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Are juice cleanses really healthy? Why some wellness experts worry

Papaya JuiceWe won’t beat around the guava bush: Juice cleanses are crazy hot right now. But are they really as good for us and our over-worked digestive tracts as they sound? Or is it a tad more complicated than that? We asked a handful of New York City wellness experts to weigh in.

The Nutritionists

“Most often, I find that people who gravitate to cleanses are seeking a quick-fix for weight loss, or they’re looking for a quick detox—a clean-up of their diets without having to think about it too much,” says Marissa Lippert, a registered dietitian and author of The Cheater’s Diet. The problem? Surprise! Most see a return of the weight when they re-incorporate carbs, even healthy, complex ones. “It’s essentially a false sense of security and weight loss for a very short period of time,” Lippert says.

True, seconds Cher Pastore, R.D. She says people absolutely should not expect lasting weight loss and should keep cleanses short: “I believe a one- to three-day juice cleanse can be a part of a healthy eating plan. Any longer, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

The Acupuncturist

jill blakeway yinova center

Jill Blakeway, founder, YinOva Center

Traditional Chinese medicine puts an emphasis on balance, so in general, we don’t use fasting medicinally, because it is considered extreme, says Jill Blakeway, M.Sc. L. Ac., clinical director of the YinOva Center. “However, there is an old Chinese saying: ‘Grains are for energy, meats are for strength, and vegetables are for keeping the body clean.’ So a short period of fasting using vegetable and fruit juices can be cleansing.”

Eating a simple diet gives your digestive system a rest, says Blakeway, but ultimately the job of detoxification is left up to specific organs. “I usually suggest acupuncture to support the organs of detoxification, such as the lungs, large intestine, bladder, and kidneys. Massage can also be helpful to enhance the flow of lymph, skin brushing is helpful to people who are cleansing,” she says.

The M.D.

Susan Blum MD

Susan Blum, M.D., founder of The Blum Center for Health

The thing is, there are toxins all around us, says Susan Blum, M.D., a specialist in Functional Medicine, and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye. “It’s the liver’s job to clear toxins out of the body. It relies on vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids to do that. So for one day, if you do a cleanse and rest your body of food—I’m fine with that. But you go to multiple days—three or five—and you hit the wall. You’re not giving your liver the amino acids it needs to move toxins out of the body.”

The other problem? Going with non-organic options. “You take all these greens, make a juice, and you’re also concentrating a lot of the pesticides, too,” Blum says. “You really run the risk of dumping a whole lot of toxins into the body.” Her advice is to pick an organic company, like Organic Avenue, and look into a liver supplement. Or better yet, work with someone in Functional Medicine who can help personalize a cleanse that’s gentle on your body. —Catherine Pearson

What do you think about juice cleanses? Tell us in the Comments section, below!

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12 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. March 9th, 2011 at 10:01 am

    What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?

  2. March 9th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    As the owner of a juice cleanse store told a New York Times writer who did the cleanse for 10 days, it’s not so much what you put in your body, but what you leave out.

    Doctors have told me for years that the body is self-cleansing; special regimes are not necessary. But if doing a cleanse or semi-fast for a few days or even a couple of weeks jump starts someone’s weight loss and fitness program, I don’t see any harm.

    The real issue is the outrageous price of some juices. One sees prices of $60 to $80 dollars a day, before the delivery cost is added in. I know that organic vegetables and fruits are more expensive, but $80 a day?

    If you ever post some recipes that approximate these cleanses, I’ll be an avid reader. I already have a juicer.

  3. March 10th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I have been doing a 7-day detox cleanse every quarter. It’s like a spring cleaning. I don’t fast while I do the detox, but for the week prior, I recommend clients cut out all white sugars, processed foods, gluten. Of course, we should cut these foods out of our diet as a habit! But, at least the week prior to the cleanse. Then during the 7-day cleanse, continue to eat in that same healthy manner. The 7-day Detox Cleanse that we carry is based on minerals from the sea — algae, spirulina, senna leaf, milk thistle, nettle, blue green algae, nori sea week, red marine algae. It’s truly amazing!

  4. April 5th, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I’m glad you’re covering the pros and cons of juice fasts as they’re the latest rage but for no good reason. Drinking fruit juice can help you lose weight, but inevitably the weight loss is from emptying your bowel and losing lots of muscle, which ultimately results in a slow metabolism. Also, fruit sugar is converted to fat much faster than other sugar/carbs, so watch out. I’ve blogged about this a while ago:http://slimandstrongin2009.blogspot.com/2010/05/fasting-why-not-eating-can-make-you-fat.html

  5. October 26th, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I actually had a very bad experience with a juice fast and would not recommend it to anyone without fully reading about the possible negative reactions.

  6. December 6th, 2011 at 12:36 am

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  7. April 19th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I’ve heard some really good things about juice cleanses. If I’m just looking for something to add some good nutrition to my diet and make me feel better would you suggest looking at juice cleanses?

  8. October 18th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I went on a 10 day juice fast and dropped 10 pounds. I felt horrible while my body was detoxing, but about day 4 I started to feel great!!! I kept up the regime for 10 solid days, and on day 9 I biked 10 miles and on day 10 I worked out in the gym for an hour. The other days I did nothing to work out other than go to work. I would recommend a juice fast for someone wanting to reset their thinking on healthy eating as this will make you think twice about picking up candy bars. I have also maintained my 10 lb weight loss since the fast.

  9. December 26th, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    [...] approve of cleanses, particularly detox diets, which can have ill effects on your health. As the WellandGood.com points out, the reason many nutritionists are skeptical of cleanses is that they think people are [...]

  10. December 28th, 2012 at 8:57 am

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  12. June 28th, 2013 at 2:18 am

    [...] dieting solution, however. In an interview with online health resource Well+Good, nutritionist Cher Pastore, R.D., says that a one- to three-day cleanse can provide health benefits but warns that she [...]

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