Juicing Cleanses: Functional or Fad?

By Max Wettstein

 

When I was handed this month’s writing assignment about juice-cleanses or juicing-fasts, I was stoked because I would finally get to interject some common sense into this over-hyped, fructose-laden, crash-diet-in-disguise fad!

As usual I’ve done my best to sift through all the bro-science, and the anecdotal, placebo-effect claims in internet land, and also have managed to sniff out all the false-marketing, testimonial-type, social media posts attempting to sell us cleansing kits, and polluting our newsfeeds (pun intended).

“Cleanses” and fasts are certainly not new as they’ve been around forever and I don’t think they will ever go away. Folks are drawn to them and always have been – beginning a cleanse is almost like a spiritual journey for many – like a baptism, and many also like the discipline and sense of accomplishment completing a cleanse can bring.

Cleanses and fasts permit us to immediately and radically start fresh, or break a downward spiral of poor diet and lifestyle choices. They empower and cause us to feel as if we are taking back control of our bodies and health with a tangible, simple plan.

However, they are also a means to rapid and sometimes unhealthy weight-loss, so many folks use cleanses as way to kickstart their diets, though often this sets in motion a pattern of yo-yo dieting, or fasting as a way to make-up for binging episodes. It’s a slippery slope into diet abuse. I’m sure you know of some folks who are cleansing every month whether they need to or not.

We can see that there are many mental and motivational positives to undertaking a cleanse or even a strategic fast. In fact Intermittent-Fasting is even linked to improving longevity and boosting metabolism. And of course there will be immediate accompanying weight-loss, usually temporary water and glycogen weight – but seriously, are our insides any ‘cleaner’ or less toxic as a result? Doubtful. And certainly the only claims of the latter I uncovered were anecdotal at best, or worse, evangelistic testimonials from folks trying to sell us cleansing-kits and products.

The bottom line is that our bodies do a fantastic and thorough job of maintaining and detoxing ourselves on a daily basis. We have organs and systems designed specifically for this purpose and they never stop working for our greater good. Liver, kidneys, sweat glands, mucus membranes, colon, lungs, lymph nodes, skin…they are all working in harmony to eliminate toxins and protect us. All you have to do is not deliberately sabotage yourself, and try and live a relatively healthy lifestyle, and you will be good to go!

I’m over simplifying here to make my point and of course there are other things you can do to help your organs, or give them a break to recuperate every now and then. Most of it is common sense, like simply eating properly with some awareness, drinking adequate amounts of clean water, and exercising regularly.

Exercise, along with the accompanying sweating and increased respiration, induces an acute and immediate cleansing and detox every workout, even causing the liver to dump glycogen and fatty acids for energy if intense enough. Sleeping soundly at night allows the brain to naturally cleanse itself and tissues to heal and grow. Eating plenty of fiber and supplementing with probiotic bacteria will help our colon to function optimally, preventing constipation, hard stools, leaky-gut, or polyps. Avoiding too much saturated fat, limiting medications, and drinking alcohol in healthy moderation will prevent our liver from becoming overburdened and toxic, and prevent Fatty-Liver disease or destruction.

Drinking plenty of water will also help our kidneys to function at their optimum. Eating plenty of raw, alkaline green foods, and colorful vegetables, and animal protein only in moderation will help prevent cancer from taking root and neutralize free-radicals. Minimizing sugar and simple carbohydrates will allow our insulin to function properly and maintain healthy glucose-metabolism and cell-uptake for energy. These are all basic lifestyle examples of how to help your body, help itself.

 

If you truly feel the need to give your organs a break to recuperate, perhaps take a day off from work, stay home and simply do a water only, or water and tea fast, with plenty of extra rest. But skip the juicing…

Here’s why you don’t ever need to do a juicing cleanse or fast. Juice from most fruit and most vegetables is loaded with a form of sugar known as fructose. Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver, unlike pure glucose or sucrose, which are readily absorbed straight into all cells for energy. Because fructose has to be processed by the liver, it places a bit of a burden on the liver, and it also gives off a triglyceride byproduct. To be clear, a healthy person, with a healthy liver will metabolize typical servings of dietary fruit and fructose with no problem at all. But if one starts consuming large amounts of fructose from juice, soda (via high-fructose corn syrup), or lots of fruit, then this could start to really tax the liver. Add in a few alcoholic drinks daily and some fat build up from too much dietary saturated fat, and now you may begin to damage your liver over time.

Most folks have heard of High-Fructose Corn Syrup by now and think of it as an evil dietary villain added to processed foods, yet they don’t connect the obvious dots that fruit juice contains large amounts of basically this same sugar – fructose! HFCS is just glucose-based corn syrup with fructose added to it to make it extra sweet. All this outrage with soda and the culprit sweetener HFCS, yet many of the same folks condemning HFCS are still drinking gallons of fruit juice thinking it is a healthy alternative beverage, unknowingly taxing not only their livers, but their insulin-glucose-metabolism relationship, potentially leading to insulin-resistance and adult-onset diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome.

Something else to consider if you are going to proceed with a juicing cleanse is the source of your fruit juice and how it was prepared and stored. In all fairness, whole fruit and fresh raw juice, especially from vegetables, is loaded with phytonutrients, antioxidants, enzymes, pulp, vitamins and minerals. But if it is not literally fresh squeezed by you, then oxidation begins and the depletion of all these good things begins immediately upon leaving the fruit. If it is pasteurized in order to prevent bacterial contamination and yield longer shelf life, then that heat treatment destroys enzymes along with denaturing many of the vitamins and affects taste and color.

Also, many juicing processes deliberately remove the pulp and that is where the fiber is! Some detox “experts” say you don’t want the pulp in order to fully simplify digestion and maximize absorption, but dietary fiber is so important and it also lowers the glycemic index of the juice. Honestly, if you can’t squeeze the fruit yourself or use your own juicer than look for “cold-pressed” juices, but they will have a very short shelf-life and are expensive. Also, then you run the risk of bacterial contamination. How far do you want to go to acquire perfect juice? Is the juice Organic? Is it non-GMO? Is it locally-sourced? Is it raw and cold-pressed? Sheesh! When in doubt, just eat whole-fruit and drink water! And for goodness sake, don’t add juice mixers in your alcohol cocktails – a double whammy for your liver to metabolize.

There are also many supplements out there that claim to assist in detoxing and cleansing but that is beyond the scope of this article. Remember, the supplement industry is unregulated, so you must do your own research and the anecdotal testimonials and marketing claims are completely out of control. Not to mention the fact these supplements are very expensive.

Lastly, when possible, avoid encounters with carcinogens and toxins in your own diet and daily life. Some toxins are unavoidable and our bodies are well equipped handle them, but areas to examine more closely are your daily routine and occupational health hazards, where you may be receiving regular exposure to carcinogens. You will then have to ask yourself, is this paycheck worth the added risk to my life and if so, what can I do to minimize my exposure?