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Juice Cleanses: Just Don't Do Them!

03/25/2015 01:24 EDT | Updated 05/25/2015 05:59 EDT
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Like many people, Brennan Reurink heard about the wonders of cleansing through a friend, who had raved about the benefits. She decided to sign on for a five-day juice-only cleanse with her boyfriend after getting a great deal online. She hadn't heard about any risks, and was excited to try something she had heard so much about.

Brennan says the first day was the hardest, as she experienced bad headaches and fatigue. (Her boyfriend was angry and irritable because he missed food.) Even though there was a choice of flavours, they were limited to six pre-mixed juices a day. By mid-week, Brennan said she found her groove, but didn't feel a drastic change in how she felt or her energy levels. The shocker came on day five, when Brennan had dropped 14 pounds. She wasn't trying to lose weight, and was startled by the drastic change. Within a week of finishing the cleanse, she had gained half of that weight back.

Brennan says the experience was interesting, but one she won't be repeating. It didn't make her feel like a million dollars, and the drastic weight loss was concerning. "At the end of it, it was like OK, that's done. Now on to the next thing."

It's funny how the fads come and go. Cleanses and detox diets have actually been around for more than 100 years. But Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator April Thorimbert says, it's not always a good thing when history repeats itself.

She says when "cleansing" first became popular in the early 1900s, it was thought they would remove residual feces and non-specific toxins from the intestine and poison from the liver and body. This theory was medically discounted in 1919. And while many people do notice bowel changes during cleanses, she says that's largely smoke and mirrors as it's really the result of fibres and/or herbal products being processed by the body.

She also says cleanses and detox diets are a big mental game. People trying these approaches are expecting an improvement so often report one. Also, because liquids spend less time in the stomach, their macronutrients are absorbed more quickly compared to solid food, making some people feel "lighter" and therefore "better."

In short, Thorimbert says there is no scientific evidence to suggest these approaches improve health. There are, however, many potential risks, including cramping, headaches, bloating, fatigue and nutrient deficiencies. Your health is at greater risk from a cleanse if you have a pre-existing medical condition like diabetes, heart disease, liver disease or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

While it's not sexy or the latest Hollywood trend, Thorimbert says the best cleanse you can give your body is ensuring you include intact fruits and vegetables, intact whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy in your regular diet. These approaches have actually been proven to improve health and help achieve long-term weight maintenance. And she says to remember that your body already has built in mechanisms to eliminate toxins from your body, like your lungs, liver and kidneys. You don't need the latest diet fad to do that for you.

Co-authored by Monica Matys, Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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