Juice cleanses seem to be all the rage these days, especially with celebrities like Beyonce, Demi Moore, Ashton Kusher and Gwyneth Paltrow touting them. A patient of mine recently sent me an article from The New York Times titled “The Juice Cleanse: A Strange and Green Journey”. She was asking my opinion about juice cleanses, and because they’re so popular I thought I should write about it.

First things first. I feel that (organic) vegetable juicing is by far one of the most health-giving ways that we can support our body and mind. Drinking fresh, live vegetable juice offers the most efficient way I know of getting an enormous amount of natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients into our body. The healthiest way to go is with “green” juices, as they contain the most chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, and other supportive and detoxifying nutrients and antioxidants. Therefore, they’ll help build blood, bone, and other important tissues in addition to helping detoxify and regenerate the liver, colon, kidneys, and just about all the organs and cells of the body. So as far as drinking vegetable juice – I’m ALL for it! What about juice cleansing though?

Juice cleanses will obviously offer the body all of the great nutrients and benefits mentioned above. However, there can certainly be (and more likely will be) a drawback for most people. The problem often arises when we consume ONLY juice in a single (or several) day(s). That problem mainly relates to the lack of other macronutrients, with the primary one being a lack of protein. The effects of going without protein for days (or even a single day) can be very detrimental. How (if at all) detrimental it is will certainly depend on the individual and his or her state of health, and also how the cleanse is actually done. The other issue that arises is when a person attempts to detoxify while their organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, skin, and lymphatic system) are not “up to par”.

Several problems of going without protein include severe blood sugar fluctuations and resultant spikes in insulin and stress hormones. See my articles on insulin resistance and blood sugar regulation to get more specific information on this. Additionally, without eating protein, your body will begin to break down muscle in order to get the protein it needs to survive. Blood sugar fluctuations or imbalances and/or a lack of protein and muscle mass are the cause of many people’s symptoms and disease to begin with. Therefore a juice cleanse can make a person even more imbalanced and unhealthy. And let’s not forget that protein is absolutely necessary in order for the body and especially the liver to properly detoxify in the first place. I’m not saying the answer solely lies in protein intake, because you may also need other supportive nutrients to support the organs of elimination while detoxing.

That said, here’s my take on some of the comments in the NY Times article. Here’s the first comment in the article that I’d like to touch upon: “As Mr. Glickman explains on his Web site, if you experience symptoms like cravings, fatigue, irritability, headaches, pains, nausea, vomiting, hot bowel movements (!) … congratulations! That means you were supertoxic, and the cleanse is working.” OK – this statement may be true, as those symptoms can definitely result from going on a juice cleanse. HOWEVER, if a person does in fact experience these symptoms, I would not say “congratulations”. These symptoms are actually the result of faulty detoxification pathways. Many people might call this a “healing crisis” and say “the cleanse is working. The reality is that the toxins are being released from the cells and tissues, but in fact NOT being released from the body. This is a classic example someone who needs support for their detoxification organs, as the organs can not keep up with amount of toxins that are being released. In a case like this, I’d support a patient with supplements (usu. herbal or homeopathic) that would help to actually get the toxins completely out of their body. Without support to help the drainage of these organs, people that undergo this type of reaction are most definitely simply transposing the toxins to another area of their body. And if they have a “leaky” blood-brain barrier, they can cause some serious harm by allowing chemicals/toxins to be deposited in the brain. In a sense this type of reaction is diagnostic that the detox organs aren’t up to par. Well, you say, isn’t that why we are detoxing, because the detox organs aren’t up to par? Sure, but if the above mentioned symptoms occur, without specific support to the detox organs (which would prevent those symptoms), you are likely doing more harm than good. So it may be OK to go ahead with the cleanse, but the appropriate support/drainage remedies need to be taken as well.

The next comment I’d like to make is in regards to these statements by the author: “By the third day I felt great in the way I’m told that the imminently drowning feel great right before they give up and inhale that last mouthful of water. My juice-aficionado friend Gilly told me I was on an endorphin high”. If you’ve ever been on an “endorphin high” you’d know that it doesn’t feel like “giving up” and inhaling a mouthful of water before your ultimate death. It may feel like you’re floating a bit, perhaps related to lightheadedness or dizziness, but not like you’re about to drown. The feeling the author is describing sounds more like both, a severe blood sugar imbalance with concomitant stress hormone and adrenaline (stress neurotransmitter) release, while the body is freeing up toxins into the bloodstream but not able to get rid of them. Adrenaline and stress hormones are catabolic, meaning they actually assist in breaking down the body, instead of building it up. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the following comments made in the article by Dr. David Colbert: “That giddy feeling you get is what diabetics get when your body runs out of sugar and starts using other products for energy“.

Lastly, I respectfully disagree with these comments made from Dr. Colbert: “You have to ask yourself this question: With a juice cleanse, what are you really cleaning? Really, nothing. The bowel self-cleans. It’s evolved over millions of years to do this.” Here’s my response to that. The bowel will self-clean but more often than not, it does need a cleanse or specific dietary changes and/or supplements in order to do so well. To elaborate, consider these points. The entire body is meant to detoxify chemicals, metals, etc.. However, day in and day out I see patients whose complaints are directly related to an inability to detoxify these substances – therefore, some of us have “lost” this capability. The body was meant to produce a proper amount of thyroid hormone, but in many cases it doesn’t (for many reasons); and hypothyroidism is rampant despite our evolution. The female hormonal system is meant to self-regulate through feedback loops as well, but PMS and a grueling, symptomatic shift into menopause for many woman seems to be the norm. The body is designed to “self-defend” via the immune system, but so many people are afflicted with acute and chronic bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, etc. infections. So even though the body is designed to function a certain way, that doesn’t mean it will. And even though the bowel “self-cleans” as Dr. Colbert points out, that doesn’t mean it will efficiently and effectively. The body doesn’t always work the way it was designed to. Believe me, I wouldn’t have a practice if it did. If the body did everything it was “supposed” to do, we wouldn’t have such a huge health crisis with rampant degenerative disease and illness.

In conclusion, juice cleanses can be done safely, and you don’t necessarily need to avoid consuming food while attempting to detoxify. Your best option is to find a practitioner that can monitor your progress in order to make sure it’s going safely and you achieve the benefits you set out for.

Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology

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