Recently, juicing and cleanses are hotter than Hansel from Zoolander. Cleanses have people doing everything from putting coffee beans into their behinds to drinking herbal laxatives and even twelve glasses of lemonade per day.
These cleanses have also been referred to as detox diets, but they generally promote the same health benefits and make the same promises. Many even want you to buy their cleanse kit and tout it as the best. Sometimes these cleanses include adding herbal supplements or special ingredients like Garcinia Cambogia. Generally, the more supplements or meal replacements involved, the more companies can profit by selling the cleanses as products, and the more money they seem to charge.
Even Beyoncé was hyping the benefits of cleansing as she used one to lose weight for Dreamgirls, apparently by subsiding on lemon water, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and herbal tea for 10 days. Granted, I am a fan of B, but one has to question the rationale for this diet. Besides the fact that it would be seemingly easy to lose weight on a diet like this, it remains unclear what this actually “cleanses.” This particular cleanse is referred to as the “Master Cleanse.”
Regardless of the type of cleanse, they all have one thing in common: there is little to no data to support any of them…
The Age- (and Data-) Proven Alternative
While juice cleanses among others are flaunted as the latest and greatest by celebrities and others in the media, the age-old cleansing technique of fasting as a purge or cleanse actually has real data to back it up. In fact, the only benefit that may come from the popular cleanses may be the fact that many of them restrict food for a certain period of time, thus potentially mimicking fasting. However, the medical benefits of fasting cover a broad spectrum, from lowering blood sugar to fighting cancer. It also turns on the process of autophagy, which helps our cells recycle their older, used parts.
Several examples include:
Fasting and Blood Sugar
Intermittent fasting in mice has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, which may have anticancer benefits.1 It also appears to protect brain cells from damage, which may in itself be from the lower glucose.2 Fasting also induces ketosis, the metabolic process by which ketones are produced by the liver to provide our brain cells with an energy source.3 This has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin.1,4,5
Fasting and Cancer Treatment
In mice, fasting appears to delay or halt the incidence of malignancies in mice predisposed to cancer through genetic mutations.6 There are even studies assessing fasting in humans before and after chemotherapy to decrease side effects.7,8 Other studies regarding fasting in mice have shown that it helps chemotherapy kill cancer cells more effectively while sparing our normal cells.9–11 The lowering of insulin and glucose during fasting may also help radiation therapy work better.12
Fasting and Neuroprotection
Fasting increases autophagy within brain cells, allowing them to recycle the garbage that can accumulate within our cells.13 Mice that are prone to develop Alzheimer’s benefit significantly from intermittent fasting, which helps their brain cells fight the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s and leave the mice with better cognition.14
Fasting Has Withstood the Test of Time
While just because something being old does not necessarily make it better, the history of fasting is a long one. Besides the involuntary fasting that our ancestors engaged in over the past hundreds of thousands of years during winter, famine and times of food scarcity, purposeful fasting is not too young either. Fasting during a religious ceremony is thousands of years old and has been practiced by everyone from Buddhist monks to followers of Jainism, who engage in fasting to reach a transcendent state during meditation. In China, fasting occurred before the winter solstice as it was believed that the Yang was beginning its new cycle. Finally, Judaism and Christianity involve a plethora of days of fasting throughout the year, with some Christians apparently fasting for 40 days during lent.
Why is fasting a part of so many different cultures and religions, from Christians during Lent to Muslims from dusk to dawn during the month of Ramaḍān? It must have some benefits if it survived as a part of so many different religions and cultures across the globe. Newer studies are showing those benefits…
Of all the cleanses and detox attempts, juice fasts may be the most absurd. While the name alone is an oxymoron, this trend has gained some recent popularity. It has no science to back it, and if the juices are heavily based on fruit, this cleanse may actually negate all of the insulin and glucose-lowering benefits of intermittent fasting. It can also potentially result in vitamin deficiencies and salt depletion. It would be a convenient method to gain the benefits of fasting without fasting, but as is the case with most conveniences, it does not work.
Implementing Fasting in Your Life
Based on the evidence and credible science as well as thousands of years of human existence where fasting was a common aspect of daily life, I believe in the benefits of fasting, a real cleanse. The-never-hungry, snacking-often-with-three-or-more-meals-per-day aspect of modern living clearly does not align with our history.
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1. Champ CE, Volek JS, Siglin J, Jin L, Simone NL. Weight Gain, Metabolic Syndrome, and Breast Cancer Recurrence: Are Dietary Recommendations Supported by the Data? Int J Breast Cancer. 2012;2012:9. doi:10.1155/2012/506868.
2. Anson RM, Guo Z, de Cabo R, et al. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2003;100(10):6216-6220. doi:10.1073/pnas.1035720100.
3. Haymond MW, Howard C, Ben-Galim E, DeVivo DC. Effects of ketosis on glucose flux in children and adults. Am J Physiol – Endocrinol Metab. 1983;245:E373-E378. http://ajpendo.physiology.org/ajpendo/245/4/E373.full.pdf.
4. Champ CE, Palmer JD, Volek JS, et al. Targeting metabolism with a ketogenic diet during the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. J Neurooncol. 2014;117(1):125-131. doi:10.1007/s11060-014-1362-0.
5. Fine EJ, Segal-Isaacson CJ, Feinman RD, et al. Targeting insulin inhibition as a metabolic therapy in advanced cancer: a pilot safety and feasibility dietary trial in 10 patients. Nutrition. 2012;28(10):1028-1035. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2012.05.001.
6. Berrigan D, Perkins SN, Haines DC, Hursting SD. Adult-onset calorie restriction and fasting delay spontaneous tumorigenesis in p53-deficient mice. Carcinogenesis. 2002;23(5):817-822. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=12016155.
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8. Raffaghello L, Safdie F, Bianchi G, Dorff T, Fontana L, Longo VD. Fasting and differential chemotherapy protection in patients. Cell cycle. 2010;9(22):4474-4476. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21088487.
9. Safdie F, Brandhorst S, Wei M, et al. Fasting enhances the response of glioma to chemo- and radiotherapy. PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44603. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044603.
10. Raffaghello L, Lee C, Safdie FM, et al. Starvation-dependent differential stress resistance protects normal but not cancer cells against high-dose chemotherapy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008;105(24):8215-8220. doi:10.1073/pnas.0708100105.
11. Lee C, Raffaghello L, Brandhorst S, et al. Fasting cycles retard growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(124):124ra27. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003293.
12. Klement RJ, Champ CE. Calories, carbohydrates, and cancer therapy with radiation: exploiting the five R’s through dietary manipulation. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2014:1-13. doi:10.1007/s10555-014-9495-3.
13. Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010;6(6):702-710. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20534972.
14. Halagappa VKM, Guo Z, Pearson M, et al. Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol Dis. 2007;26(1):212-220. doi:10.1016/j.nbd.2006.12.019.
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