Are Cleanses Dangerous? Health Concerns With Drinking Meals

The healthies cleanses are fruit- and vegetable-juice based.

Unfortunately for those of us feeling weighed down by sluggish digestion or an overload of toxins, there is no definitive scientific evidence proving cleanses actually work. Indeed, cleanses are fraught with medical danger, and many doctors and nutritionists alike eschew the practice entirely, calling it bunk science.

Common Health Issues And Serious Risks

A primary complaint is that juicing fruits and vegetables removes the fiber, a critical component to a healthy diet and maintaining good digestion. Michael Gershon, a physician at Columbia University, shares his views, saying, “Your colon isn’t dirty, and juice cleanses wouldn’t ‘clean’ it anyway, since they don’t contain much fiber, which is what actually ‘scrubs’ the colon.”

Fiber also contributes to satiety, so those already concerned they won’t feel full on a juice fast probably won’t. Although less serious of a problem, one of the most common issues with a fast is hunger, which can lead to headaches, dizziness and food cravings. Further, skipping meals and dramatically lowering calorie intake can actually decrease your metabolism and cause weight gain, directly against the cleanser’s best intentions.

Common health issues include: headaches, tiredness, hypoglycemia, constipation, acne, increased body odor and bad breath. Fainting, dizziness, low blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, weight loss, hunger, vomiting, diarrhea and kidney problems are less common, but can still occur. More serious, though rare, problems include: dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, protein and calcium deficiencies.

Minimal Follow-Through

Any weight loss attributed to a cleanse is likely gained back immediately after returning to solid food, because most of it is water. Due to reduced calorie and nutrition intake during a cleanse, exercise is generally discouraged, since it can lead to weight loss of muscle tissue. Some professionals argue that a brief cleanse, when done safely (no less than 1000 calories a day, please) can inspire some momentum towards healthier lifestyle choices. Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian, suggests weight loss from a cleanse can be motivating, but advises that "a detox should feel like a tune-up, not a punishment.”

Not The Best, But Not The Worst Either

A Vanderbilt University study says that juice fasting is better than other kinds of fasting merely because you are getting some nutrients from juice, though certainly not enough to function at full capacity. This can lead to mood swings, irritability and depression through the course of the fast.

A Voice of Young Science survey from 2009 investigating detox diets found that no two companies shared the same definition of detox, and provided little evidence their products worked; the survey thereby concluded that detox, above all, was a marketing ploy led to dangerously misguide the public about their own bodily function.

But perhaps most ironic is that although cleanses are meant to increase health, they may actually be overkill. According to Joel Fuhrman, a family physician in New Jersey, eating properly will enable our bodies to function optimally and thus regularly self-cleanse. It can be argued, then, that the best cleanse may be a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.

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