Every week I hear or read about someone doing some sort of new cleanse or detox routine. It's a trend that just won't go away, but do cleanses really do anything beneficial for us? The purported values of detoxing include but are not limited to:
- Removing toxins that are trapped in the body
- Increasing energy
- Rapid weight loss
- Increasing immunity
A while back I gave cleansing a try. At the time I was open to trying anything that might help increase my energy -- I've been diagnosed with both low iron and low testosterone in the past, so lethargy is my homeboy. A good friend of mine suggested that I try Isagenix. He swore by the system and said it changed his life. He also mentioned that he was making additional income through the company -- a win-win right? Long story short, I did a nine-day cleanse and the immediate results were positive. I leaned-out and felt pretty good.
At the time, I fully believed that cleansing had a place in my life. Fast-forward a few weeks and I realized that my results didn't exactly have longevity; my body composition returned to its pre-cleanse state and I continued to be exhausted on a regular basis. When the human brain wants to believe something, it is great at convincing itself.
I know this isn't going to impress my friend, but I've got to be honest. Isagenix has some decent products, but in the end it's a company of people who know little about nutrition, plugging nutritional products to those who know even less. I don't have first-hand experience with other cleanses, but my instinct tells me that they're all cut from the same cloth. I was excited to try cleansing, and I was happy with the immediate results, but ultimately realized that cleansing did nothing for me physically. Mentally, perhaps there was value, but the tangible results just weren't there.
So let's talk about the need to eliminate toxins. In order to do this, we first need to identify what is toxic to the human body. Most people might start this list with things like alcohol and smoke, which are good answers, but almost everything we consume is toxic on a certain level. Water can be toxic. Vitamin B can be toxic. The process of cooking food creates toxins. I think you get my point.
The reason that we can consume almost everything and maintain a healthy body is because we have a number of extremely impressive organs and systems that are specifically designed to remove toxins from the body. The digestive tract actively eliminates anything the body doesn't need or can't use. The lungs eliminate toxic carbon dioxide with every breath. Even skin is designed to eliminate fat-stored toxins through sweating. Long story short, the human body is more than well-equipped to eliminate toxins.
Aside from the fact that we simply don't need to do anything special to eliminate toxins, cleansing also has several potential downfalls. Firstly, almost all cleanses are low in calories. Low caloric-intake slows the metabolism and encourages poor eating habits -- certainly not a recipe for sustained weight loss. Secondly, cleanses reside in the universe of extremism. When it comes to nutrition, any extreme is almost surely unhealthy. Take juice cleanses for example -- do you think it's healthy to consume a shake that contains of 15 servings of vegetables? Metabolizing all those nutrients and nitrates will surely put a lot of stress on the body.
On the other end of the spectrum, some cleanses are basically about starvation, and I don't think I need to explain why this isn't a healthy activity. Finally, almost all cleanses are low in protein, which is the one macronutrient that should be prioritized under any circumstances. The kicker is that protein deficiencies can actually inhibit the body's ability to eliminate toxins! Wrap your head around that one!
So is there any benefit to cleansing? There can be a time and place for everything. If you need to use a cleanse to get you out of bad habits and on track to a healthier lifestyle, it can surely have a place. If you feel the need for a mental break from making your daily food choices, take the break. But don't lean on cleansing as a crutch for an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. There is no "Get Healthy Quick" scheme. Much like you can't get abs in seven days, you also can't eliminate health problems in a week. Any time you read about improving your health in a short period of time or through easy methods, you should immediately be skeptical.
So if cleansing isn't worth it, how does one go about minimizing toxins in every day life? Here are some tips:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and green tea. Use a filter on your tap for an added layer of protection. Why? Because the kidneys are major detoxification organs and will function best if kept clean.
- Get a good sweat on, as often as possible. As mentioned above, skin is a major elimination organ, and sweating is the easiest way to purge unwanted substances from our bodies.
- Do what you can to be as lean as possible. Fat-soluble toxins reside in fat cells, therefore the less body fat you have, the less room there is for said chemicals.
- Eat local, and wash your produce! Eating local increases the chances that your produce will be as nutritious as possible, and the shorter the distance produce has to travel, the fewer chemicals need to be used to prevent spoilage. Fruits and vegetables are likely the most important ingredient to maintaining a healthy body, and the more produce you eat, the less you'll eat of other problematic foods.
- Embrace moderation and diversity. Eating far too much of something or simply eating far too little of everything won't lead you down a pleasant path. On the same note, try not to abuse medications or supplements -- both should be taken only if absolutely necessary.
- Get outside! Maximize your time in the sun (vitamin D is incredibly important to overall health) and breathe in as much high quality air as possible.
In the end, it's the same old message ringing true: There are no shortcuts to optimal health and fat loss. If something seems too good to be true, it's likely quite false. Set a plan to gradually increase your healthy activities while limiting your vices and over time you'll achieve the results you want!
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People undergoing chemotherapy, diabetics, people with nutritional deficiencies and people with kidney disease should not try a juice fast. The high sugar consumption involved in juice fasts can skyrocket blood-sugar levels in diabetics, which can result in fatigue, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, excessive hunger and thirst, and wounds or infections that heal more slowly than usual. According to USA Today, the high levels of potassium and minerals from excessive juice consumption can build up in the blood to hazardous levels in those with kidney disease. And the high levels of antioxidants and low levels of protein can be dangerous for those undergoing chemo.
