THE BLOG

The Real Reasons Juice Cleanses Can Get Your Health Back on Track

01/08/2014 04:53 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2014
  • Woodson Merrell, M.D. Chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center and Author of The Detox Prescription (Rodale)

Most people this time of year are thinking about buckling down on their diets. What I have found works best is to take it in small steps. Start with changing your eating for just a few days -- with a 3-day juice cleanse -- and it is remarkable what positive transformation will follow.
 
The romance of unhealthy foods is powerful, as evidenced by the 65 percent of Americans who struggle daily with being overweight and obese. But it is essential to break the cycle of dependence on saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and excess caffeine and alcohol. Research going back decades (1, 2, 3) has shown us that we can not only be healthier, but actually reverse even severe chronic disease by changing to a plant-based diet: vegan best, but I'll settle for primarily plant-based. 
 
In addition to breaking the cycle of cravings of foods that undermine your health, just three days of a juice cleanse can do so much more! Here are more than a dozen significant health enhancements you can obtain with the 3-day juice cleanse featured as part of my 21-day program in The Detox Prescription. Let's get motivated to make 2014 the year of your transformation! 
 
Note: First rule, keep it organic. Otherwise you are ingesting many of the same pesticide, herbicide and antibiotic residues the body is trying to clear out. And know the
"Clean 15" (and "Dirty Dozen") from the Environmental Working Group (4).
 
1) Rest the stomach. For the tens of millions of people who are on acid-suppressing drugs -- and for older folks who often don't produce enough stomach acid -- making the stomach work less to extract nutrients can be a huge benefit. Juices require less of the stomach's digestive processing (churning, acid and pepsin). Remember to gently chew the juices to add oral enzymes to further ease digestion. 
 
2) Rest and repair the gut. Toxic foods (including saturated fats, refined carbs, foods with additives, pesticides and allergenic foods), taking medications (such as antibiotics or antacids), and even stress can impair the intestine's functioning. There can easily be an imbalance in the gut microbiome (flora and fauna balance) as well as actual breaks in the intestinal barrier ("leaky gut") -- allowing substances into our bodies that should not get a free pass (5). Consuming a phytonutrient-dense rainbow plant-based juice diet allows food to be assimilated quickly through the intestine -- consuming less energy, while the toxin-free, nutrient-dense food helps to repair the gut itself. 
 
3) Rest the liver. The liver is our main detoxifying organ. Every molecule of food that is absorbed through the intestinal wall (fiber is not absorbed) moves into the liver for detoxification and preparation before being allowed to enter the rest of the body. Problem is, there are too many toxins for most of our livers to handle -- with many passing unchecked into the general circulation to wreak havoc in distant cells. An organic juice cleanse rests the liver's overload.
 
4) Reduce your appetite. Juicing doesn't really shrink the stomach -- although it feels like it does. Juicing eliminates the habit of comfort eating, and makes you feel satiated with less food than usual. This provides a big psychological boost to help get over the hurdle of changing habits.
 
5) Ease food decision-making. Juicing focuses on consuming fresh whole food produce every few hours -- and reduces the enslavement of thinking constantly about what the next meal is going to be. Not only do we feel sated, but realize we are no longer slaves to our addictions with (often very harmful) foods.
 
6) Eliminate harmful foods. The juice cleanse eliminates dairy, wheat, gluten and fermented foods from the diet (as well as coffee and alcohol). In my experience, the majority of patients over 40 are relatively insensitive to wheat. Being off this -- and other common trigger foods for a period -- then reintroducing them can help define what foods are causing our body problems.
 
7) Floods our body with super nutrition. Being on an all-produce diet gives us not only the vitamins and minerals but the all-important phytonutrients that are powerhouses for the clean-up and healing process. Juices are by nature raw foods -- and retain nutrients that would be destroyed by cooking, including some B vitamins and especially (digestive and anti-inflammatory) enzymes.
 
9) Lose weight. As you are feeling better and having more energy, you also naturally lose weight. Some of this is water bloat, but also some is fat. A juice cleanse (three days minimum) is a great way to jump start a diet. It not only helps control appetite and cravings, but is naturally lower in calories, while supplying the body with probably more concentrated beneficial energizing and  healing nutrients than it has seen before.
 
9) Improve energy. After the first day's adjustment period (mostly missing crunching, and any coffee/alcohol cessation symptoms), most people begin to feel much more energy and clarity (by consuming only fresh juices) than they ever did with frequent caffeine drinks.
 
10) Rehydrate the body. Most of my new patients consume inadequate fluids, often having diuretics such as coffee or tea as their main beverages. Drinking sufficient fluids (5-6 glasses/day) makes the body function more efficiently, increases energy (often successfully removing the afternoon blahs/brain fog), and helps insure proper elimination of toxins.
 
11) Reduce physical problems. You begin to feel generally better, not just with your energy, but with many chronic symptoms such as headaches, rashes, general aches, congested sinuses and chest, and bloating/cramping/gas. Too much of the time our body is fighting off the things we do to it (especially with food -- but also with lack of sleep, inactivity and stress). Take a break, rest the body (and mind) and flood it with nutrients.
 
12) Allow maximum detoxification. To optimally support all phases of the body's natural detox process, you need a very broad range of plant-supplied nutrients like anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories. By providing the body with super-nutrient dense foods juicing allows the body to have more of the resources it needs to support the phases of detoxification, and even to begin to help remove the cumulative toxins stored in the body -- 147 industrial chemicals on average in Americans' bloodstreams (6) with many present in newborns (7).
 
13) Heal our cells. Switching to an organic plant-based diet allows cells to work optimally to re-establish efficient internal messaging and manufacturing processes, allowing the mitochondria to create energy without having to fight off a plethora of free radicals and inflammation, and reducing some of the impediments to proper DNA functioning. 

(Caveat: Juicing is not for everyone. Check with your health care provider first, especially people who are pregnant, underweight, diabetic, have unstable heart disease or low blood pressure, or who have life-threatening health challenges.) 

References

(1): Kjeldsen-Kragh, J, "Rheumatoid arthritis treated with vegetarian diets" Amer J Clin Nutr Sept 1999;70(3)Suppl:594S-600S