Can Juice Detox be Toxic to Your Body and Mind?

Picture by @Pressedjuices on Instagram

Third day into the 3-day juice cleanse program, I can feel my brain stops functioning and my stomach screams for solid food. I have to pinch myself so that I won’t run to the fridge. The unspeakable hollow feeling diffuses inside of me.

As I grow moodier and extremely famished, I start to think there is definitely something against nutriology and physiology in juice detox.

Popular first amongst Hollywood A-list stars, the juice cleanse, or juice detox, has become a new fashion for many health-conscious people around us in recent years. During a set amount of time, usually three to five days, people on a juice cleanse only consume liquid juices either home-made or cold-compressed by specialty stores.

A little research online will quickly show you that none of the benefits of juice detox on the ads — from detoxifying the body and resting the digestive system, to boosting immunity or improving mental focus — has been scientifically proven

What is worse, juice detox can even be toxic for people with special physical conditions. Lack of protein in pressed juices can be lethal to patients going through chemo. And the high sugar content in these juices can worsen the situation for diabetes patients.

But why there are so many people converted committed to the whole juicing craze? Given little existing scientific explanations supporting juice detox, what are the psychological rationales behind people’s die-hard faith?

The pro-cleanse people can be roughly categorised into two groups.

Those Who Blindly Believe

Before starting my cleanse with Pressed Juices, I had binged eating for a week with my boyfriend who came from oversea to visit me. I was bloated and worried over my weight. So juice cleanse was my solution. I somehow got this delusion that three days later, I would lose at least 2 kilos and get my body purified inside out.

A glance over Pressed Juices’ menu really gives you that confidence. There are the “Greens” — juices extracted from spinach, cucumber, kale, celery, parsley and lemon — all the good vegies recommended by nutritionists. And the “Earth”, containing fruits and vegies like carrots, beetroot, apple, turmeric and blueberries, nutritious foods claimed to boost immune systems and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Tonics like “the black lemonade” and “the slippery elm” have alkaline water, charcoal, cayenne pepper and chia seeds, providing the utmost cleansing elements for your body.

But do all the fancy food vocabularies add to detoxification and perfection?

Nutrition expert Liz Applegate gives a negative answer to LiveScience. “The premise of doing juice cleanses and other types of liquid detox regimens is false”, she said. “The body does not need any help in getting rid of toxins.”

“The digestive system operates every day to digest foods, and it doesn’t need any rest,” she said.

People like me who blindly assume our body needs extra help for detoxification now may need to think twice. Our liver generates enzymes to break down toxins and our kidneys help get rid of them.

Even Natasha Jordan, the nutritionist from Pressed Juices, told me that human body does naturally detoxify. However, she gave an argument supporting their juices.

“Our juices give your immune and digestive systems the extra oomph. Our everyday life is getting crazier than ever. There are the environmental pollutions, food additives, chemical products and all other toxins. We may use some extra help,” she said.

Her argument sounds reasonable, but still needs some scientific evidence. As I lost my regular bowel activities for the three-day cleanse, it’s hard for me to find any “physical” proof of detoxification.

Plus, my experience also taught me that I won’t be losing weight from juice cleanse. During three days, I did shed 2 kilos. But I soon gained everything back afterwards.

Dr. James Dillard, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University, told the Huffington Post that the weight lost during a juice cleanse is only water weight.

“It’s not a great way to lose weight, because you’ll gain it all back. It’s just like the Atkins diet,” Dr Dillard said.

So if the cleanse doesn’t detoxify or help lose weight, with all the vitamins and minerals, at least it should bring nutrition benefits to our body and make us healthier.

According to Dietary Guidelines for Australians published by Australia Department of Health and Ageing, vegetables, legumes and fruit are important, but they should only take up to about 33 per cent of a balanced diet.

What are the rest 67 per cent? Meat, dairy and the carbohydrates. And it is this 67 per cent that keeps people feel filled and satisfied. This 67 per cent also provides most of the protein we need.

No wonder the feeling of deprivation. I can no longer buy the point that digesting nothing but juices for three consecutive days is good for anyone’s health.

Those Who Believe with Reasons

Iris Zhang was a moderate cleanse believer. She first learnt about juice detox from a friend three years ago, and now routinely cleanses once in a while.

Asked if she has done any research before trying the cleanse, Iris hesitated a bit and said she did read over blogs hyping about juice detox.

“I eat too much junk food. I just want to add some healthy habits into my diet and hopefully detox my body”, she said. “I think I lost a few pounds, of course weight loss is not my purpose, but I do feel lighter”.

I recalled nutrition expert Liz Applegate’s interesting comment.

“A cleanse could be like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ where people are afraid to say they didn’t really feel better while doing it because they want to embrace the latest health craze.”

In a way, juice cleanse is similar to all the weight loss remedies. You try various products but see no results, and you refuse to admit they don’t work. You just move on to try another one.

There is nothing wrong trying to be healthy or to take care of your body. But sadly, this pure hope can easily lead people to extreme and irrational decisions.

I know Iris for a while so I think she is not entirely sold to the craze. I asked her whether she would still cleanse if juice detox is scientifically proven invalid.

“I think I will still cleanse, or at least incorporate drinking juices in my diet. I don’t know if it is only psychological effect, but drinking juices does make me feel healthier and live healthier.”

That I can agree with her. Putting aside all scientific explanations pro or against juice cleanse, I start to eat more fruits and vegetables and reconsider my diet after the cleanse.

In a BuzzFeed video, a few young people challenge the three-day cleanse and gave their honest opinions. During the process, all of them craved food and hit fatigue stage. Henry came to the conclusion that people drink vegetable juice not for the flavour but only for the way it makes them feel.

But after the challenge, Henry came to miss the juice.

Another participant Garrett gave a thoughtful reflection. “One thing I think it did help me with is discipline. You can say no to those snacks. You can say no to that soda.”

Juice cleanse may not detox your body but at least detox your mind.

If juice cleanse can make people stay away from junk food and gain discipline over their diet, if drinking juices helps people reach the 33 per cent vegie and fruits requirement, then I think it doesn’t hurt to embrace the concept.

So can we say that juice cleanse only has placebo effect? Maybe. And it is an expensive placebo. At the Pressed Juices, a three-day cleanse program offers 24 bottles of juices and takes $198.

If you take a look at average spending pattern released by Australian Bureau of Statistics, a young couple family only spends $207 on food and drink weekly. To make their end meets, the couple probably have to drink juices for three days and eat nothing for the rest four days.

Is there a more sustainable and healthy choice then? Just eat more vegetables and fruits! The answer is so obvious that we sometimes ignore and even doubt it.

Juice cleanse could be a healthy choice but shall never be the only choice for the sake of health.

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