Undoubtedly, you’ve seen them around, “Herbal cleanses”, “Liver detox 30-day programs”, “Cold press juice cleanses”. They usually raise their heads on Instagram following periods of indulgent eating and drinking like Christmas or New Years. While the colourful plastic bottles all lined up in the fridge might look visually appealing – juice cleanses are not good for the environment or your body.
Let me explain why…
What is the purpose of a juice cleanse?
Juice cleanses make the promise to cleanse the body of toxins through the consumption of a diet of specific liquids (eg. fruit and vegetable juice only), or with the addition of certain “superfood” supplements (eg. drinking cayenne pepper/turmeric with lemon juice and water). They are built on the idea that because the body collects toxins from things like food preservatives, it needs to be cleansed and detoxified to get back to a healthy status.
Let’s start with the big question – does your body actually need cleansing?
Our bodies do accumulate low levels of harmful toxins from foods and our environment, but we have our own mechanisms in place to excrete and metabolise them. Heavy-metal poisoning is rare, particularly in developed countries like Australia. If it does occur, it is treated through chelating agents, not juice cleanses.
There are four major detoxification organs in the body (these work AROUND THE CLOCK to remove harmful substances):
- The liver: this is my favourite organ! It is actually self-cleansing and acts like a filter in preventing toxic food substances from passing into your blood stream. Day-in and day-out it performs a series of chemical reactions to convert toxic substances into ones that can be eliminated in bile or excreted via the kidneys.
- The kidneys: these are constantly filtering your blood and getting rid of toxins in the form of urine.
- The colon: having regular bowel movements assists to flush out toxic chemicals before they can do you any harm.
- The lungs: are able to eliminate toxins that enter your body via breathing, WHAT? You better believe it. Your body literally does everything in its power to help you get rid of toxic substances.
Juice is not as good for you as you might think.
The major problem with juicing, compared with eating whole foods, is that you’re getting rid of the fibre and most of the nutrition and leaving behind concentrated glucose/fructose (sugar). This sugar quickly gets metabolised by the gut and enters the blood stream, leading to spikes in blood glucose levels and causing dips in energy and changes in mood. This is extremely dangerous for people with diabetes, so if you have diabetes please do not go on a juice cleanse. Juice also has a high Glycaemic-Index which has been associated with acne and skin issues. Read all about this in my Conversation article.
Important note: Juice fasting actually hinders your liver’s ability to excrete toxic substances. This is because juice has little to no protein. The liver requires amino acids from protein (e.g. glycine, cysteine, glutamine) in order to support detoxification pathways. Therefore, when on a juice cleanse, your liver cannot do its job as easily which is completely counterintuitive.
Juice cleanses WILL make you initially lose weight, but you won’t keep it off.
If it’s rapid, unsustainable weight loss you’re after, a juice cleanse will almost certainly produce the desired result. This is because you are consuming a dramatically lower intake of calories than what you would normally ingest. However, most of this weight will be water weight as your body becomes depleted of its carbohydrate stores. Don’t be fooled, ‘weight’ loss is not the same as ‘fat’ loss. The body will move back to its “pre-detox” weight over time if diet and activity levels remain the same as they were before the cleanse.
Juice cleanses have some awful side effects (that can stick around after it ends).
You might experience things like: headaches, nausea, diarrhea, mood swings and skin breakouts during your juice cleanse. Juice cleansing advocates will call these “cleansing reactions” and will assure you it’s “toxins leaving the body”. This is not true, rather, it’s a result of a nutrient-poor diet and your body screaming at you for the nutrients it needs to fuel itself properly! The science-based explanation is that this is a consequence of restarting the digestion process after a period of rest. Similar symptoms are seen in patients in hospital who have difficulty eating food after being fed through a tube (due to surgery or another medical intervention).
I want to be healthy and lose weight though! What should I do?
If there is one thing that will work, it is reducing your intake of junk/processed foods, cooking more at home, eating a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables and daily, heart-pumping exercise! When you eat a healthy diet full of fresh whole foods and do not ingest many toxins from highly processed foods, alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs you will naturally lose weight and feel better.
If anyone suggests a juice cleanse to you, please ignore the suggestion, and question any other health advice they may offer!