As 2022 rolls in, many people are turning to various types of cleanses to reboot their health and wellness, eliminate toxins or attempt to quickly lose weight. Perhaps the most popular is the juice cleanse, or juice fast. But are these cleanses a good idea?
A juice cleanse involves drinking only fruit or vegetable juices for a certain period of time, usually ranging from one to seven days depending on the goal. Companies advertise cleanses as a way to detox your digestive system by eliminating toxins from your body. They typically feature cold pressed juice, in which the pulp is separated from the juice. In recent years, there has been an explosion of cold pressed juice companies that market such cleanses to customers. The global cold pressed juices market was valued at $521 million in 2020 is expected to reach $831 million by 2026.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the taste of a cold pressed juice from time to time. But I also want to keep you informed and up-to-date on the science and evidence behind claims made by the health and wellness industry.
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The simple fact of the matter is that consuming only juice does not speed up naturally occurring and already efficient detoxication by our liver and kidneys. Juice does not bind to and eliminate circulating toxins. Juice cleanses are just not supported by the basic principles of toxicology.
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After a holiday season fraught with heavy eating and heavier-than-usual alcohol consumption, a lot of people embrace the idea of a “Dry January” and the New Year as a time to detox from recent unhealthy diet choices. But your liver, kidneys and lungs have likely already worked overtime to detoxify your body. You’re not feeling sluggish and suffering from low energy because you still have high levels of toxins actively circulating in your body; it’s a cumulative effect of your body reacting to many weeks of poor diet choices and overindulgence.
The liver is the body’s primary filtration system. It performs no less than 500 important functions in our body. Ensuring toxins are safely removed from your blood is one of the liver’s most critical jobs. Its main function is to cleanse your blood, convert potential toxins into waste, metabolize medication and breakdown food into necessary proteins. If you want to make it easier for your liver to do its job, the best things you can do is drink alcohol in moderation, avoid weight gain and eat a well-balanced diet rich in liver-friendly foods like olive oil, almonds, chia seeds and avocados.
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The kidneys also act as a natural filtration system for the body, removing waste, toxins and excess water from the blood. How can you support your kidneys? Hydrate (but not excessively), quit smoking and avoid over-consumption of the pain-killer ibuprofen. That’s how our body’s natural detoxification works.
What does the scientific research say about cleanses? Unfortunately, studies on cleanses are very rare. A review of commercial cleanses published in 2015 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics reported “there is very little clinical evidence to support the use of these diets.” In one randomized-control trial the treatment group did a seven-day juice cleanse of lemon juice and Neera syrup. The juice group and a placebo group also did calorie restrictions. Both the cleanse group and placebo group experienced a reduction a weight at the end of the study, but that was likely from the caloric restriction, not the juice itself.
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Indeed, juice cleanse participants can experience some weight loss but, again, that’s likely from the caloric restriction and absence of solid food, not from the juice. Such intentional starvation is also a metabolism minefield. A diet primarily consisting of liquid juice could actually slow down your metabolism. At the conclusion of the cleanse, suddenly returning to solid food could result in very rapid weight gain as your metabolism will have been reset to a slower rate.
So while juice is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, it’s a better New Year’s resolution to pair it with a balanced diet and an exercise program that combines cardio and strength training if you’re aiming to reboot your health and wellness. If you want to reset your digestive system, I highly recommend a 30-day elimination diet like the one I recently did.
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Michael Daignault is a board-certified ER doctor in Los Angeles. He studied global health at Georgetown University and has a medical degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency training in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former United States Peace Corps volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault
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