Extensive health claims are associated with the diets, some of which include weight loss, improved energy and relief from constipation, headaches and muscle aches, reports the Cleveland Clinic.
Read more: The Right Way to Do a One-Day Cleanse
One of the theories underlying dietary cleanses is that eliminating solid food or certain food groups allows the digestive system to rest. Proponents of cleanses say this effect leads to healing and better absorption of nutrients, notes the Cleveland Clinic.
Cleanse diets have many variations, and their length may range from one day to one month. In the liquid diets, solid foods are replaced with drinks such as green tea or fresh-juiced fruits and vegetables. Other detox plans often include nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts, but they prohibit unhealthy foods like meat, sugar and wheat, states the Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital.
Popular drinks for cleansing or detox include cucumber water, lemon water or a combination. Cucumber water is made by slicing two cucumbers and mixing them with 8 cups of water. The mixture is stored in the refrigerator, and the instructions are to drink it within three days. These cleanse drinks would fall into the general category of detox plans.
Nutritionist's One-Week Cleanse
Mancuso states that you first need to eliminate junk in your diet when you undertake a strict but safe one-week cleanse. This means avoiding sweets and treats, which contain sugar, preservatives and toxins that lead to inflammation. "It's not just what you eat in a cleanse, it's equally about what you don't eat," says Mancuso.
Increase your consumption of vegetables, so you'll ingest many essential nutrients during cleansing. "Make sure to steam the vegetables lightly to keep the nutrients intact," suggests Mancuso. If possible, eat them raw.
Eat as many vegetables as you wish. The fiber content will help satiate your hunger and make it easier to resist unhealthy foods. Avoid starchy vegetables, because they have a higher glycemic index, a factor that increases blood sugar.
To get essential fats, pour extra-virgin olive oil mixed with lemon juice over vegetables. You may also add fresh herbs like ginger, which is beneficial for inflammation.
Include a short fast. "It allows the body to do its work and cleanse naturally on its own," says Mancuso. Aim for a 12- to 14-hour fast, but don't hesitate to stop the fast early if you experience weakness or don't feel well.
Refrain from caffeinated beverages, alcohol, sugary juices and sports drinks during a one-week cleanse. Instead, drink plenty of filtered water. "Water facilitates the transport of toxins to be released through urination and elimination," states Mancuso.
Mancuso strongly urges anyone attempting a cleanse of any length or extremity to seek the guidance of a qualified health practitioner. Keep in mind that people respond to cleanses differently. While they're beneficial for some, the practice has drawbacks for others.
"People tend to look for shortcuts and try to jump on the latest cure-all, promising the world while delivering very little," adds Mancuso. She recommends a more moderate strategy for improving health, which consists of adopting long-term wholesome eating habits.
Cleanse Diet Pros and Cons
Because some cleanse diets call for juicing fruits and vegetables, they increase the intake of vitamins and minerals. Another advantage comes from eliminating certain foods and then gradually reintroducing them back into the diet, which can help people identify food sensitivities, says the Cleveland Clinic.
Several negatives are linked to cleanses. The plans tend to lack calories and protein. They may also produce frequent bowel movements and gastrointestinal distress. A major drawback is that they're very low in calories, so followers may experience disrupted blood glucose and metabolic rate and have little energy for exercise, notes the Cleveland Clinic.
If the cleanse program you're considering involves taking pills and potions, it's best to steer clear of it. The Food and Drug Administration reports that quite a few over-the-counter weight-loss pills, teas and drinks, including those for detox or cleanse purposes, contain ingredients harmful to health. Some have differing quantities of prescription medications, while others have ingredients that haven't been tested for safety or efficacy.
Cleanse proponents sometimes recommend taking substances that are dangerous. In a study published in Forensic Science International in November 2012, researchers provided an account of a 50-year-old man who died after ingesting Epsom salts for a liver cleansing diet.
After accidentally taking a massive dose, he suffered severe diarrhea, vomiting and diffuse abdominal pain. Emergency treatment was unsuccessful. The authors described the case to alert professionals to the hazard of this popular diet.
Read more: 10-Day Cleansing Diet
Certain groups of people shouldn't undertake a cleanse diet. These include children, diabetics and pregnant women. No one should engage in vigorous activity while on a cleanse plan.
What About Colon Cleanses?
In colon irrigation, large quantities of water that may include herbs or coffee are flushed through the colon, explains the Mayo Clinic. At times, smaller amounts of water are used, and it's allowed to sit in the colon a short period before removal. Although proponents contend the practice boosts energy, enhances immunity and removes toxins that can cause health problems, no evidence supports these claims.
Colon cleansing may cause bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping. It also changes the microbial community in the gut, which is responsible for protection against infections, notes the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The practice can result in more serious problems such as dehydration, infections, a tear in the colon and potentially dangerous electrolyte imbalances. Colon cleanses have been linked to several deaths, says the Mayo Clinic.
Before having a colon cleanse, consult your doctor, particularly if you have heart or kidney disease. Check the reputation of the practitioner administering the procedure, and make sure disposable equipment is used that hasn't been used on another person. Some ingredients can have adverse effects on health, so ask for a list of herbs and the amount of each contained in the cleanse, advocates the Mayo Clinic.
Aside from irrigation, other colon cleanse methods include laxatives, supplements, enemas and herbal teas, notes MD Anderson. Instead of undergoing a cleanse, adopt healthy lifestyle practices to improve colon health. These include avoiding processed meat, limiting red meat, eating a plant-based diet and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Are You Planning a Cleanse or Detox? Read This First"
- Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital: "Detox Diets Debunked"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Tainted Weight-Loss Products"
- Forensic Science International: "Fatal Manganese Intoxication Due to an Error in the Elaboration of Epsom Salts for a Liver Cleansing Diet"
- University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Colon Cleansing: Health or Hype?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is Colon Cleansing a Good Way to Eliminate Toxins From Your Body?"
- JM Nutrition: "Julie Mancuso, RHN"