While the juice form does hydrate and supply nutrients, registered dietitian Jennifer Nelson says there's no reliable scientific research to support claims that juicing your produce is healthier than eating it whole. Actually, the fiber and some of the antioxidants found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables are often eliminated in the juicing process. For example, the white pulp in an orange provides flavonoids, but that's usually left behind. Because juice doesn't offer the fiber contained in fruits and veggies, the body absorbs fructose sugar more easily, which can affect blood-sugar levels, according to Food Republic. If you do decide to try a juice cleanse, drink more veggie juices (carrots and beets not included) and limit fruit juice to one glass a day in order to avoid this potential side effect. None of this means you shouldn't drink juice. It simply means, instead of drinking only juice for weeks, a healthier route might just be including juices in a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/plindberg)
You're not going to feel as satisfied and full if you drink your meals instead of chewing them, Livestrong.com explains. Additionally, the fiber that's been left out of the juice would have helped slow consumption and make you feel more sated.
You should always be skeptical when a diet requires extreme restrictions and cuts out entire food groups. There's a reason dietary guidelines include various categories of food: You can't get all of your essential vitamins and minerals out of just one. Livestrong.com explains that juice fasts frequently lack substantial amounts of protein and fat. "Few fruits contain significant amounts of fat and protein, and vegetables that contain these macronutrients -- such as avocados, beans and lentils -- do not lend themselves to juicing," Livestrong says. "Without sufficient protein, your body has no raw materials with which to build new tissue. A lack of fat leaves your skin and hair in poor shape and contributes to malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins." Extend your juice fast, and you might just cause serious damage. Dr. Glenn D. Braunstein, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, says that longer fasts could result in electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, if you're not getting enough calories, your body could start using muscle tissue instead of fat for energy. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Arenamontanus)
Will you lose weight? Probably -- you're cutting out all of the fat from your diet and drastically lowering your caloric intake. But you'll most likely put it right back on after the fast. "There's nothing wrong with going on a juice fast for a few days," said Dr. James Dillard, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, on WebMD. "But it's not a great way to lose weight, because you'll gain it all back -- you yo-yo. It's just like the Atkins diet. The weight you lose is water weight." And Dr. Braunstein (of Cedars-Sinai) says this type of deprivation can also result in dizziness, nausea, constipation, fatigue and irritability. Additionally, if you do this to your body enough, you could permanently lower your metabolism -- as if it's not tough enough to lose weight as it is. New York Times writer Judith Newman tried a juice cleanse and wrote about her experience: "This kind of cleansing puts a lot of stress on your body," she wrote. "Your body wants and expects food. And as with most crash diets, which is really what this is, your body thinks it's starving. It doesn't know it's going to get more food. So it lowers your metabolism, and if you do this enough, it can lower your metabolism permanently."
Don't get me wrong: A "detox diet" to rid my body of all the crap I've recently put in it sounds convincing, even to me. Who wouldn't want to "cleanse" their body of all the chemicals, fat and alcohol they've consumed? The fact is, though, our body does an excellent job of this already; our liver, kidneys and intestines filter the unwanted things we ingest and expel them through urine, bowel movements, breath and sweat. We don't need to punish ourselves with strict juice-only diets to eliminate the bad stuff. People were talking about detoxification back in the early 1900s, according to QuackWatch. Supporters of the process claimed that "intestinal sluggishness causes intestinal contents to putrefy, toxins are absorbed and chronic poisoning of the body results." Scientists abandoned this theory, though, in the 1930s, and these mysterious "toxins" that everyone keeps trying to get rid of have never been discovered. "Our bodies are very good at eliminating all the nasties that we might ingest over the festive season," said Dr. John Emsley, a chemical scientist quoted in the Washington Times in a story about the potential of detox diets to get rid of all the junk we put in our bodies over the holidays. The idea of detoxing our bodies by "drinking fancy bottled water or sipping herbal teas is just nonsense." (Photo courtesy of Flickr/lululemon athletica)
The weight loss industry is a business -- a booming one at that. As of February 2011, the weight loss market was valued at almost $60 billion, including bariatric surgery, diet soft drinks, health club revenues and more by Marketdata Enterprises. BluePrintCleanse, a popular New York-based manufacturer, will charge you $65 a day for its cleansing package of juices. Los Angeles-based Pressed Juicery offers three different cleanse packages, each providing five juices and one almond milk for a total cost of $70 a day. Want to juice at home? Get ready to put down some money. Juicers range from $30 to $300. And since you shouldn't be saving unpasteurized juice for later, you might want to buy one for the office while you're at it. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Stawarz)
Proponents of the juice fast claim it will cure your case of the sniffles and even treat cancer. There has been no scientific evidence suggesting it will do anything but help increase your vitamin intake -- which, yes, could benefit your health, but the calorie restriction and lack of protein might actually slow healing. Your body needs all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients it can get to heal. The best thing you can do with your diet is to make sure you're not depriving it of an essential nutrient and eat balanced, well-portioned meals. As for cancer, the American Cancer Society states that current scientific research does not support fasting (including juice fasting) to treat it. Additionally, as previously stated, those undergoing chemotherapy should not attempt a juice fast because of the risk posed by the high levels of antioxidants and low levels of protein.
It's true. Many people who try these detox diets report having more energy and feeling more focused. However, as Mayo Clinic explains, this could be due to the belief that they're doing something good for their bodies. That said, you could also argue that there's nothing wrong with a placebo effect if it does the job. As the NYT writer who tried one of these cleanses wrote, "What's so bad about feeling a little better, even if there's no demonstrable proof that you actually are better?"
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