Juice Cleanse: Health Boon or Dangerous Fad?

A juice cleanse using nutrient-dense fresh fruit and vegetable juices may be a trendy way to quickly shed pounds, but limited research on detoxification indicates juice fasting is not the best way to support your body’s ability to detoxify.

juice cleanse

Instead of a juice cleanse, many natural health experts recommend incorporating juicing into a whole foods diet.

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There’s no doubt that a glass of freshly juiced fruits and vegetables contains an explosion of vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting phytochemicals, but that does not mean that a juice cleanse is a good idea. The word “cleansing” is often used synonymously with detoxification in the natural health world, and proponents of juice cleansing claim that fasting on nothing but juice is a way to help clear toxins from your body in order to help you lose weight, feel more energetic, and improve your health.

While it’s true that fresh juices can contain high concentrations of nutrients that are needed by many of your body’s detoxification processes, it’s also true that surviving on juice alone for more than a day or two can substantially lower your ability to detoxify and excrete toxins. [1,2] Furthermore, juice cleansing can disrupt blood sugar regulation, decrease muscle mass, and increase fatigue and other health problems. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make juicing a healthy, regular part of your diet. 

Why is a Juice Cleanse Potentially Dangerous?

There are a number of reasons that juice cleansing is a potentially dangerous and controversial method of detoxification discouraged by many health experts, including many integrative and naturopathic physicians:

  • First, juice fasting puts your blood sugar on a roller coaster. Any juice made from fruits and/or vegetables (especially root vegetables like carrots and beets) is packed with sugars which, despite being natural, dramatically affect your blood sugar and insulin production. Recently interviewed on Katie Couric’s television talk show, Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, a well-respected expert in integrative medicine, discussed how some fresh juices can have more sugar than a can of coke.[1] The intense, quick spikes and dramatic plummets in blood sugar that occur with juice consumption are not healthy. Wild blood sugar fluctuations can lead to immediate symptoms like food cravings, mood swings, headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and shakiness. If you subject yourself to a blood sugar roller coaster often enough, you put yourself at risk for more serious, chronic health conditions like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Second, a prolonged juice cleanse fails to provide the necessary protein to support your lean body mass (muscle). The severe calorie and protein restriction associated with juice fasting results in the breakdown of muscle over fat, since the body needs a continual source of amino acids for production of new enzymes and proteins. When amino acids are not available from the diet, the body starts breaking down its own protein reserves–muscle. This makes you lose lean muscle which slows down your metabolism, making it very difficult to lose weight in the future.
  • Third, if you truly want to help your body detoxify, be aware that the detoxification process is very dependent on a number of different nutrients, including certain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, protein, and fats. In order to detoxify properly, the body needs not only the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals you get from fruit and vegetable juices, but also quality protein, essential fats, and adequate energy (calories). While fresh fruit and vegetable juices may be dense in certain phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, juice fasting supplies inadequate energy (calories), too little protein, and insufficient essential fats, and can be therefore by detrimental to the body’s ability to detoxify and excrete toxins.[2]

How to Juice the Healthy Way: A Green Juice a Day

Instead of a juice cleanse, many natural health experts recommend incorporating juicing into a whole foods diet. Drinking a large glass of fresh green juice a day is a great way to update your diet, according to Dr. Hyman. “A green juice a day is a great way to upgrade your diet…to include lots of powerful vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, cancer-fighting, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory compounds that you don’t often get,” he says, adding that plants contain a whole series of healthful compounds besides vitamins and minerals that have been shown by science to boost your body’s capacity to heal, rejuvenate, and repair.

Dr. Hyman recommends a daily green juice containing the following fruits and vegetables, many of which, he explains, contain powerful plant chemicals which boost your liver’s detoxification pathways and help you detoxify:

  • Kale
  • Cucumbers
  • Lemon
  • Apple
  • Ginger root
  • Celery is great as a diuretic
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Fresh turmeric root (“nature’s Advil”)
  • Daikon radish

How to Incorporate Juicing Into a Detox

You can even use daily fresh juices, such as Dr. Hyman’s green juice, as a part of a detox program. (You can find juice recipes here.) This can provide a lot of the phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals needed for detoxification. However, during a detoxification program it is also important to also balance your blood sugar and get enough protein to support the liver’s detoxification pathways, according to Dr. Hyman. This can be accomplished, he says, by eating protein-based meals and snacks every three to four hours. For more information on a detox diet program that goes beyond the typical juice cleanse, see my previous article on detoxification for boosting energy: Feeling Sleepy All the Time? Wake Up with a Detox!

[1] Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Mar-Apr;13(2):S85-7.

[2] Townsend Letter. 2013 Feb/Mar;355-356:45-52.

[3] Mark Hyman & Katie Couric TV. Accessed 10-29-13.

This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated. 

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UHN Staff

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