Why Your Juice Cleanse Could Be Dangerous

Move over frozen yogurt, juice is the latest food sensation.  Juicing has swept the nutrition world.  It is no longer just a luxury afforded to those individuals with a juice extractor; juice shops are popping up all across the country.  And unlike the Cronut®, this fad is seemingly more healthful.  Given that our society has less and less time to roast carrots and sauté kale, juice is a convenient and healthful way to get a serving of fruits and vegetables.  Juice shops offer a rainbow of juices that include delicious combinations from beets, kale, and ginger to spinach, mint, and green apple.  However, like most nutrition fads, juicing has become extreme.  Enter: the juice cleanse.  Juice shops across the country are offering juice cleanses, ranging from a 1- to 10-day supply of freshly pressed juices.  Individuals drink 4 to 6 juices per day as a substitute for food.  While a juice cleanse may seem like a harmless experience that will leave you feeling rejuvenated, think again. 

A recent history of the juice cleanse

The concept of a cleanse is not novel.  The Master Cleanse, which gained momentum in the 1970s, is a diet that involves subsisting on a combination of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water, along with salt water and laxative tea, for a minimum of 10 days.2 Stanley Burroughs, author of "The Master Cleanser," promises weight loss and digestive rest so that the body can heal and thus become more adept at filtering out toxins. While the Master Cleanse may seem punishing, it surprisingly has a following.  Beyoncé attributed her 20-pound weight loss in 10 days in preparation for her role in the movie Dreamgirls to the cleanse.3Consequently, celebrity endorsements such as this have made the Master Cleanse synonymous with fast and effective weight loss.

Juice claims

     Juice cleanse programs promise benefits similar to the Master Cleanse.  “Raw Juce,” a Florida-based juice shop offers cleanses that range from the “Basic Cleanse” to the “Ultimate Cleanse,” for advanced juicers.  The concept behind a juice cleanse is a simplification of digestion, thanks to the lack of fiber in juice.  Slower digestion apparently allows the body to repair itself so that it can protect against toxins, resulting in renewed energy, glowing skin, and improved immune function.  However, the research is lacking.  Crash dieting in the form of juicing is appealing because it promises a quick and easy fix to help people lose weight.  Conversely, sustainable weight loss is best achieved through consistent exercise and healthful eating.

Consequences of the cleanse

     The purported benefits of a juice cleanse can be simultaneously negative.  First, juice lacks fiber that is naturally found in fruits and vegetables.  Fiber helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar in sweet foods, such as fruit.  Therefore, consistent juice cleanses are particularly dangerous for individuals with diabetes, and can result in fatigue, blurry vision, and excessive hunger.  Second, juice can be a substitute for a snack or an addition to breakfast or lunch, but is not sufficient as a meal replacement.  Juices are low in calories, fat, and protein- all critical sources of energy for the brain and body.  Furthermore, attempting to exercise during a cleanse could cause light-headedness, fainting, and improper recovery.  Third, without protein, muscle mass is lost.  And not solely muscle in your arms and legs, but also in your heart.  When the heart lacks sustenance, like during a juice cleanse or in an eating disorder, it becomes weak, which can lead to heart failure.8Finally, juice has also been shown to cause kidney damage given the increased absorption of oxalate associated with juicing.5While crash dieting once won’t give you long-term health effects, regular bouts of juice fasting certainly can.

     Freshly pressed juice is a delicious way to drink some fruits and vegetables, along with all of their vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.  However, exclusively drinking juice for extended amounts of time can be detrimental to your health.  If you are looking to lose weight or to incorporate more wholesome foods into your diet, there are less extreme and more nourishing options than a 10-day juice cleanse, to help you achieve your goals.