Do Juice Cleanses Really Work And Are They Safe?

By:    Published: February 24, 2012

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Juice cleanses have been around for more than 100 years and were touted to cure everything from tuberculosis to constipation. But juicing has regained popularity in the last decade, and not just in major metropolitan cities. According to a CBS News article, the most searched recipe for 2007 on Google was the recipe for "Master Cleanse" , the lemon based juice cleanse that has been around since the 1940s.

The herbal cleansing market is a multi-million dollar industry worldwide and it's only getting larger, which leads some to question whether or not these cleanses are really necessary, if they work and if they are safe.

What Are Juice Cleanses?

Juice cleanses come in many different varieties, and some are better than others. Overall, juice cleanses use fruit and vegetable juices as well as nut-based milks to provide calories and nutrients while giving the digestive system some rest. Juice cleanses are meant to detoxify the body and jumpstart weight loss.

Juice cleanses are typically combined with a period of fasting as well as colonic irrigation (enemas), though this isn't universal. They typically last 3-10 days but some can last up to a month. While juice can be purchased for consumption, juice cleanses typically consist of homemade juices made from fruits and vegetables that have been processed through a juicer.

Do They Really Work?

Whether or not juice cleanses work is a matter of some debate. Most doctors and dieticians don't believe that they work or that there is even a need.

Those who believe in the benefits of juice fasting claim that the fast helps them feel lighter and more mentally alert as well as helping them lose weight and flush toxins from the body. However science hasn't verified these claims. In fact, many believe that this is just the result of clever marketing, pointing out that the body has evolved over millions of years and is a self-cleaning environment.  So in reality the body detoxifies itself every day without juicing.  The toxins that are ingested are filtered out of the body through the liver and kidneys and then removed from the body in urine and feces.

Some experts point out that there are indeed some advantages to juice cleansing. Juice cleansing can help give people the mental jolt they need to get started eating right and losing weight. Since juice cleansing forces people to closely monitor what goes into their bodies and how they think about food, it has the potential to permanently alter a person's eating habits for the better.

Other Complications

There are actually many complications associated with juice cleansing. Some are serious, while some are merely bothersome. The severity of complications seems to be associated with the length of time that one juice fasts along with the  system that they choose to use.

There are several juicing cleansing regimes that advocate drinking one single kind of juice exclusively for days upon end. In some cases, people just "go it alone" and drink whatever juices they can find for several days. There are many problems with these types of juice fasts including:

  • Blood sugar spikes and crashes
  • Permanently lower metabolism
  • Dangerously rapid weight loss
  • Nutrient deficiency

Blood Sugar Issues

Those who decide that they are going to just drink juices for several days often end up consuming massive amounts of sugar. Many of the juices found on super market shelves and in the refrigerator case are loaded with sugar, leading to rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar. Since there are many people in the world who are undiagnosed diabetics, this can be quite dangerous and lead to hospitalization.

Diet And Nutritional Concerns

When someone juice fasts over a long period of time it can lead the body to believe that the person is starving. The body will then lower the metabolism to conserve what energy is left in an effort to prevent death. Over time this can lead to permanently lower metabolism which means that a person will easily pack weight back on and have an even harder time trying to get it off.

While many people choose to juice cleanse in an effort to lose weight, juice cleansing over an extended period of time can lead to dangerously rapid weight loss, just like crash dieting. When the body loses weight too quickly the levels of vital chemicals in the body that control all the functions of the body can become unbalanced, leading to a host of serious and sometimes life threatening problems.

Over a long period of juice cleansing, for example several weeks or a month, a person can become deficient in vital nutrients. Many of the vitamins that the body needs to function are stored in the body's fat stores, while others are not stored in the body at all, which is why they must be consumed daily in the diet. If the fat stores are depleted and people aren't consuming these nutrients daily in their diets, the body will become deficient in these nutrients and the functions of the body will suffer.

Other Complications

There are actually many complications associated with juice cleansing. Some are serious, while some are merely bothersome. The severity of complications seems to be associated with the length of time that one juice fasts along with the  system that they choose to use.

There are several juicing cleansing regimes that advocate drinking one single kind of juice exclusively for days upon end. In some cases, people just "go it alone" and drink whatever juices they can find for several days. There are many problems with these types of juice fasts including:

  • Blood sugar spikes and crashes
  • Permanently lower metabolism
  • Dangerously rapid weight loss
  • Nutrient deficiency

There are some juice cleanses systems available that account for all of these problems. They offer nutrient rich juices and don't advocate using them for more than a few days at a time. Most experts agree that these are relatively safe, although unnecessary.

Juice cleansing does come with some side effects including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. The reason for this is that juice cleansing and fasting forces the body into something called ketosis, which is what happens when the body runs out of sugar and starts looking for other sources of fuel.

There are also psychological problems associated with juice cleansing. According to an article in the New York Times, juice cleansing can fuel obsessive thinking in those who already have problems with depression or those with obsessive personalities. These people tend to already be obsessed and have negative self images so juice cleansing can become an obsession leading them to take it to unhealthy extremes. Or if they don't get the results that they desire, this can contribute to further feelings of depression.

Safety Concerns

If someone does choose to juice cleanse there are a few safety precautions to keep in mind. First, discuss juice cleansing with a health care provider. Some health problems make it unsafe to juice cleanse so it's important to check with a doctor first.

Juice cleansing should not be done for more than a few days. Anything longer than about a week will cause the body to think it's starving and lead to a whole host of health problems, some of which are permanent.

If a person does decide to try a juice cleanse choose a program that is colorful. The reason is that the different colors come from all the different fruits and vegetables that are juiced. This ensures that adequate nutrients are ingested. Be sure to include things like nut-based milks for protein and nutrients. Also be sure to drink plenty of water as well.

If someone experiences any adverse problems such as heart palpitations, excessive diarrhea or vomiting, dizziness or fainting should seek medical help immediately.

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