Back in the 1990s, I was dating a guy who seemed to do a Master Cleanse fairly regularly; okay, maybe he only did it once or twice while we were dating - I’m not really sure – but it seemed that he did a Master Cleanse more often than I thought necessary or appropriate, especially given his already healthy diet and fitness program. When I read the booklet about the Master Cleanse that I found at a store back then, I was very skeptical about this detoxifying regimen. It didn’t make sense to me that lemonade [actually a mixture of water, lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup] and salt water [or drinking a laxative tea] would be a safe or effective method of ‘detoxifying’. The authors of the booklet explained their reasoning for these ingredients, I’m sure, but I just didn’t agree with them. Supposedly, these liquid ingredients ‘clean out’ your digestive system, and help your body [and mind] ‘prepare’ for a healthier diet [say a raw food or vegan diet]. According to the Master Cleanse website “If the style of life you want is healthy, energetic, and long-lasting then you must eliminate toxins, de-vitalized foods, processed foods, and otherwise dead foods from your diet.” In the world of cleanses, detoxification programs, raw fooders, and other ‘health’ crazes, the word ‘toxin’ is bandied about a lot. Just about anything is thought by someone to be a ‘toxin’ if they think it is ‘bad’ for your body. I think this ‘toxin’ idea is mostly a bunch of hooey. Do I think some foods are better for your body than others? Sure! Do I think that eating a bunch of junk food can be ‘bad’ or harmful? Sure? And, of course, in excess quantities, just about anything will be harmful and could be considered ‘toxic’. But, I disagree with the idea, for example, that steamed vegetables are ‘dead’ foods and are, therefore, toxic.
The authors of the Master Cleanse also promote it as a weight loss program. Will it help you lose weight? Well, sure! Drink only a ‘lemonade’ preparation for 10 days and you’ll lose some weight as you aren’t taking in many calories. Is the Master Cleanse the best way to lose weight? According to webmd [see website below under references], not only will you likely lose weight due to the few calories, but also lose muscle, bone and water. And, apparently, many people gain the weight they lost pretty rapidly once they finish the Master Cleanse.
Is detoxifying really necessary?
Many religious practices, as well as certain dietary promoters, believe that fasting with water or juice is a beneficial and valuable spiritual practice, as well as a healthy one for the body. Apparently, detoxing the body has been around for quite a while, having been created by ancient Egyptians and later revised by the Greeks (Kessler p. 116). Detoxing is also a pretty big industry, if internet searches and over 1,500 detox books on Amazon are any indication. An internet search for “detox” yields over 15 million hits! So, obviously people are into detoxing, and others are helping them figure out ways to do it. But is the body incapable of ridding itself of ‘toxins’ without resorting to cleanse programs? Well, according to many research studies, the body is well able to cleanse itself; the liver and kidneys, among other organs, do the bulk of the job [again, as long as there isn’t a long-term use or ‘overload’ of some of the overtly noxious substances, such as eating a whole lot of junk foods or being exposed to some chemical agent in large amounts]. Additionally, it is difficult to measure the presence of toxins [as well as define the word], knowing what is a toxic level for any given person is very difficult [not to mention, generally for most humans], and the demonstration of direct links between people and toxins and specific conditions haven’t been established (Kessler p. 116). Of course, ‘alternative’ and holistic practitioners point to the notion that there are lots more toxins, both in food, food packaging, and the environment, than there used to be and that our bodies aren’t able to handle all this stuff as well (Kessler, p. 116).
Dr. John McDougall believes that “your body can handle only so much protein, fat, cholesterol, sulfur-containing amino acids, and dietary acids. When you take in more than your body can use, metabolize, neutralize and/or eliminate, those excess amounts act as poisons. On a typical Western diet, these toxic by-products build up in your system on a daily basis… and their effects are additive and cumulative. Taking in too much protein, methionine, and dietary acid weakens our bones over time. Excess dietary fat and cholesterol clog the arteries and increase the risk of cancer” (p. 40-41). Thus, McDougall believes that “reducing or eliminating the animal foods in your diet immediately relieves the burden on your body from these five dietary poisons, and at the same time greatly reduces your risk of exposure to infectious bacteria, viruses, parasites, and prion diseases (like those that cause mad cow disease).
Unfortunately, there are no good large-scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to help us resolve this situation. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, the reported millions of people with powerful stories about how they feel after a cleanse is really about the placebo effect. So, depending on whom you want to believe, detoxifying may or may not be necessary or helpful. If you do decide to choose a detoxifying program, I encourage you to be careful and choose a program that isn’t ‘outrageous’ in its demands or how long you stay on the program.
For example, “all-liquid regimens, as a rule, are a mistake – and sometimes a big one. In the 1970s, between 2 million and 4 million people were reputed to have tried what was known as the Last Chance Diet. There were reports that 58 people died from heart attacks while following this starvation diet that allowed only liquid protein derived from slaughterhouse by-products [YUCK!]. Cleanses with harsh laxatives are unkind to the colon, stripping it of helpful bacteria and teaching it to be lazy, teaching it to act old [really?]” (Kessler, p. 119). I really wonder about Kessler’s last sentence, but it’s something to consider.
Sweating out the toxins?
Do saunas, steam rooms, or sweat lodges help us detox? I’ve heard many people say that they believe it to be true. Unfortunately, however, sweating experts [yes, there are experts on sweating!] like Dee Anna Glaser, M.D. “say that perspiration contains only trace amounts of toxins (and virtually no heavy metals), and that sweating heavily does nothing to increase those levels. Other scientists warn that excessive sweating can actually impair the body’s natural detox systems. Dehydration can stress the kidneys and keep them from doing their job” (Kessler p. 122). I’m sure many of you heard about the unfortunate folks who died and others who became ill in a Sedona, Arizona sweat lodge, so take care! Although, certainly taking a quiet break in a sauna or sweat lodge can help reduce stress, as long as done in appropriate amounts with appropriate hydration.
A ‘good’ detox program?
So, if someone does decide to undertake a cleanse or detox program for whatever reasons, what might be a good one [in essence, not too risky or likely to result in other types of problems]? Personally, I have done two-week juice fasts, one to two week [and one time, a 30-day] water fast, a summer long melon-only diet [I wasn’t thinking of it as a ‘detox’ or cleanse, but some would], and similar things and so far have experienced [at least, that I’m aware of] no negative consequences. However, since I have been a fairly healthy vegan [and for over a decade, mostly raw fooder], perhaps my body was more ‘prepared’ to handle such plans/programs/diets/cleanses? Hard to say. A cleansing program “could be as simple as replacing the infamous “Dirty Dozen” (the 12 common fruits and vegetables that carry the greatest amounts of pesticide residue [see references below for more info on the Dirty Dozen] with organic produce and avoiding processed, packaged and junk foods. You can add high-fiber foods, drink [appropriate amounts of] water, take saunas, exercise – all good things to do wither or not you labor under a body burden ” (Kessler, p. 117).
McDougall claims that “the best way to cut out these toxic foods is to replace them with whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables – foods that provide all of the nutrition you need, along with sufficient calories and substance to give you energy and keep you satisfied. Even if you are already showing signs of sickness from the excesses of meat, dairy, and eggs, there is hope. Starch has an immense ability to allow your body to naturally heal itself” (p. 43).
Personally, I think my diet of mostly raw foods [fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and low in fat] is a pretty good way to stay ‘clean’ [if you want to call it that], although I am aware that there are environmental concerns. Eating more organic produce can help with that.
Kessler, Lauren 2013. Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging. Rodale.
Huffington Post article on the “Dirty Dozen”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/13/dirty-dozen_n_875718.html#s290785title=Apples
Environmental Working Group: 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce [unfortunately, EWG wants you to pay for the 2014 guide]: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
The EWG 2011 guide is free: http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/foodnews/pdf/2011EWGPesticideGuide.pdf
McDougall, John and McDougall, Mary 2012. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! Rodale.
One website on the Master Cleanse: http://themastercleanse.org/